Top 100 Movie Review: No. 012 – Psycho (1960)

Ranked 012 on the IMDb Top 100 Movie List (as at May 2017).
Watched movie during July 2020.

Cast: Anthony Perkins (Norman Bates), Vera Miles (Lila Crane), John Gavin (Sam Loomis), Janet Leigh (Marion Crane), Martin Balsam (Det. Milton Arbogast), John McIntire (Sheriff Al Chambers)
Directors: Alfred Hitchcock
My rating: 8.5 / 10

During a lunchtime tryst in a Phoenix, Arizona hotel, real-estate secretary Marion Crane and her boyfriend, Sam Loomis, discuss how they cannot afford to get married because of Sam’s debts. After lunch, Marion returns to work, where a client, who hits on her, leaves a $40,000 cash payment on a property. Marion’s boss asks her to deposit the money in the bank and allows her to leave work early after she complains of a headache. Once home Marion decides to steal the money and drive to Fairvale, California, where Sam lives to give him the money so they can get married.

Enroute to Fairvale, Marion stops her car on the side of the road and falls asleep. She is awakened the next morning by a California Highway Patrol officer who follows Marion after questioning her and growing suspicious about her nervous behavior. Marion stops at a Bakersfield, California automobile dealership and trades in her car, with its Arizona license plates, for a new one with California tags. The officer spots Marion at the car dealership and eyes her suspiciously as she abruptly drives away.

During a heavy rainstorm, Marion stops for the night at the Bates Motel. The proprietor, Norman Bates, invites her to share a light dinner after she checks in. She accepts his invitation but overhears an argument between Norman and his mother about bringing a woman into their Gothic home, which sits perched above the motel. Instead they eat in the motel, where he tells her about his life with his mother, who is mentally ill and forbids him to have a life apart from her.

Moved by Norman’s story, Marion decides to drive back to Phoenix in the morning to return the stolen money, which she hides in a folded newspaper on the nightstand. As she showers, a shadowy figure stabs her to death. After finding blood in his house, Norman panics and runs to Marion’s room, where he discovers her body. He cleans up the crime scene, putting Marion’s corpse and her possessions – including (unbeknownst to him) the stolen money – into the trunk of her car and sinking it in the swamps near the motel.

A week later, Marion’s sister Lila arrives in Fairvale and confronts Sam about Marion’s whereabouts. Private investigator Milton Arbogast approaches them and confirms that Marion is wanted for stealing the $40,000. The theft hasn’t been reported to the police as everyone wants to keep this quiet.

Arbogast tracks down the local motels and discovers Marion spent a night at the Bates Motel. He questions Norman, whose stammering and inconsistent answers arouse his suspicion. After Norman implies that Marion met his mother, Arbogast asks to speak with her, but Norman refuses to allow it. Arbogast leaves and updates Sam and Lila from a payphone about his search for Marion and promises to see them in an hour. He goes to the Bates’ home in search of Norman’s mother; as he reaches the top of the stairs, a shadowy figure stabs him and he falls down the stairs to his death.

When Lila and Sam do not hear from Arbogast, Sam visits the motel. Sam sees a figure in the house who he assumes is Mrs. Bates, but she ignores his knocking. Lila and Sam visit the local deputy sheriff, who informs them that Mrs. Bates died in a murder-suicide ten years ago. The sheriff concludes that Arbogast lied to Sam and Lila so he could pursue Marion and the money for himself. Convinced that some ill has befallen Arbogast, Lila and Sam drive to the motel. Norman carries his complaining mother from her room and hides her in the fruit cellar.

At the motel, Sam distracts Norman by engaging in conversation while Lila cases the property and sneaks inside the house. After Sam grills him, Norman becomes agitated, knocks Sam out, and rushes to the house. Lila hides in the cellar, where she finds Mrs. Bates in a chair. Lila turns her around and discovers she is a mummified corpse. Lila screams as Norman runs into the cellar, holding a chef’s knife and wearing his mother’s clothes and a wig. Before Norman can attack Lila, Sam – having regained consciousness – subdues him.

At the courthouse, a psychiatrist explains that Norman murdered Mrs. Bates and her lover ten years ago out of jealousy. Unable to bear the guilt, he stole her corpse and began to treat it as if she were still alive. He recreated his mother in his own mind as an alternate personality, dressing in her clothes and talking to himself in her voice. This “Mother” personality is as jealous and possessive as Mrs. Bates was while alive: whenever Norman feels attracted to a woman, “Mother” kills her and it is implied that two other missing women might have been victims. As “Mother”, Norman killed Marion and Arbogast to death. The psychiatrist says the “Mother” personality has taken permanent hold of Norman’s mind.

Norman sits in a holding cell, “Mother’s” voice-over protests that the murders were Norman’s doing and that ‘she’ won’t hurt the fly on her hand. The film ends with Marion’s car being towed from the swamp.

What’s to Like
The suspense, the camera work, the script, the acting.

What’s not to Like

This psychological thriller is ahead of it’s time.  Alfred Hitchcock uses a lot of camera impressive camera tricks like the when Arbogast is falling down stairs to his death.  Hitchcock also decided to shoot the film in black and white to keep costs down, but this also allowed him more freedom in the murder scene not having to worry about it being to gory with red blood everywhere.  The screeching violins, violas, and cellos are not iconic. He also insisted in being the first director to film a working toilet in a movie 😊

For the first 30 to 40 minutes you think the movie lead is Marion and her stealing $40,000 which leads to a great surprise when the character we have been following and whose voice in her head we have been hearing is suddenly killed.  However as Norman takes over the lead role we have another character who speak to himself this time out loud, not that we know this as first when we only hear the arguments with his ‘mother’.

A film full of surprises and suspense which in many ways is a masterclass in film making.

Academy Awards

  • Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Janet Leigh) – nominee
  • Best Director (Alfred Hitchcock) – nominee
  • Best Cinematography, Black-and-White – nominee
  • Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White – nominee

About Nathan

A World traveller who has so far experienced 71 countries (76 by June 2023) in this amazing world.
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