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a.) The absolute realism of the first twenty minutes of so, which are so true to life that they might have come from a documentary on how people lived in America forty years ago. There isn't a false note,--or a missed one--as each vocal inflection and raised eyebrow carries great meaning even if, on the surface, not much appears to be happening.
b.) Marion and the motorcycle cop. The cop is dark and sinister in appearance, due mostly to the bright desert sun, and never takes off his sunglasses. His conduct is at all times professional; he never raises his voice, and comes across as calm and rather perceptive; and he seems truly concerned over Marion Crane's fate, though he is unaware of her actual predicament. Marion is, alas, a bad actress, and the cop sees through this, if not to the heart of the matter, yet we don't want him to follow her. Despite his appearance the cop is not the angel of death but rather Marion's last chance. Had she confessed to her crime she would have escaped the fate that awaited her; and if she had just been a little less clever, and driven more slowly, and the skies remained clear, he might have followed her to the motel and intervened on her behalf.
c.) California Charlie. John Anderson is wonderful as the fast-talking, semi-streetwise small town used car salesman. At the end of almost every other line of dialogue he seems on the verge of discovering who Marion really is, then pulls back or comes to the wrong conclusion. He senses that she is being watched by the cop; but he also wants to make a sale. The scenes at the used car lot are both highly realistic,--and perfectly acted and timed--and also a little frightening, from the opening, "I'm in no mood for trouble", to the final "hey!" just before Marion drives away. We know that something isn't right, but the problem isn't with the car lot; it's Marion's plight casts a dark shadow over all her scenes there, despite the brightest sunlight imaginable.
d.) Chitchat with Norman. Once Marion and Norman settle down for a light meal in the parlor their conversation turns to general things, and Norman is a good observer, if a bit awkward socially. Without actually lying Marion gives herself away with a throwaway line ("Sometimes just once is enough", in a reference to private traps) and Norman seems to catch her drift, if not the actual meaning of what she's saying, and allows it to pass. 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. This is in my opinion the best written and most beautifully acted, edited and photographed scene I have ever seen in a movie. The handling of every nuance is prodigal and masterful, and the end result nothing less than staggering.
e.) The sheriff's house. When Sam and Lila wake up the sheriff and his wife in the middle of the night we see a splendid example of people talking to one another without either party understanding what is in fact going on. The result is a mini-comedy of manners; but it is also good exposition, as we learn of Mrs. Bates' death (and the dress she was buried in, "periwinkle blue"). John McInyre's sheriff dominates this scene (and no other), and expertly delivers its punchline, "Well if that's Mrs. Bates in the window, who's that buried up in Greenlawn Cemetary".
f.) Arbogast and Norman. The private detective's interview with Norman is played low-key, and yet we sense the tension in Norman's voice and manner, and know that Arbogast does, too. Something is amiss. This is beyond the question of who killed Marion. The stakes feel very high in this sparring match, and though Norman wins on a technicality, we know that Arbogast is coming back for more.
g.) The shrink's explanation. This part of the film has been criticized by many for being a sop thrown to the audience. I disagree. After all, the movie came out in 1960, and by the standards of the time some explanation seems in order, and Dr. Simon Oakland is as good a man for the job as I can imagine. His analysis of Norman's pathology is cogent and extremely well delivered. Yet throughout his speech, with all its Freudian brilliance, the doctor offered a take on the story that we in the audience, even if we can accept it, can never be satisfied with. He can explain the character of Norman Bates rationally, but he cannot make our response to his story and its effect on us feel ultimately safe, feel somehow in control and finalized. Yes, one can put people like Norman under the microscope, and even dissect what one sees, but this doesn't stop such events as unfolded in the movie any less likely to occur. Ask Milton Arbogast.
In conclusion I'd like to say that great films are made up of outstanding little things, not just big moments or fancy effects. There is in fact nothing fancy about Psycho, which is on the surface is a somewhat plain-looking movie. Only when one looks beneath the surface does one see the teeming millions of small things,--gestures, glances, sudden changes in lighting, razor-sharp editing, and all above the refusal on the part of the director to let any one factor dominate--that we understand the meaning of the word genius, the meaning of the word creative.
Janet Leigh plays a bored office drone who decides to steal some loot from her boss's obnoxious client and parlay it into a new life with her all-too-distant boyfriend. All is going more or less according to plan until she stops in at the wrong motel, where she befriends a friendly if somewhat nerdy desk clerk only to find it causes problems with that clerk's possessive mother, who as her boy explains, "is not herself today." I'll say she isn't, and so would Leigh's Marion Crane, who maybe should have put up that "Do-Not-Disturb" sign before taking a shower.
You can feel the decade literally shifting out of '50s and into '60s with this one. Even the opening shot, where the camera looks over a Western U.S. city in the middle of the afternoon and zooms in on what looks exactly like the Texas School Book Depository overlooking Dealey Plaza. 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. Just compare him with John Gavin, who plays Marion's boyfriend in the standard-actor-of-the-day way. Perkins manages to be so weirdly magnetizing, even in small moments like the way he stumbles on the word "falsity" or notes how creepy he finds dampness to be.
He shines in bigger scenes, too, like his tense chat with Martin Balsam's boorish but diligent private detective character, Arbogast, who along with Perkins and Leigh delivers a landmark performance. The way both actors play out the awkwardness in their conversation makes you literally sweat. Then again, you're always uneasy around Norman. You definitely feel wary of him right away, but you find yourself liking him, too, even when he's busy covering up "Mother's" misdeeds. Not since Bela Legosi played Dracula did you get a horror movie with such a compelling central figure.
If you are sampling the many other comments here, be sure to look up Merwyn Grote's. He makes an interesting, compelling case for how director Alfred Hitchcock used his television series as a template for "Psycho." Certainly "Psycho" looks more like early 1960s television than any of the more sumptuous fare Hitchcock had been bringing to screen at the time. Not only is it in black-and-white, not color, but the sets; a ramshackle motel, a mothbally old house, a couple of cheap looking bedrooms, a bathroom in a used-car dealership, are deliberately low class.
It's thrilling to see Hitchcock move so effectively outside his normal element, and move things along with such clinical detachment and low-key technical finesse. Thrilling, too, to realize this is one of his most accomplished products; made by a man who was experienced enough to know how the game was played, and daring enough still to break the rules; indeed, start a whole new ballgame.
Is it the best Hitchcock movie? It's definitely one of his best, right up there with "The 39 Steps" and "Strangers On A Train" and "Sabotage" and "Shadow Of A Doubt." He only once again came close to making as good a film, with "The Birds," while Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins never escaped the greatness they helped create here. Poor John Gavin had to quit the biz entirely, and became an ambassador.
Often imitated, parodied, referenced, and analyzed to death, "Psycho" still isn't played out nearly 45 years after it came out. You owe it to yourself to pay a visit to the Bates Motel; Norman has a room ready.
I mention the lack of action, and blood, too, because younger people who might be watching this for the first time are not going to see the kind of horror film they're accustomed to seeing. A generation back, movie makers tended to build up characters and suspense, so there was a lot more storytelling and less action than you see today. Also, this movie doesn't have the shock value today for audiences, either, not after years of Freddie Krueger-type blood-and-guts seen in the past 30 years.
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.
"Norman Bates" is one of the most famous fictional names in film history, thanks to this film and the great work portraying him by Anthony Perkins. "Norman" is a nutcase, as it turns out and the more you know all about him, the more fun it is to study Perkins and his character "Norman" in subsequent viewings. He really has the guy down pat. However, it isn't just Perkins' film; the supporting is just fine with Leigh, whose figure is still awesome no matter how many times you see it; Martin Balsam as the private detective; Vera Miles and John Gavin. Everyone contributes.
What makes me really enjoy this movie is the cinematography. I bought this on VHS when it became available on widescreen. Later, of course, I got the DVD. Each time, I appreciate John Russell's camera-work and Hitchcock's direction more and more. I wonder if this isn't Hitchcock's best job of directing as his camera angles and lighting are outstanding. On the DVD, the blacks, whites and grays are just super and the famous house next to the Bates Motel never looked better. That house really looks eerie.
The sound effects in here don't hurt. When Balsam is attacked, the accompanying frightening music never fails to bring chills down my spine. The music literally "screams" at you.
I went 35 years between showings but now have watched this five times in the past four years. I love it and look forward to seeing it again. Many people here think this is Hitchcock's greatest film. Add me to that list.
If you have not seen this movie, do yourself a favor. Stop reading thse comments, get up, take a shower, then GO GET THIS MOVIE. Buy it, don't rent. You will not regret it.
"Psycho" is easily the best horror-thriller of all time. Nothing even comes close...maybe "Les Diaboliques" (1955) but not really.
"Psycho" has one of the best scripts you'll ever find in a movie. The movie's only shortcoming is that one of the characters seems to have little motivation in the first act of the movie but as the story progresses, you realize that Hitchcock (GENIUS! GENIUS! GENIUS!) in a stroke of genius has done this on purpose, because there is another character whose motivations are even more important. Vitally important. So important that you totally forget about anything else. I was lucky enough to have spent my life wisely avoiding any conversation regarding the plot of this movie until I was able to see it in full. Thank God I did! The movie has arguably the best mid-plot point and climactic twist in thriller history, and certainly the best-directed ending. The last few shots are chilling and leave a lingering horror in the viewer's mind.
Just as good as the writing is Hitchcock's direction, which is so outstanding that it defies explanation. Suffice it to say that this movie is probably the best directorial effort by film history's best director. I was fortunate enough to see this movie at a big oldtime movie house during a Hitchcock revival. Janet Leigh, still radiant, spoke before the film and explained how Hitchcock's genius was in his ability to 1) frighten without gore and 2) leave his indelible mark on the movie without overshadowing his actors (like the great Jean Renoir could never do). "Psycho" is clearly its own phenomenon, despite all the big-name talent involved.
Hitchcock does not disappoint by leaving out his trademark dark humor. His brilliance is in making a climax that is at once both scary and hilarious. When I saw it in the theatre the audience was both gasping in disbelief while falling-on-the-floor laughing.
One more thing...
Tony Perkins. Janet Leigh got much-deserved accolades for this film, but it is Perkins who gives what remains the single best performance by an actor in a horror movie. He is so understated that his brillance passes you by. He becomes the character. The sheer brillance of the role is evidenced by the ineptitude of the actors in Gus Van Sant's 1998 (dear God make it stop!) shot-for-shot "remake." Though the movies are nearly identical, Hitchcock's is superior mostly because of the acting and the atmosphere (some of the creepiness is lost with color). This is made obvious by the initial conversation between Leigh's character and Perkins, a pivotal scene. The brilliance of Perkins in the original shines even brighter when compared with the ruination in the remake even though the words and the shots were exactly the same. The crucial chemistry in this scene lacking in the remake gives everything away and mars our understanding of upcoming events. The fact that Perkins could never escape this role - his star stopped rising star as it had done in the 50s - proves that he played the part perhaps too well.
I keep using the word brilliant, but I cannot hide my enthusiasm for this movie. It is wholly unlike the overblown, overbudget, overlong fluff spewing all-too-often out of Hollywood today. "Psycho" is simple, well-crafted and just the right length.
Eleven-and-a-half out of ten stars.
Aside from this though, the movie is flawless. I won't even go into to how incredible the cinematography is. One thing I think people seem to forget about the movie is the incredible soundtrack. Sound is such an important element in movies and Psycho is undaunted when it comes to sound. The only other horror movie that even comes close to using sound with such perfection is Halloween (1978).
The movie is perfectly casted as well. Janet Leigh as the beautiful Marion Crane, Vera Miles as the concerned sister, Lila Crane, and of course the unforgettable performance from Anthony Perkins as the eerie yet charismatic Norman Bates.
I would recommend this movie to any horror movie film fanatic. I would especially recommend this movie to any horror movie fan not desensitized by Friday The 13th, Nightmare On Elm Street, or Scream .. if such a fan exists.
Janet Leigh plays Marion Crane, a woman who is in love with a divorced man Sam Loomis. He says once he pays his ex wife off with the alimony, they'll get married. When Marion's boss asks her to put their most valued client's money, $40,000 to be exact, and bring it to the bank. She has other plans though, she takes the money for herself and flee's the city, but not before her boss sees her driving off. Shaky enough, huh? But she pulls over to get a nap in, and a police officer asks if she's OK, but she gets shaky and just wants to drive off. The policemen fallows her since she is so shaky and she ends up buying a different car. She gets caught in a giant rainstorm and pulls over to the Bates Motel.
She meets there, the owner, a pleasant and polite young man, Norman Bates. He lives in the house next to the motel with his mother. Marion checks in and Norman offers her dinner, they have a conversation mostly about his mom and Marion is concerned when she heard screams from the house that sounded like his mom. Norman gets on the defenses and asks Marion some questions as well, she says she is going to a "private island". Norman is very attracted to her, you can tell immediately, and she leaves knowing that she has to get out of the trap she set for herself back in Phoenix. As she's taking a shower before bed, a mysterious figure comes to the curtain and opens it stabbing Marion violently several times causing her to die. Norman cleans up the mess and gets rid of her body not knowing about her money and throwing that away too.
Marion's boyfriend, Sam and her sister, Lola, hire a private detective to find her. The private detective comes across The Bates Motel and doesn't end up coming back after trying to "talk" to the mother. Lola and Sam are concerned and decide to investigate for themselves, but will they end up coming back to the city alive? Psycho is just one of those movies you have to see before you die. It's one of the most important films of our time and will never be forgotten. It's a true treasure with terrific actors and a terrifying plot that will give you nightmares for weeks! Please don't let that scare you, I'm just having fun, but it is a freaky film! Watch it in the dark! It has a better effect, I think. Over 40 years and this film is still horrifying as if it were made today!