Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


PSYCHO (1960). Director: Alfred Hitchcock. "I think that we're all in our private traps, clamped in them. And none of us can ever get out. We scratch and claw, but only at the air, only at each other. And for all of it, we never budge an inch." -- Norman Bates. "If you love someone, you don't do that to them even if you hate them" -- Norman Bates. 

You can quibble about Psycho's flaws, but let's talk about the virtues of this incredibly influential motion picture. Anthony Perkins gives an outstanding performance, and his scene when he's questioned by an equally wonderful Martin Balsam as the investigator Arbogast is practically a textbook example of great two-party acting. Janet Leigh has gone up in my estimation. Yes, she delivers some lines that are meant to be ironic in too matter-of-fact a style, but she's quite good in her nervous scenes with the cop and the used car salesman, not to mention Norman. Simon Oakland as the psychiatrist in the epilogue plays the guy as if he's a bit nutty and insensitive, but he makes what could have been a dull scene a lot more interesting. Vera Miles displays an effective intensity and even John Gavin is better than usual. Frank Albertson is great as the wealthy guy with the forty thousand who starts the whole horrific ball rolling. Even the very small roles are well cast. Joseph Stefano's screenplay is full of wonderful -- and occasionally wicked -- dialogue. [For instance when Janet Leigh's much plainer co-worker Caroline (Pat Hitchcock) says to her : "He was flirting with you -- I guess he must have noticed my wedding ring."] Bernard Herrmann's score is one of the finest ever composed for a motion picture, from the stabbing violins to the German romanticism (heard softly behind the opening hotel room scene) that underscores the doomed love affair between Marion and Sam. His music embellishes every scene, such as the long sequence when Norman cleans up after "mother's" murder and drives Marion's car into the swamp. John L. Russell's crisp black and white photography is of a very high order, as are the sets and art direction. The basic set of the old house and the motel is a wonderful juxtaposition of the Gothic and the modern. There's no sense in saying Psycho isn't Shakespeare; its brilliance is on a cinematic level. In general Hitchcock's direction is assured and masterful. Even when you already know every plot twist, the picture holds your attention. And then we have the fascinating Norman Bates, inspired by the real-life Ed Gein but with his own unique and formidable facets. 

Verdict: Still an absolute masterpiece. ****.

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