Monday, 7 February 2011

Film Review: Psycho (1960) Dir. Alfred Hitchcock

Psycho (1960)
Fig 1

Plot summary:
"Phoenix officeworker Marion Crane is fed up with the way life has treated her. She has to meet her lover Sam in lunch breaks and they cannot get married because Sam has to give most of his money away in alimony. One Friday Marion is trusted to bank $40,000 by her employer. Seeing the opportunity to take the money and start a new life, Marion leaves town and heads towards Sam's California store. Tired after the long drive and caught in a storm, she gets off the main highway and pulls into The Bates Motel. The motel is managed by a quiet young man called Norman who seems to be dominated by his mother." (Needham)


Arguably the one of the most seminal films ever made, or at least one that is forever being parodied, Alfred Hitchcock's 'Psycho' is a film that delved deep into the darker parts of the human mind and darker parts of cinematography; exploring Freudian themes such as the Oedipus complex and depicting two somewhat explicit murders (in context to the 1960's at least)

Fig 2

Having never seen, or read much about 'Psycho' before I was unsure of the exact storyline, knowing only that someone gets murdered in a shower whilst the notorious "SKREE SKREE SKREE" of violin music is played. So, after having watched it I am in turns disappointed and satisfied. On one level I appreciate the effects and use of editing, as David Jenkins wrote: "It dared to suggest that your star didn’t need to surface from an ordeal smelling of roses (or, indeed, at all). It combined a knife, a scream, a melon, some chocolate sauce, Bernard Herrmann’s greatest score and more than 70 edits to push the envelope of screen violence." (Jenkins, 2010) I recognise and congratulate the technical skill displayed both in the effects and editing rooms, especially the last dissolve where Norman Bate's face is blended with a skull; genious!

Fig 3

However there are a couple of things that knock it down slightly, first is the pace; it's slow! I mean, I've never known the story prior to watching it and only have 'Rope' to compare to but I found 'Psycho' to have such a lack lustre start, like watching someone drag their heels about getting on with something. Boseley Crowther, a reviewer that keeps popping up in my reveiws said this about  how long it takes to get to the motel; "Well, perhaps it doesn't get her there too swiftly. That's another little thing about this film. It does seem slowly paced for Mr. Hitchcock and given over to a lot of small detail."(Crowther, 1960) Yes indeed Mr Crowther! But from a contemporary view it seems even slower. I don't know... maybe it's just me today but I could feel the relentless pace of modern living ticking away at my willingness to pay attention... Hurry! Quick! I have to be in Manhattan by midday for a meeting involving coffee, sugar and caffeine injections so I can keep up with my busy ultra modern lifestyle (Or something like that)


Fig 4
I'm not sure if this is from the 1960's film or the remake? Still shows the house and motel though :)

Eventually we end up in the motel and *finally* something starts happening, in that we meet Mr Norman Bates, proprietor of the Bates Motel. A quaint, cutoff little motel complete with swamp and creepy overlooking house... Well you can't have it all when you're running off with $40,000 as Janet Leigh's charater Marrion is doing when she pulls in for the night. I think that I may have actually fallen asleep about then had it not been for Bates, played by Anthony Perkins. He's suitably creepy, geeky and a little angry at times that pick the picture up. Cue more quotes from Mr Crowther; "The young man who diffidently tends it -- he is Anthony Perkins and the girl is Janet Leigh -- is a queer duck, given to smirks and giggles and swift dashes up to a stark Victorian mansion on a hill. There, it appears, he has a mother -- a cantankerous old woman -- concealed. And that mother, as it soon develops, is deft at creeping up with a knife and sticking holes into people, drawing considerable blood."(Crowther, 1960) Here is where the signiture shower scene happened, I have to make mention of the editing which is absolutely spot on, it leaves the majority of the vicera to the imagination whilst proscribing enough that we know exactly what happened. The blood swirling down the skink is another genious touch. I also noticed that it avoided the mighty pitfall of modern slasher films, no, not the pitfall of 'show every wound being inflicted' its the pitfall of 'woman being killed in shower? okay, cue gratuitous nudity!' pitfall. I mean really, who wants to see boobs in a slasher film? It's not a blue flick, it adds nothing to the film.

Fig 5

I just love the way Bates carries on with his life after clearing up the slashed corpse of  Marrion, dumping everything into her car and pushing it into the swamp, a week later when a private detective asks him about it he dismisses it offhand initially rather than turning into a complete mess (ala Phillip from 'Rope'). Variety magazine picked up how his character is so nutty in their review; "Perkins gives a remarkably effective in-a-dream kind of performance as the possessed young man." (Variety, 1960) Possesed is truely the right word, in the latter half of the film Perkin's shows how he is a high calibre actor what with the sudden changes in tone and character mid sentence and his silent nutty stillness at the end of the picture makes it an A class performance.

One more gratuitous quote from the late, great Mr Crowther:

"The one thing we would note with disappointment is that, among the stuffed birds that adorn the motel office of Mr. Perkins, there are no significant bats." (Crowther, 1960)


Fig 1. Movie poster for 'Psycho' 1960 [digital image] at (Accessed 7/2/2011)

Fig 2. Movie still from 'Psycho' 1960 [digital image] at (Accessed 7/2/2011)

Fig 3. Movie stills of the shower scene in 'Psycho' 1960 [digital image] at (Accessed 7/2/2011)

Fig 4. Movie still from Psycho 1960 [digital image] at (accessed 7/2/2011)

Fig 5 Movie still from Psycho 1960 [digital image] at (Accessed 7/2/2011)

Crowther, Boseley. Review of 'Psycho' for the New York Times archived online at (Accessed 7/2/2011)

Jenkins, David. Review of 'Psycho' 1960 for Time Out London. Published 7/04/2010 (Accessed 7/2/2011)

Variety Magazine, Review of 'Psycho' 1960 archived online at (Accessed 7/2/2011)


I have to say that that as I watched the signiture shower scene I was thinking "HERE'S YOUR PAPER!"


  1. I totally disagree with you about the opening! I love the pacing there - still it's great to see you getting to the reviews on the SAME day - it will just clear the decks for you and keep you on tip-top form. The only thing to watch is the tone; while I actually enjoy your irreverence here and your review made me smile, just be mindful of the different 'voices' you need to develop in terms of different contexts for writing, and be sure to make the right choice as appropriate. For instance, this would be much too chatty for a formal written assignment. I do suggest that students use these reviews as an opportunity to refine their 'formal voice' in preparation for their assignments - but I'm not taking anything away from this review - because, hey, I liked it!

  2. We'll have to agree to disagree on the opening, its just too slow, the film would have died if the motel arrived any slower!

    Don't worry too much, when I write essays and such I put on my 'pipe and slippers' voice, I will actually write a planned essay very shortly; might even get this project's one knocked out within the next two weeks too ;)