Psycho
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FAQ for
Psycho (1960) More at IMDbPro »

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A Note Regarding Spoilers

The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers for this film and the original novel. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags have been used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.

For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs, and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for Psycho can be found here.

What is 'Psycho' about?

Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), a secretary based in Phoenix, Arizona, absconds with $40,000 from her employer's client and makes a run to California to be with her lover Sam Loomis (John Gavin). Along the way, tired and caught in a storm, Marion takes a room at the Bates Motel, where she meets the owner/manager, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), a shy but friendly young man who lives nearby in a large house with his domineering mother. While showering, Marion is crudely slashed to death by Norman's mother. When Marion's sister Lila (Vera Miles) becomes concerned after hearing nothing from Marion, she goes looking for her, eventually coming across the Bates Motel.

Yes, Psycho is based on the 1959 novel of the same name by American writer Robert Bloch (1917-1994), who was in turn inspired by the crimes of Wisconsin murderer Ed Gein.

As the novel explains and the movie implies, Marion is running out of time. She's in her late 20s, awfully late for a girl of her era to be unmarried. Sam inherited considerable debts from his deceased father. Wanting to pay them off as quickly as possible, he has pared his expenses to the bone, even living in a room at the back of the hardware store. He repeatedly tells Mary that he doesn't want to get married until he can afford a place for them to live. Circumstances conspire to deceive her into justifying the act. (1) She has a boss who air conditions his own office but not the outer office where the secretaries work; Arizona weather can become terribly hot, and Marion's boss even comments on how unbearable it is in the secretarial pool. (2) Her mousy coworker keeps going on and on about her marriage. (3) She's steals the money from a drunken millionaire who makes a sloppy pass at her, spoils his own daughter, cheats on his taxes, and says while waving the bills in the air, "I only carry as much as I can afford to lose."

He has no idea that she is fleeing Phoenix after having stolen money from her boss. But her behavior is suspicious. He first takes an interest in her when he sees her car parked along the highway. He finds her asleep on her front seat. He taps on the window; she panics and makes a reflexive attempt to drive away. From that moment on, she is nervous and anxious to leave, so he follows her.

How does the movie end?

While Sam keeps Norman occupied in the office, Lila sneaks up to the house, looking to speak with Norman's mother. She looks through the bedrooms but can find only an indentation on Mrs Bates' bed. Meanwhile, Sam has begun accusing Norman of hiding the $40,000, which enrages Norman such that he knocks out Sam with a ceramic jar and runs up to the house. Having found nothing, Lila is just about to leave the house when she sees Norman running up the walk. She hides in a stairwell and notices a door leading to the cellar. She snoops through the cellar, coming upon Norman's mother sitting in a chair. When Lila turns Mrs Bates to face her, she sees only a mummified corpse. Lila screams, which brings Norman, dressed as his mother, running downstairs and brandishing a knife with which he plans to kill Lila, but Sam stops him. At a conference held several days later, psychiatrist Dr Fred Richman (Simon Oakland), after interviewing Norman, explains how Norman killed his mother and her lover ten years ago and how the guilt caused his personality to split into two sides Norman and his mother. He killed Marion because his Norman-side was attracted to her but his mother-side went into a jealous rage. Both Marion's body and the body of Detective Arbogast (Martin Balsam) are buried in a swamp that borders on the Bates' property. In the final scenes, while Norman sits in his cell, locked into his mother's personality, Marion's car is pulled out of the swamp.

The scene allowed for a glimpse into Norman's mind that audiences would not necessarily have been privy to without some background information. The executives at Universal insisted on the epilogue, which is almost identical with the one in the novel. They were worried that the audience would think that Norman Bates was a homosexual or a transvestite. A character declares that Norman must have been wearing women's clothes because he was a transvestite. The psychiatrist contradicts him and makes the "real" reason clear. If you dislike this scene you're not alone. Pauline Kael called it the worst scene in a Hitchcock movie.

Hitchcock noticed that low-budget shockers were cleaning up at the box office, and he wanted to make a low-budget shocker that outclassed all rivals. Black and white photography kept his costs down. Another reason was the blood. Hitchcock thought all that blood in the shower would be too gruesome, so he used chocolate syrup as blood in that scene. Chocolate syrup photographs as blood in black and white.

There is a version of the film, aired for some time on German TV, which is about 18 seconds longer. It has not been released on DVD. It includes Marion starting to take off her bra (while being watched by Norman), Norman washing his bloody hands, and a slightly longer version of the second murder. A detailed comparison with pictures of these scenes can be found here. In contrast to this, some TV stations in the US only air a heavily censored version of the movie, like WSJU, and a detailed comparison can be seen here.

When the shower scene was first screened for the British censors, as John Mauceri said at a Hollywood Bowl concert of movie music, they rejected it for being too violent and graphic. Overnight Hitchcock redubbed the soundtrack with music other than the original Bernard Hermann score and resubmitted the scene. It was approved! The story is a tribute to the influence Hermann's music has in creating the atmosphere and tension in the movie.

Audiences of 1960 were shocked to see a toilet on screen, in close-up, and to see and hear it being flushed. (Marion tears up a small sheet of paper and flushes the pieces.) A precedent for the toilet scene can be found in the Warner Bros. cartoon short, Sinkin' in the Bathtub (1930), in which an animate bathtub dances around the bathroom and throws toilet paper into the air like flower petals. The "camera" pans along with it, and we catch sight of the edge of a toilet and a full view of the pull-cord used for flushing it. Also, in the Van Beuren cartoon short, Piano Tooners (1932), a tuner takes a sour musical note (which cartoon magic has made into a living creature) and flushes it down the toilet. Again we see the edge of the toilet; and we clearly hear the flush.

Very little. Audiences were shocked when Marion was stabbed to death in the shower. Hitchcock had misled them to believe the film was about a woman on the run from police. More, Janet Leigh was a major star. Killing her off less than halfway through the picture was unthinkable. Not even the novel is much of a precedent. We spend far less time with Mary Crane in Robert Bloch's book than we do with Marion in the movie. The City of the Dead (1960), a British horror picture that was released three months after Hitchcock's film, seems to have independently hit upon the idea of killing its protagonist before the film is half over. But even if City had been released first, its blond was played by a minor starlet (Venetia Stevenson) and her story was less engrossing; it could never have had the same impact as Psycho.

In the book, Mary lives and works in Ft. Worth, Texas; in the movie, Marion lives and works in Phoenix, Arizona. In the book, Mary is a brunette; in the movie, Marion is a blonde. In the book, there is no tryst between Sam and Mary at a hotel, as in the movie. In fact, they are not even lovers, although they are engaged. In the book, Mary does not pull off the road and sleep overnight in her car, as Marion does in the movie; so no cop questions, and then follows, her. In the book, Mary trades cars twice, not once as Marion does. The book begins at the Bates Motel, with the first portion of the novel focusing on Norman's unhappy domestic life with "Mother." He is a shy, morbidly obese man in his mid-forties, who wears glasses. In the movie, Norman is thin, much younger, and does not wear glasses.

In the book, when Mary arrives at the motel, Norman treats her in a gruff, sometimes hostile manner. In the movie, Norman is friendlier and more relaxed around Marion. In the book, Mary signs the motel register "Jane Wilson"; in the movie, Marion's alias is "Marie Samuels". In the book, Mary goes to the house to have supper with Norman, and they eat in his kitchen. In the movie, Norman brings the food to the motel on a tray, and they eat in the parlor adjoining the office. In the book, there is only one stuffed squirrel on display. In the movie, there are several stuffed birds. In the book, there are six cabins; in the movie, there are twelve. In the book, Norman's peephole is obscured by a framed hotelier's license; in the movie, it is covered by a painting. In the book, Mary leaves the money in the glove compartment of her car. In the movie, she wraps it in a newspaper.

When "Mother" attacks Mary in the shower, she kills her by severing her head rather than just stabbing her. Afterward, Norman wraps the body in an oilcloth he retrieves from the house, not in the shower curtain. When the Lila Crane of the book first meets Sam Loomis at the hardware store, it is night and the store is already closed. In the dim light, Lila looks so much like Mary, that he takes her in his arms and kisses her, an action she angrily rebuffs. In the movie, Lila arrives at the store during the day and no such mistake is made.

In the book, it is revealed that Norman's blackouts--meaning the times when he switches over to the mother personality --are the direct result of his getting drunk and that so long as he remains sober he is able to keep his homicidal impulses under control. In the film, Norman never drinks. When Sam and Lila go to the motel, they know which cabin Mary was in because the cabin number is written in the register. So they request that cabin, and in it they find an earring belonging to Mary. In the movie, the private detective, Arbogast, discovered which cabin she had stayed in during his interview with Bates, and he mentions it to Lila over the phone. In the bathroom, they find a piece of paper with figuring on it that Marion had tried to flush down the toilet. After Sam and Lila find Mary's earring, Lila is determined to talk to "Mother". Sam is against the idea, so she tells him that she is going to drive into town and gets the Sheriff. Sam engages Norman in conversation while she drives away. But she stops up the road, and turns the car around, which is seen by Norman but not Sam. She then goes into the house alone. In the movie, Sam agrees to let her go into the house by herself, and he keeps Norman occupied while she does so.

In the book, "Mother" and Joe are poisoned while eating a celebratory dinner. In the movie, they are found dead in bed, and it is implied that they were being intimate at the time. The deaths occurred twenty years before the story begins; in the movie, they happened ten years earlier. In the book, Norman is committed to a sanitarium immediately following the discovery of the bodies. When he is released four months later, he digs up his mother's coffin and recovers the corpse. In the movie, he removes the body from the coffin prior to the burial, and replaces it with something of equal weight.

Throughout most of the shower scene, Janet Leigh is shown from the bust up, which hides her breasts from view. She also has moleskin taped to her, which protected her modesty from the technical crew. We see her bare back, but she is never shown in any real state of nudity. Her nude stand-in is shot from overhead in such a way as to show that she is indeed nude. But her hips are turned to avoid showing the pubic area; and one arm across her chest shields any real view of her breasts. After the killer has fled, and Marion Crane slides down the wall, she reaches out and grabs the shower curtain with her right hand. Look carefully at the close-up insert shot of the hand coming into frame and clutching the shower curtain. While your attention is drawn to the hand and curtain on the left side of the screen (both in sharp focus), look again at the fuzzy, out-of-focus grey and white areas in the background to the middle right. It may take adjusting the contrast and several viewings, but there is indisputably a pair of naked breasts in the background of the shot. IN an interview in Microsoft's Cinemania, Janet Leigh admitted that she did appear nude at one point although unintentionally. The moleskin was affixed to her body with glue. The numerous takes caused her to spend a lot of time in the hot water of the shower, and the heat caused the glue to eventually lose its grip. She could feel the moleskin sliding down her breasts. Rather than stop filming and cover herself, she decided to sacrifice her modesty and allow the filming to continue with her partially nude.

No. Saul Bass, who was a visual consultant for the film and designed the title sequence for Psycho, reportedly claimed that he directed the scene. He did design and storyboard the scene, but Hitchcock shot it. Many persons on the set, including Janet Leigh, confirm that the only person directing the scene was Alfred Hitchcock. The storyboards for the scene can be found within the special features of the1999 Collector's Edition DVD.

No. In the documentary The Making of 'Psycho' (1997) (V), Janet Leigh recalls that Mr. Hitchcock was very considerate of her comfort during that scene and that her scream was pure acting.

The chair in which Norman's mother sits is an old fashioned desk chair, not a rocking chair. The light moving back and forth on her face is not from the chair rocking but from the light bulb swinging over head.

See Leigh as a House on Greenapple Road (1970) and as a faded star of film and stage who murders her husband in Columbo: Forgotten Lady (#5.1) (1975). Vera Miles and Barbara Rush do away with a manipulative cad in "The Outer Limits: The Forms of Things Unknown (#1.32)" (1964). Miles and her father (John Carradine), a former silent movie director, kill a car mechanic in "The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: Death Scene (#3.20)" (1965). Miles is the head of a cosmetics company who kills her employee to get the formula for a wrinkle cream in Columbo: Lovely But Lethal (#3.1) (1973).

Alfred Hitchcock places himself in a small cameo in each of his movies. His cameo in Psycho occurs about five or six minutes into the movie. He can be seen as a man in a cowboy hat standing on the sidewalk outside of Marion's office. A photo of his cameo scene can be seen here.

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