Anthony Perkins - Norman Bates
Janet Leigh - Marion Crane
Vera Miles - Lila Crane
John Gavin - Sam Loomis
Martin Balsam - Milton Arbogast
Simon Oakland - Dr. Richmond
Alfred Hitchcock - Director
Robert Bloch - Novel
Joseph Stefano - Screenplay
Bernard Herrmann - Composer
John L. Russell - Photography
Bernard Herrmann - Film Score
It has been written that no film made before or since has equaled Psycho's ability to scare people out of their wits and leave irremovable splinters of disquiet in their memories. A landmark of suspense cinema, this Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece shattered attendance records in 1960 and had people fleeing up the theater aisles.
The granddaddy of today's horror films was based on the novel Psycho by Robert Bloch. Bloch wrote in his 1993 autobiography, "I decided to write a novel based on the notion that the man next door may be a monster, unsuspected even in the gossip-ridded microcosm of small-town life." Shortly after the book was published, Bloch had a call from his agent notifying the author that someone from the MCA talent agency wished to buy the movie rights. Bloch held out for and got $9500, not aware that the unnamed buyer was directing giant Alfred Hitchcock.
At first the chore of developing a screenplay was to be handed to James P. Cavanagh, a television writer who had penned the scripts for a number of episodes of TV's Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Hitchcock made the film under his long-term producing-directing deal with Paramount, but decided to shoot the film on the Revue-Universal lot where his TV series was shot. (The Universal facilities were often made available to outside producers; in fact, even as the deal to shoot Psycho there was being made, United Artists' Inherit the Wind was in production at the studio.) Joseph Stefano, the man behind TV's The Outer Limits, ultimately was hired to adapt Bloch's bloodcurdling novel.
By the time production began on November 30, 1959, Hitchcock had lined up a solid cast for his comparatively low-budget film: Anthony Perkins, at age 27 a stage and screen veteran, in the role of motel keeper Norman Bates, Janet Leigh as ill-fated lodger Marion Crane, Vera Miles as Leigh's concerned sister and Martin Balsam as doomed detective Milton Arbogast. Hitchcock considered 20 Century-Fox's Stuart Whitman for the role of Sam Loomis, Leigh's boyfriend, but instead borrowed rising star John Gavin from Universal to play the part. Others in the cast included John McIntire, Simon Oakland, Pat Hitchcock (the director's real-life daughter, playing a secretary) and, in miniscule parts, Ted Knight as a police guard and Hitchcock himself.
Audiences saw many things for the first time in Psycho, among them a leading lady (Janet Leigh) clad in only sexy undergarments, a toilet--previously a screen no-no--and the shocking shower scene. "It took us seven days to shoot that scene," Hitchcock told interviewer Francois Truffaut, "and there were 70 camera setups for 45 seconds of footage. We had a torso specially made up for that scene, with the blood that was supposed to spurt away from the knife, but I didn't use it. I used a live girl instead, a naked model who stood in for Janet Leigh. Naturally, the knife never touched the body; it was all done in the montage." The strident, blood-chilling music from Psycho, composed by Bernard Herrmann, also went a long way toward making the scene one of the classic moments in horror film history.
Despite the grim nature of many of the scenes being committed to film, cast members later recalled having what Anthony Perkins called "a good time" as they went through their paces on the Universal sets. Perkins told Fangoria magazine, "Psycho was different from most feature films, and certainly different from most of Hitchcock's films, in that it was so modest in its budgeting and planning that everyone really relaxed. No one was uptight, there were no locations, there were no special effects . . . there was none of that tiresome stuff from big films. This put Hitchcock in a good mood."
As outrageous as Psycho's twisty plot was Hitchcock's decision that no one would be admitted to theaters after the start of the picture. For the film's initial engagements, Paramount hired uniformed Pinkerton guards to enforce the policy. Psycho debuted in new York in mid-june 1960 and in special pre-release engagements the following week in Philadelphia, Boston, and Chicago.
By mid-July, Psycho was a runaway hit. Drive-ins, which use a second feature's playing time to sell drinks, candy and food, were booking Psycho as a single, and more than making up for the drop-off in concessions by the increased attendance. The New Brunswick Drive-In in New Jersey had lines of cars for three miles along a highway awaiting entrance. In its first 15 engagements, Psycho broke all previous records for Hitchcock features. Second and third week holdovers showed five percent (or less) falloffs from the first week. In Psycho's 3750 U.S. dates, it returned a net film rental of over $7 million.
In his masterful Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, author Stephen Rebello examined the effect of the film's initial release: "No amout of optimism or carefully orchestrated hucksterism could have prepared anyone--least of all Alfred Hitchcock--for the firestorm the film was creating. Certainly no one could have predicted how powerfully Psycho tapped into the American subconscious. Faintings. Walk-outs. Repeat visits. Boycotts. Angry phone calls and letters. Talk of banning the film rang from church pulpits and psychiatrists' offices. Never before had any director so worked the emotions of the audience like stops on an organ console. Only the American public first knew what a monster Hitchcock had spawned."
About this new, special-edition DVD release, Pat Hitchcock said: "Thirty nine years later, it gives me great pleasure to see this new release of Psycho in the widescreen format and to be part of the documentary on the making of the film. For me, being a part of the documentary with Janet Leigh, Hilton Green, Joseph Stefano, Rita Riggs and dear Peggy Robertson--who unfortunately left us a few months after she gave her interview--has brought back some great memories of my father and mother. I think they would be thrilled to see that Psycho is still as entertaining as it was when it first came out and that the film has become such a landmark not only for us who worked on it but also for the audience."
--from the collector's edition, widescreen
DVD release of Psycho, Universal.
A selection of Psycho related films.
Find Psycho on eBay.com
A selection Psycho related books.
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