No movie Alfred Hitchcock made prior to Psycho (1960) had prepared audiences for the shock and stunning surprises of his Gothic thriller. Many moviegoers, critics and film scholars consider it not only the “Master of Suspense’s” best film but also one of the best films ever committed to celluloid. While Hitchcock made some of Hollywood’s most romantic thrillers (Rebecca, Suspicion, Notorious, Spellbound), Psycho is his anti-romantic bid: characters look for love, redemption, connection, honor, but in the end they are thwarted by their identities and personal histories. As a wise friend of mine used to say, “We can never outrun our backgrounds, our childhoods, our past. They catch up with us eventually”.
Psycho – 1960 – dir. Alfred Hitchcock
I have a tremendous amount of respect and affection for Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, easily one the director’s best-known and most influential films, and certainly one of my favorites. It remains a study in the successful undermining of audience expectations (cannily using what we know about genre and even film stardom against us), and on a personal level, it was one of the first films to get me thinking about the structures and strategies that filmmakers use (it also may well have taught me the meanings of the words “inordinately” and “aspic.”) Yet while it has a well-earned reputation as an exemplary thriller and an indispensable horror film, the sly humor of Psycho is occasionally overlooked.
U.S.A., 1960. 109 min. Shamley Productions. Cast: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam, John McIntire; Music: Bernard Herrmann; Cinematography: John L. Russell; Produced by: Alfred Hitchcock; Written by: Robert Bloch and Joseph Stefano; Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
The steamy shower, the shadow behind the shower curtain, the raised, knife-wielding hand, that shrieking soundtrack and a screaming Janet Leigh have not only become legend in film, but also legend in parody. The scene has become so recognizable in modern times that when it is parodied I can sense young people nodding their heads in recognition even when they have no idea about its origins.