The sixth in an ongoing series of film conversations where I track my daughter’s reaction after she’s been introduced to one of my favorite movies.
What’s the movie about?
A down on his luck motel owner’s life is upended when his overbearing mother constantly intervenes in his love life.
Why did I pull this particular movie out of the cabinet?
Hitchcock. Perkins. That house. The score. The shower scene.
What did I think of the movie upon revisiting it?
It’s amazing – it moves faster than I recall, Perkin’s performance is fantastic, and the shower scene is still quite effective.
Why do I like it?
It’s fun to be on the receiving end of a master filmmaker manipulating his audience. I had forgotten how comprehensively the early part of the film involves you in Marion Crane’s plight, particularly watching her struggle with guilt over her actions. You think you’re involved in one story and then post shower sequence the entire film is turned upside down and you’re forced to accept a new protagonist in Norman. And somehow, you actually become slightly sympathetic to his situation, you feel tension when the car is sliding into the swamp – Norman just cleaned up a murder, but you don’t hate him.
Psycho gained notoriety from the incredibly effective shower scene, but there are many other reasons to love this film – Anthony Perkins in particular. Norman has just the right edge of weirdness, and many of his subtle actions communicate inner torment. When he brings dinner down to Marion Crane, watching him struggle to make a decision as to whether or not he should enter her room (he takes a half step forward than retreats) helps justify the satisfying payoff.
The black and white palette looks fantastic and provides some interesting visuals. The sunglasses of the police officer hide his eyes making his intentions unclear. Norman’s parlor with his stuffed birds is slightly more menacing, and the thin trail of black blood swirl down the drain as Marion Crane’s dead eyes stare at you is just as impactful as any gore scene from modern horror.
Upon rewatch, what didn’t work for me?
I must not have paid close attention to the end of this film on previous viewings, or maybe when I caught it on cable I dropped off after the mother reveal. After the fruit cellar sequence, the film takes an odd turn; back at the police station psychiatrist Dr. Fred Rickman (Simon Oakland) goes on a long monologue explaining his conversation with “mother.” His tone is strangely at odds with the tension we experience throughout the film; he’s enthusiastic, nearly jovial and he confirms to Marion Crane that indeed her sister is dead with all the empathy of confirming a lunch order, “yep, your sister is dead all right, oh, I’ll have the ham on rye.” I went back and read reviews of the film, and apparently I was just late to the party on this one – the psychiatrist scene was highlighted as a negative in several reviews (including Roger Ebert’s).
The film also does feel dated when it comes to male/female relationships – the realtor we meet early in the film is meant to be scuzzy to soften the blow of Marion’s theft, but it’s still kind of jarring.
And finally, law enforcement is remarkably lax in this film. A police officer finds a woman sleeping on the highway who is acting erratically. He follows her to a used car lot where she trades in her perfectly good car for another (and she pays the difference in cash – over $6,000 when adjusted for inflation). And when he walks onto the car lot…….he lets her go without so much as a follow-on conversation.
Anything else I’d like to add?
My parents and I watched this together and then they took me to the theater to see Psycho II, which became the first R rated film I ever saw in theaters. The sequel is obviously no Psycho, but it’s probably better than you remember, particularly for Perkins performance.
Am I still happy I chose this to share with my daughter?
Super excited actually – this breaks the seal on classic films. I want to share all kinds of 80’s wackiness with her, but I also want to introduce her to some fun and significant historical films. She enjoyed this, so now I’m thinking about films such as The Great Escape, The Bridge Over the River Kwai and a ton of other movies. And….definitely more Hitchcock! The Birds, Strangers on a Train, Rear Window – so many films to choose from!
So, what did she think? Check out the podcast to find out!