Thursday, July 21, 2011

16. Psycho (1960)

Got back from out of town a few days ago, so I can finally start writing again. I promise I'm going to do everything I can to do more than one entry a week like I've been doing. I feel like I've been going through this list too slowly, and so I hope I am able to speed it up.

Next up is Psycho, directed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1960. As it is the only Hitchcock film on my list, I feel that I should address his other films as well. The ones I have seen at least. Of course Hitchcock made LOTS of films, and I'm embarrassed to say I have seen a rather small number of them. As for his lesser known works, I have only seen The Wrong Man and Notorious (I'm categorizing Notorious as a lesser known work or his for the simple fact that a more recent film about the rapper Notorious B.I.G. came out a few years ago with the same title, and I want to assume that it was out of ignorance alone and not out of indifference or lack of respect toward Hitchcock). The Wrong Man has Henry Fonda being the awesome 12 Angry Men Henry Fonda that is so beloved, and Notorious has Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and Claude Raines, which is enough said for the quality of that film. Still, these movies haven't cracked the top tier of known Hitchcock works.

The Birds is his best known film that's not really important. Yes, it's a pretty good thriller/almost horror film that has been influential, but it doesn't really break any new ground. It's still way better than giant spiders with David Arquette or zombies with Milla Jovovich(at least she's pretty to look at) though. That leaves his four most critically acclaimed works.

Vertigo is perhaps the one that critics love the most. It wasn't thought of very highly when it came out, but these days you'll find it referred to often as Hitchcock's best movie. I've actually gone back and forth on the issue. It did little for me the first time I watched it, but the second time I came to respect it a lot more. The movie has more than one major twist, and I think that is the real strength of the film. After my third viewing though, I noticed that one important scene where you learn someone's identity really stifles the film. There is no more guessing game after that point, and it nearly ruins the movie for me. However, James Stewart is excellent as always, and the film does teach about the dangers of obsession. Oh yeah, and then there is the unique camera trick that the movie is known for as well. It looks a bit dated today though.

Rear Window is an amazing film in that so much of it takes place from a view at a window, and yet it still manages to stay engaging. James Stewart is confined to a wheelchair after hurting his leg, and he takes to looking out the window at the people in the adjacent building for entertainment. He learns about their lives, and about what he begins to suspect is a case of homicide. We see so much through his eyes, and feel helpless along with him as it's almost like we are stuck in that wheelchair as well. The films climax is rather silly, but otherwise I can see why some people find Rear Window to be their favorite Hitchcock film.

Then there is North By Northwest. It's Cary Grant in one of his defining roles, predating James Bond in a tale of espionage, action, romance, and betrayal. You know, all the good stuff. It also happens to have a great deal of humor as well. In fact, it may be the most well rounded thriller of all time. The crop dusting and Mount Rushmore scenes are some of the most well known moments in cinema. And dat music! Bernard Herrmann is a god among composers. He also composed the music to my favorite Hitchcock film, Psycho.

Psycho is one of the most important and influential films of all time. This is for a number of reasons. First off, what happens half way into the movie really changed what could happen in popular cinema. As to avoid spoilers I won't mention what actually happens, but this plot twist has been used so many times since Psycho that it has become more than cliche. However, shocking the audience in such a way in 1960 was a much bigger deal, and how genius was this idea, to have inspired so many knock offs? In fact, go walk into the theater and see any current thriller/horror film out there today and the chances are probably 50/50 that they will throw this twist in. Then, there is good old Norman Bates. Has there ever been such a lovable character? A boy's best friend is his mother indeed.

Psycho is also the movie that brought horror to life in film. Hitchcock had been making thrillers his whole career, and with Psycho he made the jump to something new. Before it, horror meant Dracula and Frankenstein. It might be scary, but in the end we know it's a fantasy. Psycho is about a real guy. One messed up guy, yes, but a guy with psychological problems that exist in the real world. The idea of depicting this kind of person on screen in 1960 was so radical that the movie makes a point of explaining everything to the audience at the end, just so viewers can make some sense of this character. Of course today the psychological thriller is its own genre of film. And Psycho's influence has perhaps permeated television even more than film. So many episodes of CSI, Criminal Minds, Bones, are about murderers who have mental problems.

In any case, Psycho is a movie that everyone should see once, even if they already know what's going to happen. It's a classic film, and it won't hurt a fly to see it :)


  1. Nice Hitchcock-summary. I also like how you connect Psycho to the currently popular tv shows, haven't thought of that before.

  2. Loved this post... Sums up Hitchcock most famous work pretty good. Notorious is still in my watchlist and must be his best work of art.

  3. I am a huge Hitch fan, and I agree on the Birds. Enjoyable, yes, but nothing too special. Creepier is how it really happened in Mexico. Seriously, look it up.
    Vertigo is great, but I too needed another watch before I really "got" it. Now that I do, it's awesome though.
    Rear Window, now THAT I can watch again and again. Something about the charm of it is just so fantastic. I love the hell out of it, but I will concede that the climax is rather silly.
    North by Northwest? Hell son, that is easily my favorite film. The humor, the action, the suspense, the mystery, the acting, and Cary M'Fin' Grant at his finest? Yeah, I can watch that. I watch it all the time, actually.
    Now, I do love me some Psycho. The end still gives me the shivers. Anthony Perkins did such a great job that I don't think I have seen a better actor/actress in a horror film. It's probably the greatest suspense film that will ever exist. But, because I can't watch it all the time, I put it below North by Northwest.

  4. Great post, and an amazing set of films mate

  5. Actually it did hurt me to see it because I watched it in school with a teacher who kept pointing out all the phalluses. She really must have had problems. It's a lamp, not a dick.

  6. Lol @ closing sentence. I c whut u did thar.

  7. i loved that movie i mean it wasnt my absolute favorite but its up there haha