Psycho

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(1960, directed by Alfred Hitchcock)

- inducted 2013 -

"We all know Psycho. As with many of the cinema's most revered movies, I knew the storyline of Psycho years before I actually saw it. I don't remember who told me about it or what book I read that described the film down to the last detail, but when I saw it for the first time I was surprised how well I was able to anticipate, beat by beat, the storyline. A similar thing sometimes happens to me- and I would imagine to others- with other classic stories or movies, in particular early horror movies like Dracula or Frankenstein, after years of parodies, homages, remakes and other references, or even the theory of how stories can become so archetypal that they work themselves into our DNA.

"It's because Psycho is such an inescapable fact of the horror genre that something like Bates Motel has a place in today's television landscape (and has been successful enough to be granted a second season) even though it's based, or "inspired," by a movie more than half a century old. It's not just nostalgia- after all, a beloved series like The Munsters wasn't able to make it out of the pilot of its remake. I could conjure an explanation for this, but I think it's just as important to consider Psycho in relation to television, considering that the film owes nearly as much to the medium of television as it does to the silver screen.

"Along with being a master of cinema, Alfred Hitchcock also mastered the art of creating his own image. Of all the great filmmakers, perhaps none is more recognizable than Hitchcock (OK, I'll grant you Chaplin, but he was also a movie star) even to those who haven't seen his movies. I speak from experience here- I didn't know what Steven Spielberg looked like until I was 17 years old, but I could point out Hitchcock when I was a kid even though I didn't see my first Hitchcock film until years later. He put his name not only on his movies, but also on magazines and of course his signature television series, Alfred Hitchcock Presents. In addition to hosting the show every week with his typical macabre humor, he also directed 15 of its 268 episodes over seven seasons. When the time came to direct Psycho, Hitchcock decided to give his usual big-screen collaborators a break in favor of the crew from the TV series, and it's clear that many of the techniques he learned through making television influenced the film.

"For an example of this, we need look no further than the first episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, "Revenge" (S1.E01). The episode's protagonist is played by Vera Miles (who later appeared in Psycho), and the way he shot and used the scenes involving cars would inform similar scenes in the film. Additionally, "Back For Christmas" (S1.E23), the cellar is a key location for the story's action, much like the climax of the film. And in "Mr. Blanchard's Secret" (S2.E13) the protagonist constantly sees a house with a light on, signaling the presence of someone she believes to be dead, an idea Hitchcock turns on its head in shots of the Bates Manor.

"But I would say that the two episodes that most directly influenced the making of Psycho are "One More Mile to Go" (S2.E28) and "Lamb to the Slaughter" (S3.E28). In the former, there is a scene, shot in a single unbroken take, in which a criminal fastidiously cleans up a crime scene. Later in this episode, the perspective shifts to the point of view of the criminal being followed by a cop, and the composition of the shots is reminiscent of the early scenes in Psycho when Marion is attempting to escape with the stolen cash. "Lamb to the Slaughter" is probably the most famous Hitch-directed episode of the series, if only for the final scene: a woman has killed her husband, and the police unknowingly proceed to eat the murder weapon, a frozen leg of lamb. The final shot mirrors the end of Psycho almost perfectly, with a voiceover of the woman explaining what she has done as the camera slowly pushes in on her face, punctuated by a smile as we hear the last line. OK, so a skull isn't superimposed on her face, but you can't have everything, can you?

"I don't make these comparisons to bury the achievement of Psycho, but to praise it. While it's undeniable that some of the techniques that Hitchcock used to make Psycho had already been road-tested on his television series, it's also clear that the ability to do so gave him the confidence of knowing how to elicit the maximum amount of suspense from any given moment, to "play the audience like a piano," to quote the Master himself. Besides, it helps to remember that no great work of art exists in a vacuum, and just because Hitchcock incorporated some elements from the show into the film, that takes a back seat to the fact that, even today, the movie just plain works."

~ Jaime Grijalba

Principal cast: Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Janet Leigh, Martin Balsam, John McIntire, Simon Oakland, Frank Albertson, Pat Hitchcock, Vaughn Taylor, Lurene Tuttle, John Anderson, Mort Mills
Screenplay by Joseph Stefano
Based on the novel by Robert Bloch
Director of photography: John L. Russell
Production design by Robert Clatworthy and Joseph Hurley (art direction), George Milo (set decoration)
Film editing by George Tomasini
Original music by Bernard Herrmann (composer)
Makeup by Jack Barron and Robert Dawn
Hair stylist: Florence Bush
Sound recorded by William Russell and Waldon O. Watson
Titles designed by Saul Bass
Special effects by Clarence Champagne
Pictoral consultant: Saul Bass
Costume design by Rita Riggs (uncredited)
Produced by Alfred Hitchcock (uncredited)

USA
Duration: 108 minutes
Language: English
Filmed in black and white
Sound mix: Mono (Westrex Recording System)
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Produced by Shamley Productions
Released in USA by Paramount Pictures
Premiered in New York City, NY on 16 June 1960

Awards and honors:
- The Muriel Awards, 2010: 50th Anniversary Award (won)
- National Film Registry selection, 1992
- Selected as one of Roger Ebert’s “Great Movies,” 6 December 1998
- Golden Globes (USA), 1960: Best Supporting Actress, Janet Leigh (won)
- Academy Awards (USA), 1960: Best Director, Alfred Hitchcock (nominated)
- Academy Awards (USA), 1960: Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Janet Leigh (nominated)
- Academy Awards (USA), 1960: Best Cinematography, Black and White (nominated)
- Academy Awards (USA), 1960: Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black and White (nominated)
- DGA Awards, Directors Guild of America, 1960: Best Direction, Alfred Hitchcock (nominated)
- WGA Awards, Writers Guild of America, 1960: Best Written American Drama (nominated)