Play It Again is a weekly feature in which classic-film connoisseur Jess Lomas revisits a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history, to see if it holds up… or if it has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line (hey, whatever; it fits!).
This month, Jess turns her attention to the works of Mr. Alfred Hitchcock. Maybe you’ve heard of him? Look for more PIAs featuring Hitch’s work over the next two weeks!
It’s the film that turned actress Janet Leigh – and countless viewers, I’m sure – off showers for life: Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 suspense-thriller Psycho. Based on the novel of the same name by Robert Bloch, it was adapted for the screen by Joseph Stefano. Psycho ranks amongst Hitchcock’s most successful and well-known productions, though its initial critical reception was mixed.
Leigh stars as secretary Marion Crane, who embezzles $40,000 from one of her employer’s clients in order to help her divorced boyfriend Sam (John Gavin). Marion sets out for Sam’s home but when she attracts the attention of a police officer she trades her car in, hoping to throw him off. Driving through a rainstorm, Marion decides to check in for the night at the Bates Motel, an empty establishment off an old highway.
Anthony Perkins plays the proprietor, Norman Bates; a role that defined and perhaps cursed his career. He lives near the motel with his mother, and Marion overhears the two arguing before sharing a late dinner with Norman that evening. She resolves to return the stolen money the next morning, but might not get the chance when her shower is interrupted by a mysterious knife-wielding figure. Though it’s an oldie, it’s best not to spoil the twists and turns that make this an edge-of-your-seat experience. If you’re unfamiliar with the famous Psycho shower scene then your powers of avoidance are quite impressive, and you will be rewarded when you watch this movie.
Hitchcock again toys with convention in this picture, and at the time of release took the audience to places they hadn’t been before, including the sight of a toilet flushing on screen, which hadn’t been done before on account of the Production Code at the time. What’s most impressive about Psycho is Hitchcock’s vision and strive for perfection. The shower scene alone features an impressive 77 different camera angles, and the soundtrack is now part of the common pop culture consciousness. For a film that Hitchcock struggled to get financing for, it’s become a stand out example of true horror being not in the obvious but in what one cannot see.
Psycho is available on DVD and Blu-ray, and can be streamed via Quickflix’s Watch Now service.