Psycho Review


Alfred Hitchcock is usually regarded as one of film’s most talented directors. With a resume as strong as his, it’s hard to argue. “Vertigo,” “Rear Window,” “North by Northwest,” “Rebecca,” “Strangers on a Train,” “The Birds.” The list goes on and on. I haven’t seen all of Sir Alfred’s films (I haven’t even seen all the films I’ve listed above), but it’s going to take something equivalent to a cinematic miracle for something to top “Psycho.” This film has it all. It’s as suspenseful as anything Hitchcock, or really an director, has ever done. It’s incredibly well acted. The direction is top-notch. And technically, the film is exceptional. When I finally get around to compiling an all-time favorite films list, there’s no doubt “Psycho” will nab a spot near the top. It’s that good.

The film opens with Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) caught up in an affair with a married man, Sam Loomis (John Gavin). Marion knows she could never be with Sam, but she is so desperate, she impulsively steals $40,000 from her employer and hightails it out of town. While on the lam, she stumbles across the Bates motel, run by the kind and gentle Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). He’s a quiet man who does nothing besides operate the run-down motel and care for his sick and demanding mother. Norman is immediately taken with Marion, and we soon learn he isn’t the sweet gentleman he originally seems. Enter Marion’s sister, Lila (Vera Miles). When she doesn’t hear from her sister for a few days, she becomes worried. She approaches Sam, hoping he has seen her. She also hires a private detective, Arbogast (Martin Balsam), to investigate. Eventually, a shocking discovery is made at the seemingly ordinary Bates Motel.

Undoubtedly, the strength of “Psycho” lies in the direction of Alfred Hitchcock. He’s clearly a man who knows what he’s doing. It’s amazing to watch films from some of the best directors (Hitchcock, Kubrick, Scorsese, etc.) and see just how much better they are when compared to their contemporaries. Hitchcock knows how to milk the most possible tension out of every scene. “Psycho’s” most well-known sequence, which features Marion in the shower, is as suspensful as films get. Knowing the end result in no way minimizes the strength and excitement we get out of watching that scene, or the film as a whole. It’s the kind of film I expect I can watch over and over again and still adore. Not many filmmakers can accomplish something like that.

The acting is tremendous. The last Hitchcock film I watched, “Marnie,” featured some abysmal performances, so I was pleased to know Hitchcock is capable of more than just crafting a suspensful motion picture. The clear standout is Anthony Perkins, who reportedly was so typecast as the gentle but creepy Norman that he refused to talk about the film with anyone for years. The performance is so good because when we meet him, he seems quite normal. By the end, all traces of normalcy have gone, and we have a hard time recalling the mild-mannered person we originally meet. Janet Leigh is quite good as Marion, a woman whose predicament we might not relate to, but at least we understand her motives. The rest of the cast has little to do (the show belongs to Perkins and Leigh), but the perform their duties admirably.

The film’s technical accomplishments are unparalleled. The editing throughout the film (but especially during the shower sequence) is brilliant and ensures maximum suspense. The score by Bernard Herrman is legendary (and deservedly so). The black-and-white photography is beautiful. The set design is perfect and full of interesting motifs. One could write pages on the meaning behind Norman’s stuffed bird collection.

I can’t wait to re-examine “Psycho” and see what kind of impact it will have on me the second time around. I expect it will only get better with repeat viewings, the mark of a truly brilliant film. The Oscars threw it a few nominations, but pretty much ignored this masterpiece (as they did with nearly all of Hitch’s work). I’m thankful history has smiled upon it. It’s a truly brilliant piece of cinema and the kind of movie that reaffirms my love of film.

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