Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece "Psycho", probably his best picture, taps into the pleasure an audience has watching a horrible situation. Based on the novel—during production, Hitchcock bought as many copies of the book as he could find in the hopes that people wouldn't read the book and spoil the ending before seeing the movie—"Psycho" is the most suspenseful, best done, and most watchable of anything he's made.
Beginning in a hotel where two lovers have met to further enflame their relationship, you can really tell how Hitchcock influenced cinema— even in these first scenes when he pushes the boundaries on what audiences were comfortable seeing. Marion Crane (Janet Leigh in an Oscar nominated performance), is a woman who wants to settle down. An old maid in medieval terms, she really wants to get married and decides to propose the question to her lover while their together. He's been married before—once bitten, twice shy—and he's still paying alimony. He doesn't think that he'll be able to provide the life that Marion will want while their together. But they both promise that they'll think deeper about it.
Marion leaves the hotel and goes off to her job as an office secretary. Her boss has a wealthy client who stops by and drops of $40,000 in cash, waving it in front of the two secretaries and their boss to impress them. Dizzied at the prospect of having that much cash in hand, Marion's employer asks her to take the cash to the bank deposit box. She doesn't.
Instead, in a moment of rushing irrationality, she takes the cash and flees Phoenix. She drives all night, stopping to take a quick nap that turns into a full night of sleep. Marion starts to think that she's being followed by a policeman, paranoia as a result of a guilty conscience sets in.
Driven off the road by a downpour of rain, Marion stops at a little motel off the beaten path called The Bates Motel. It is run by an odd, yet charming young man named Norman (Anthony Perkins) who seems elated at having someone to talk to. The motel isn't frequented very often, any soul is worthy of communication.
Back at home, Marion's disappearance hasn't gone unnoticed. Her sister Lila (Hitchcock's favored Vera Miles) gets called up by Marion's boss. She wants to find Marion before anything bad happens. The people involved don't want the police to get pulled into the matter, they're fine hiring a private investigator to track her down.
Marion has changes of heart, she struggles with wondering how she will keep herself hidden, she over-thinks situations. What will she do?
"Psycho" is sort of an anomaly in Hitchcock's career. A woman takes center stage for both halves of the movie (for the movie does feel split into two acts), there is no mistaken identity, and it is his most open work about analyzing the psyche of a mind. No where to be found is his beloved motif of the wrong man and while fleeing from the long arm of the law is a vital part of the movie, it doesn't have nearly the amount of spotlight that it does in others of his films. Of the idea of suspense rather than horror, "Psycho" is Hitchcock's closest attempt at horror. It's the unexpected that hits you, we are just as clueless as the protagonists in this film, which is unusual for the director.
Though Janet Leigh does a tremendous job with the movie, it's Anthony Perkins that is a startling revelation. He gives us one of the best screen performances, rivaling the classic turns of Brando and Hopkins.
"Psycho's" impact has not faded through the 50 plus years since its release. It is an essential film, one of the few that demands to be seen, too imposing to ignore.
Posted by Micah Jones