Movie Review: Psycho (1960) #atozchallenge


I’m participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge by watching and reviewing some of my favorite movies of all time that I haven’t watched in a long time. This post contains SPOILERS!

TitlePsycho
Release Date: September 8, 1960
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Production Company: Shamley Productions
Synopsis:

A couple meet for a lunchtime tryst in a Phoenix hotel. Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) hopes they can get married and legitimize their relationship, but her boyfriend Sam Loomis (John Gavin) wants to pay off his alimony debts before he commits.  Return to work at a real estate office, Marion is entrusted with $40,000 in cash that a boastful client leaves in payment for a property.  Marion decides to steal the $40,000 and flee to California to help Sam pay his debts.

On her journey, Marion is questioned by a suspicious state trooper who finds her sleeping in her car on the side of the road.  To cover her tracks, she trades in her car for a new one surprising the car dealer with her willingness to pay for a car and go.  Close to her destination in Fairvale, California, Marion drives through a raging downpour and decides to stop for the night at an old fashioned motor court, the Bates Motel.

The motel owner Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) makes a sandwich for Marion and they dine together in the motel office. Marion overhears Norman’s mother chastising him and as they talk about it the conversation between Marion and Norman becomes increasingly awkward.  Marion returns to her room at the motel and takes a shower, where she is stabbed to death by a shadowy figure.  Norman covers up the murder, presumably by his mother, by cleaning up the bathroom and sinking Marion, all her possessions, and her car in a swamp.

A week later, Marion’s sister Lila (Vera Miles) arrives at Sam’s hardware store and confronts him about Marion’s absence.  A private investigator, Milton Arbogast (Martin Balsam), has been following Lila, and he informs them both that he is also trying to find Marion for stealing $40,000.  Arbogast makes inquiries at various hotels in the Fairvale area before finding evidence that Marion stayed at the Bates Motel.  While hoping to find out more information from Norman’s mother, Arbogast is also stabbed to death.

Lila and Sam, not hearing back from Arbogast, decide to investigate on their own.  The learn from the local sheriff that Norman Bates’ mother died in a murder/suicide a decade earlier.  They go to the Bates Motel with the plan for Sam to keep Norman occupied while Lila looks for the mysterious older woman in the Bates House.  Norman overpowers Sam, and Lila goes to hide in the house’s fruit cellar.  She discovers the mummified corpse of woman just as Norman shows up wearing a wig and a dress and ready to stab Lila.  Sam arrives in the nick of time and Norman is apprehended.  As an epilogue to the movie, a psychologist explains that Norman murdered his mother and adopted a split personality where he sometimes acted as his jealous mother.

When Did I First See This Movie?:

Someone (my mother?) told me the basic plot about Norman Bates having a split personality and being a knife-wielding murderer.  When I was probably too young to watch this movie, around 9-10 years old, I was excited that it was on tv after school one day.  I missed the beginning of the movie and tuned in when Marion and Norman are talking.  Hitchcock rolled in his grave knowing that I’d missed the movie AND had been spoiled about the surprise twist.

What Did I Remember?:

The shower scene, obviously, as well as Arbogast’s murder, Lila’s discovery, the psychologist’s speech, and Norman in his cell.

What Did I Forget?:

Even though I’d watched the movie in its in entirety at a later date, it was still a surprise how much of the “stealing $40,000” suspense plot there is before the big twist.

What Makes This Movie Great?:

Long before Game of Thrones killed off its protagonist in the first season, Psycho upended filmgoers’ expectations by not only having Marion brutally murdered 50 minutes into the movie, but also that her theft of $40,000 was a complete MacGuffin.  And then Arbogast takes over as the protagonist for the next part of the movie, where it appears that he will solve the mystery, until he is also murdered.  Lila is the final protagonist who sees the movie to the end.  This movie challenged the conventions of the production code and introduced the slasher film genre, changing Hollywood forever, for good and for ill.  And while it’s a low-budget movie, the cinematography, music, and acting performances from the likes of Leigh and Perkins are magnificent.

What Doesn’t Hold Up?:

I think the movie holds up well overall, although I suspect the early scenes of suspense around Marions theft and then the ten minutes where Norman silently cleans up the scene of the crime may be too slow for a lot of modern audiences.

Is It a Classic?:

No doubt.

Rating: ****

Five more all-time favorite movies starting with P:

  1. Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985)
  2. The Philadelphia Story (1940)
  3. Popeye (1980)
  4. The Portrait of Jennie (1948)
  5. The Princess Bride (1987)

What is your favorite movie starting with P? What is your guess for my Q movie (Hint: It features a clown, but a crying on the inside type)?  Let me know in the comments!

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