Psycho (1960)

Psycho (1960), directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

What I think of as Act 1 is a perfect motion picture. Janet Leigh dominates the screen and is a pleasure to watch: eyes sketched by a glamour illustrator, face and figure and intelligent demeanor. Hitchcock pulls his usual trick of making us slightly guilty by identifying with a criminal. Although she does it for love and steals from an unlikeable lecher, she's still a thief.

Her clumsy flight is set to panic-inducing music by Bernard Herrmann. Of all the obscure roadside motels in the southwest she has to end up at the Bates.

I noticed much role switching in this segment. At the outset she and the boyfriend are at an impasse, but at least are on the same level. Back at the office she has to put up with the irritating client. Then she's rich and on top, then a fugitive being persecuted. When she meets Norman she has the upper hand: she's been in the world and is sexually experienced; he obviously has not and is not. At first she is indulgent towards his boyish awkwardness, but during their remarkable conversation she sees he has depth and an amount of wisdom. From his example she decides to turn her life around, go back and face the music.

But the role switching proceeds to nightmarish excess: Norman knows things beyond her imaginings.

Having lost our first protagonist we are distressed to find ourselves switching to her murderer. (Well, the man who conceals her murder...) Does he miss any clues, will he get away with it?

Act 2 involves the search for Marion Crane and is less satisfying, although it is hard to see how it could be otherwise, given the climax in the middle of the movie. People have to recover while wondering "what next?" We really are in unexplored territory. But none of the sister, boyfriend or detective appeal to us the way both Marion and Norman do.

I have noticed that many Hitchcock films tend to flag around the 2/3 mark before coming back for a big finish. Here it happens during the late night visit to the deputy sheriff.

The Epilogue is the psychiatric summary, an unnecessary wrap-up.

The director uses some of his standard motifs: a guilty identification with the guilty, fear of the police, voyeurism, and the misleading prop, a packet of money in this case. We do not have the double chase (cops chase innocent man who chases the real killer) and most importantly, he breaks his rule about the difference between suspense and shock. He does not share with us the truth about Norman until the end.

Available on a very nice Blu-ray. I hadn't noticed before how artificial the dialog track sounds. The new DTS HD audio accentuates this and I prefer the old mono track (DTS stereo on the disc).

My thumbnails are from the old 4:3 letterboxed DVD. The Blu-ray is a huge upgrade.