Psycho: Alfred Hitchcock’s Greatest Film

Janet Leigh in Psycho. Courtesy of Universal.

Even though Psycho isn’t as terrifying under today’s cinematic standards, the film stands out as one of Alfred Hitchcock’s finest achievements.

There’s something to be said about the relationship between Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) and his mother.  You could say that the son is too obsessed with his mother–which explains the film’s third act.  This relationship isn’t too far away from another son and mother in 1949 gangster drama White Heat.  It may be hard to believe it now but these films were only released some 11 years apart.  Thematically speaking, they work well should they be viewed together.

Things don’t end up well at all for Marion Crane (Janet Leigh).  It’s enough that her sister, Lila Crane (Vera Miles), confront’s Marion’s boyfriend, Sam Loomis (John Gavin).  Much to her surprise, Marion is wanted for stealing money.  Anyway, you know the rest of the story.  Marion ends up getting killed in the shower by a mysterious figure.

Psycho was the last film Hitchcock made at Paramount before moving to Universal Studios.  Though to be fair, his offices were already at Universal when production started.  This explains why the Bates Motel and Psycho House are main stops of the Studio Tour at Universal Studios Hollywood.  It also explains why subsequent home video releases display the Universal logo.

What really helps drive the film is Bernard Herrmann’s score taking it to the next level.  The tension and thrills just wouldn’t be here without the score.  The opening score doesn’t only set the tone but comes back later on in the film.  Moreover, the shower scene might work with its cuts and such but the score increases the drama at hand.  It’s easily one of the best scores of all time in film history.

Between Joseph Stefano’s script and Hitchcock’s directing the film challenged the Production Code in its dying days.  There was at least one shot in the shower scene that was forced to be cut due to the Code censors.  In doing so, Hitchcock managed to get his opening scene.  Moreover, just getting anything in the bathroom could be seen as a major win–including the toilet flush–when the Production Code was anti-bathroom when it came to the movies.

If I had watched this film years ago, the shower scene would have been terrifying.  But after watching 78/52, the scene just doesn’t hit with the impact it needs.  Of course you also have 2012 biopic Hitchcock, which starred Anthony Hopkins, set during the making of this film.  All three films certainly would work well if programmed as a triple feature.  Perhaps this is why I put the film off for so long–I tend to associate the Master of Suspense with the horror genre.  After all, this is the filmmaker who gave us such films as Psycho and The Birds.  This isn’t to say anything about North by Northwest, Strangers on a Train, Rear Window, Vertigo, etc.

Psycho remains a cinematic masterpiece–I’m just sorry that I’m late to the picture.

DIRECTOR:  Alfred Hitchcock
SCREENWRITER:  Joseph Stefano
CAST:  Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam, John McIntire, and Janet Leigh

Paramount Pictures opened Psycho on September 8, 1960. Grade: 5/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.