“I saw a film today, oh boy!”
I would have loved to have been able to talk about my favourite film “Vertigo”, but Derek Malcolm got their first and this film is perhaps more important in my development as a film buff.
I first saw this film late at night on ITV on my sister’s black and white portable and it still had a profound impact on me, the story of Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) stealing some money from her employer only to be murdered in the shower in the Bates Motel, by a jealous “mother”.
In Britain at the time Hammer was making a lot of money making horror films on small budgets and so where other studios such as Tigon and Amicus, Hitch thought he would give it a go.
1960 was quite a pivotal year for the horror film, Hammer made perhaps it’s finest original product in “Brides Of Dracula”, (plus they made “Curse Of The Werewolf” and “The Two Faces Of Dr Jekyll”), whilst elsewhere in Britain Michael Powell made the notorious “Peeping Tom” which ended his career in Britain, in Italy Mario Bava made “Black Sunday (AKA Mask Of Satan)” with Barbara Steele, a sort of spaghetti horror film, if you like and in America Roger Corman began a successful series of Edgar Allen Poe adaptations with “The Fall Of The House Of Usher”.
Adapted from a story by Robert Bloch who took the inspiration from the crimes of Ed Gein (who would go on to inspire “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre”, “Deranged”, “The Silence Of The Lambs” and “Ed Gein” itself), I never really thought of it as a black comedy until I watched it with my mum and she laughed at quite a lot of it and then seeing it with an audience. I think a lot of Hitchcock just gets better with viewings and as I said when I first saw this, I saw it on ITV (with the adverts), I saw it a few years later on BBC-1 and it was like a completely different film without the adverts and then seeing it at the cinema was something else, you know when the shock moments are coming, but that just seems to make them more intense.
I remember when our General Studies teacher told us about the scene with the mother and Milton Arbogast (Martin Balsam) and when you see it on the big screen your head moves watching the mother come out of her room to Arbogast walking up the stairs as the two meet.
Much of the tension must be put at Bernard Herrmann, not Alfred Hitchcock, his amazing score is still one of the many highlights of this film, try watching the shower scene without out and you will know what I mean.
The film was made cheaply on a TV set and dismissed by the critics as rubbish, but the public came in their droves and it is now perhaps the film that Hitchcock is most remembered for and I have given in to choose this. Some directors I have held on to because there are so many greats, I know Dirk would choose Shadow Of A Doubt and Rufus T. Roofdog would choose North By Northwest, I toyed with Rebecca, before settling on Psycho. He did make films outside of the thriller genre(the musical Waltzes From Vienna and the comedy Mr & Mrs Smith spring to mind), but he seemed more at home in disturbed circumstances.
I think it also seems odd that Hitchcock went back to Black and white after the big budget of Vertigo and North By Northwest, but I can’t imagine it any other way. It was also really the first slasher movie and Gordon Lewis’s Blood Feast would take the genre on to a whole new level in 1962, but this was the first and remains the best.
Also, it is worth noting how a film can make and break an actor’s career, enter Anthony Perkins who had been in some films most notably Friendly Persuasion and The Tin Star, but it will be forever the role as Norman Bates for which he will be remembered. I remember in the 80s when Psycho II was released 23 years after the original, it wasn’t bad and it got Perkins and Vera Miles back, but then he made Psycho III and Psycho IV, enough said?
DF Viewing 29th December 1987
US Premiere New York City 16/06/1960
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