The Mother of All Horrors: Hitchcock’s “Psycho” (1960) starring Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, John Gavin, & Martin Balsam

Marion: Oh, we can see each other. We can even have dinner but respectably in my house with my mother’s picture on the mantel and my sister helping me broil a big steak for three.

Sam: And after the steak, do we send Sister to the movies? Turn mama’s picture to the wall?

A secretary in Phoenix, Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), is tired of how her life is going. She has to meet her boyfriend, Sam Loomis (John Gavin), on lunch breaks at a cheap hotel. Sam has to pay alimony to his ex-wife and lives in the back of his hardware store, so thinks they can’t yet get married. One Friday, Marion is trusted to take $40,000 to the bank by her boss. (Pat Hitchcock plays Marion’s co-worker.) Marion decides to steal this money and head to Sam’s town in Northern California. When she’s caught in a storm, she gets off the main highway and pulls into the Bates Motel. It’s managed by a young man, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), who seems to be dominated by his mother. Later on, we meet others, incl. Marion’s sister Lila (Vera Miles) and a PI named Mr. Arbogast (Martin Balsam).

Marion: Do you go out with friends?

Norman: A boy’s best friend is his mother.

Psycho (iconic to modern viewers, yet controversial in its day) was made b/c Sir Alfred Hitchcock wanted to experiment w/ a sparser style of filmmaking. He used a crew mostly of TV veterans (incl. from his show– Alfred Hitchcock Presents) and hired actors who weren’t yet well-known. Hitch bought the rights to the novel from writer Robert Bloch for a mere $9,000. He also bought up as many copies of the book as he could find (to keep the ending a secret). Before cast/crew began work, they had to raise their right hands and promise not to reveal one word of the story. Hitch didn’t even tell his cast the ending until he needed to shoot it. The director made all the movie theater owners sign a contract that they wouldn’t let anyone in until the start of the film. Once they were late, they’d not be let in until the next showing. This started the process of mandatory seating times at theaters which continues today!

Norman: It’s not like my mother is a maniac or a raving thing. She just goes a little mad sometimes. We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven’t you?

Marion: Yes. Sometimes just one time can be enough.

Paramount gave Hitch a small budget (under $1M), b/c of the studio’s distaste of the source material. He shot in black-and-white b/c he thought it’d be too gory in color and to save money. The studio gave 60% of the proceeds to Hitch (in lieu of a salary), thinking the movie would fail. Though most film critics hated it, Psycho was a big hit and Hitch ended up earning over $15 million- LOL! Hitch was so happy w/ the strings-only score (by Bernard Herrmann) that he doubled the famed composer’s salary. Hitch commented: “33% of the effect of Psycho was due to the music.” The director originally wanted the shower scene to be silent, but Herrmann scored it anyway; Hitchcock immediately changed his mind when he heard the music!

Arbogast: All right, then let’s say for the sake of argument that she needed your help and that she made you out to be a fool in helping her…

Norman: Well, I’m not a fool. And I’m not capable of being fooled! Not even by a woman.

In the novel, Norman is short, fat, older, and unlikable; Hitch decided to re-imagine him as a “boy next door” type. He cast Perkins (his first choice) who has an earnest quality; he is tall and thin w/ boyish looks. Perkins does a terrific job, creating a subtle, creepy, and very unsettling young man. The dinner conversation w/ Marion (amidst the stuffed birds) is a scene studied by budding filmmakers in school. Sam is in most ways the polar opposite of Norman; he represents ’50s “old school” masculinity, while Norman suffers from gender confusion. Sam is bossy w/ the women around him; Norman is timid. Sam’s relationship w/ Marion is portrayed as healthy, but Norman’s relationship w/ her is predatory. Hitch didn’t want Gavin for the role of Sam, but the studio insisted (b/c of his “beefcake” status). Looking back, viewers thought Gavin did a fine job w/ the role.

The structure of this film is rare for its time. We think the protagonist will be Marion, but then the focus shifts to Norman; eventually we follow Lila and Sam. Lila (introduced just before the 1 hr. mark) may be conventional when compared to the risk-taking Marion, but she’s a determined woman also. Miles and Leigh look like they really could be sisters. Arbogast doesn’t have a big role, but he has a fine scene w/ Norman. Hitchcock wasn’t a fan of authority figures; notice how the highway patrolman is portrayed in a sinister manner (never even removing his sunglasses). Many have commented how they hated the scene just before the ending (as did Hitch); the studio insisted on having the psychiatrist wrap things up for the audience.

[1] We can see that he is moody when he angrily leans forward and delivers an angry, though controlled tirade against putting people in institutions. Every camera angle and line of dialogue in this scene has meaning and carries enormous weight, and yet the drama plays out in a light, relaxed mode, and the performers seems truly connected to one another at its conclusion, strangers no more.

[2] …this movie doesn’t have the shock value today for audiences

But, what you WILL see in this movie is (1) superb acting; (2) a fascinating lead character; (3) excellent photography, and (4) a bizarre story.

[3] You can feel the decade literally shifting out of ’50s and into ’60s with this one. Norman Rockwell touches abound, like the decor of the motel, but look at what’s going on around it. People dress well, they still wear fedoras and jackets, but in their tense conversations and hooded gazes, you can feel the culture just ticking away like a time bomb waiting to explode.

Most especially, there’s Anthony Perkins, who plays motel clerk Norman Bates in a very oddly naturalistic way, complete with facial tics and half-swallowed words, not the polished image one expected to see then.

– Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Hitchcock’s Ticket to Hollywood: “The Lady Vanishes” (1938) starring Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave, Paul Lukas, & Dame May Whitty

Iris Henderson [talking to her girlfriends]: I’ve no regrets. I’ve been everywhere and done everything. I’ve eaten caviar at Cannes, sausage rolls at the dogs. I’ve played baccarat at Biarritz and darts with the rural dean. What is there left for me but marriage?

This film was a hit in his native England; it helped Sir Alfred Hitchcock get a 7 yr. contract w/ David O. Selznick. Orson Welles loved it so much that he saw it 11 times! Hitchcock was inspired by a legend of an Englishwoman who went w/ her daughter to the Palace Hotel in Paris in the 1880s for the Great Exposition: “The woman was taken sick and they sent the girl across Paris to get some medicine in a horse-vehicle, so it took about four hours. When she came back she asked, ‘How’s my mother?’ ‘What mother?’ ‘My mother. She’s here, she’s in her room. Room 22.’ They go up there. Different room, different wallpaper, everything. And the payoff of the whole story is, so the legend goes, that the woman had Bubonic plague and they dared not let anybody know she died, otherwise all of Paris would have emptied.” The urban legend, known as the Vanishing Hotel Room, was also explored in Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955) in S1, E5, “Into Thin Air,” starring Hitchcock’s daughter Patricia (who has a supporting role in Strangers on a Train).

Miss Froy: I never think you should judge any country by its politics. After all, we English are quite honest by nature, aren’t we?

Passengers on train out of a fictional Central European country (Mandrika) are delayed due to an avalanche. They get up close and personal w/ each other while staying at an overcrowded inn one night. Once the train departs the next morning, it seems an elderly English governess, Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty) may or may not be on it. Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood), a wealthy playgirl who was vacationing w/ gal pals before getting married, is certain that Miss Froy was on the train. They sat in the same compartment and had tea together in the dining car, but the passengers/staff who could corroborate Iris’ story say they never saw the lady! Iris could have possible concussion, as brain surgeon Dr. Hartz (Paul Lukas) declares; she was hit over the head before boarding the train. A young ethno-musicologist, Gilbert (Michael Redgrave in his first movie), is willing to listen to Iris and help her search for Miss Froy.

Gilbert: My father always taught me, never desert a lady in trouble. He even carried that as far as marrying Mother.

Vivien Leigh screen-tested for the role of Iris. The cricket-obsessed pals, Charters and Caldicott (played by Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne), were such popular characters that they were paired up in 10 more movies, incl. Night Train to Munich (1940) which also starred Lockwood. The censors wouldn’t allow the villains to be identified as Germans, though the plot has references to the political situation leading up to WWII. The Brits end up working together to fight off the foreigners, aside from the lawyer, Mr. Todhunter (Cecil Parker), who raises the white flag of surrender. At first, it seems like a short, light, and breezy film. On second look, we note how two women are at the focus of the story; they’re both strong-willed, confident, and capable (when life gets tough).

[1] Many regard this as the best of Hitchcock’s early work, and it is easy to see why: the film demonstrates his growing talent for building suspense from an unlikely mix of the commonplace and the incredible.

[2] Michael Redgrave and Margaret Lockwood simply sparkle as the main couple who of course initially can’t stand each other. Once on the train, the ensuring mystery and sleuthing are riveting,and full of fantastic little details… The shootout is excellently staged and still quite exciting. The laughs are constant…

[3] I think my analysis of Hitch would be his championing the moral fiber of everyman. I think that is why Hitchcock films still stand today as some of the best ever made.

[4] The scene in the hotel showing Caldicott and Charters sharing a bed (and a pair of pajamas) never would have gotten by the American censors. The relationship between the Todhunters as well, was quite obvious and rare for the American cinema of the day.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“Murder by Contract” (1958)

Claude (Vince Edwards) is a young man who recently held a regular job and has no history of trouble w/ the law. He also has the arrogance, intelligence, and emotional detachment to become a hit man, as he proves to Mr. Moon (a go-between to a crime boss). A string of successful hits on the East Coast gets Claude sent to LA for his latest job. He is accompanied by two minders (George and Marc): one is often nervous (Herschel Bernardi) and the other comes to admire Claude for his cool demeanor (Phillip Pine). Though self-assured in his previous kills, Claude becomes unglued learning that the target is a woman. She’s a witness set to testify against Clause’s boss, so under police protection 24/7. Claude is worried b/c women are unpredictable- they don’t do what you expect!

Claude: The only type killing that’s safe is when a stranger kills a stranger. No motive. Nothing to link the victim to the executioner. Now why would a stranger kill a stranger? Because somebody’s willing to pay. It’s business. Same as any other business.

I’m sure that the writer was thinking of Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1951) when he came up w/ the above lines! You have to be in a certain mood to enjoy this type of movie; it has a lot of style, though not much dialogue. Edwards looks a bit dangerous, yet also handsome, and is comfortable in his role. He is tall (6’2″), athletic (a former swimmer), w/ thick dark hair and dark eyes. The film has some comic moments when Claude unsettles the two men sent to accompany him. Scorcese and Tarantino consider this to be one of their favorite B-movies.

[1] Is he worried about killing her because he has more moral fiber than he would like to admit or is it genuinely harder to kill a woman? Whatever the case, this is a fascinating look into a dangerous mind.

[2] Stylish direction and some interesting camera work compliment a thoughtful script. Be watching for one particularly unsettling scene which unfolds in a barber shop.

[3] Vince Edwards’ character… was also fun to enjoy. His dialogue, and just the way he carried himself through this film, was fascinating.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Hitchcock Takes on Psychoanalysis: “Spellbound” (1945) starring Ingrid Bergman & Gregory Peck

Title Card: The fault… is not in our stars, but in ourselves… – Shakespeare

Dr. Constance Petersen (Ingrid Bergman) is a young psychiatrist who has been working for 6 mos. at Green Manors mental institute in Vermont. In between dealing w/ her patients and reading the latest theories, she has to deal w/ a doctor incessantly hitting on her. The director of Green Manors, Dr. Murchison (Leo G. Carroll), has just been replaced; his replacement is the young Dr. Anthony Edwardes (Gregory Peck), who has published several books (incl. one focused on “the guilt complex”). Romance quickly develops between Dr. Petersen and Dr. Edwardes, but then he starts to show strange aversions and personality traits. It turns out that he has amnesia! Could he be guilty of a crime, or is it all in his head? What happened to the real Dr. Edwardes?

Dr. Petersen: I think the greatest harm done the human race has been done by the poets. …They keep filling people’s heads with delusions about love… writing about it as if it were a symphony orchestra or a flight of angels.

Suspicion was of the first Hollywood films to deal w/ the (then popular) subject of psychoanalysis; screenwriter Ben Hecht consulted w/ several psychoanalysts of that time. Producer David O. Selznick wanted the movie to be based on his experiences, even bringing in his psychotherapist as a technical advisor. When she argued w/ Sir Alfred Hitchcock on the set, the director replied, “My dear, it’s only a movie.” Later, Hitch summed up the movie as “just another manhunt wrapped up in pseudo-psychoanalysis.” If the psychology angle doesn’t interest you, the love story certainly will! Bergman and Peck have terrific chemistry; as a kid, I wondered if they really were in love. In 1987 (5 yrs after she died), Peck revealed to People magazine that he “had a great love for Bergman.” They had an affair for a few weeks during filming (though both were married)!

Dr. Alex Brulov: Apparently the mind is never too sick to make jokes about psychoanalysis.

The much-discussed dream sequence (designed by painter Salvador Dali) was originally 20 mins long, but ended up being 2 mins. Hitch handed over that segment to director William Cameron Menzies, who is not credited (as he didn’t like the final edit). The music (composed by Miklos Rozsa) is also a prominent aspect enhancing the story. Jerry Goldsmith said he loved the score; it inspired his own music. Some Star Wars fans have pointed out the Anakin and Padme’s love theme (composed by John Williams) sounds similar to the love theme here!

I couldn’t produce the facial expressions that Hitch wanted turned on. I didn’t have that facility. He already had a preconception of what the expression ought to be on your face, he planned that as carefully as the camera angles. Hitchcock was an outside fellow, and I had the Stanislavski training from the Neighborhood Playhouse, which means you work from the inside. –Gregory Peck

[1] Now the best thing about ‘Spellbound’ and what really makes it into a wonderfully entertaining mystery/romance is Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck. These two Golden Age superstars are both absolutely wonderful individually, but together they are magical

[2] The scenes with Bergman, Peck and Chekhov are the highlight of the film, and I have to admit that I’m even kind of fond of the hotel lobby scene, with the appealingly breezy Bill Goodwin (of “Burns and Allen” radio fame) as the house detective. Peck has never been more handsome, in a strangely fragile way.

[3] Most of the picture is thrown Bergman’s way and she is such an accomplished actress and lights up the screen with such a charismatic inner radiance

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“Kiss Me Deadly” (1955)

Christina: You have only one real lasting love.

Mike: Now who could that be?

Christina: You. You’re one of those self-indulgent males who thinks about nothing but his clothes, his car, himself. Bet you do push-ups every morning just to keep your belly hard.

A scared young woman in a raincoat is running barefoot on the highway, trying to flag down a car. After some cars pass her by, the woman sees a fancy sports car approaching and stands directly in its path! PI Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) is behind the wheel, and after almost hitting the woman, he tells her to get in. The woman’s name is Christina Bailey (Cloris Leachman in her first movie role); she’s on the run from a mental institution (“laughing house”). Whoever was after her eventually catches up w/ them! Christina dies while being questioned under some sort of torture. The killers fake an accident by pushing Hammer’s car off the road; he survives and wakes up in hospital. Mike starts to investigate Christina’s death, even after told by the police (and FBI) to stay out of it.

In the hands of the director Robert Aldrich, the film becomes a starting point for a delirious expression of 1950s anxiety and paranoia, starting with opening credits that run backwards…

Noir b&w has never been photographed (Earnest Laszlo) more effectively than some of those night scenes… plus the long, dark hallways and staircases that suggest an enclosed world without redemption.

Right from the electric opening scene and the audacious opening credit sequence, the audience is drawn into Hammer’s seedy world, where morality is suspended, and the credo of the end justifying the means dominates Hammer’s actions.

 The “great whatsit” which Hammer searches for is one of the great movie gimmicks…

-Excerpts from IMDB movies

Based on Mickey Spillane’s novel and adapted by Al Bezzerides, the movie has an unique style and it’s recommended for fans of film noir. The story is transported from NYC to LA; the suitcase filled w/ drugs (too controversial) becomes something more dangerous.This is one of the first instances where a car in traffic looks realistic. Aldrich strapped a camera to the back of Hammer’s car. Martin Scorcese and Quentin Tarantino were influenced by this B movie.

Velda: Do me a favor, will you? Keep away from the windows. Somebody might… blow you a kiss.

It’s implied the characters have a sex life. Some of the camera angles are modern and unusual. The supporting characters are diverse; we see Greek and Italian immigrants, a black boxing coach (Juano Hernandez from The Breaking Point), and a nightclub singer and bartender (who are also black). The acting is a mixed bag, but Meeker does a fine job as the tough, unflinching protagonist; he was a theater actor. We hear a song by Nat King Cole in the opening (“I’d Rather Have the Blues”). You can watch the movie on YouTube (for free)!