Anyone listening hard enough, might almost hear Alfred Hitchcock saylng, “Believe this, kids, and I’ll tell you another.” The rejoinder from this corner: Believability doesn’t matter; but do tell another.
Producer-director Hitchcock is up to his clavicle in whimsicality and apparently had the time of his life in putting together “Psycho.” He’s gotten in gore, in the form of a couple of graphically-depicted knife murders, a story that’s far out in Freudian motivations, and now and then injects little amusing plot items that suggest the whole thing is not to be taken seriously.
The “Psycho” diagnosis, commercially, is this: an unusual, good entertainment, indelibly Hitchcock, and on the right kind of boxoffice beam. The campaign backing is fitting and potent. The edict against seating customers after opening curtain (as observed at New York’s DeMille Theatre) if respected may add to the intrigue. All adds up to success.
Hitchcock uses the old plea that nobody give out the ending — “It’s the only one we have.” This will be abided by bere, but it must be said that the central force throughout the feature is a mother who is a homicidal maniac. This is unusual because she happens to be physically defunct, has been for some years. But she lives on in the person of her son.
Anthony Perkins is the young man who doesn’t get enough exorcise (repeat exorcise) of that other inner being. Among the victims are Janet Leigh, who walks away from an illicit love affair with John Gavin, taking with her a stolen $40,000, and Martin Balsam, as a private eye who winds up in the same swamp in which Leigh’s body also is deposited.
John McIntire is the local sheriff with an unusual case on his hands, and Simon Oakland is the psychiatrist who recognizes that Perkins, while donning his mother’s clothes, is not really a transvestite; he’s just nuts. Vera Miles is the dead girl’s sister whose investigation leads to the diagnosis of what ails Perkins.
Perkins gives a remarkably effective in-a-dream kind of performance as the possessed young man. Others play it straight, with equal competence.
Joseph Stefano’s screenplay, from a novel by Robert Bloch, provides a strong foundation for Hitchcock’s field day. And if the camera, under Hitchcock’s direction, tends to over-emphasize a story point here and there, well, it’s forgivable. Further, the audience’s indulgence is not too strained with the inevitable appearance of Hitchcock himself. He limits himself to barely more than a frame.
Saul Bass’ titles are full of his characteristic trickiness, Bernard Herrmann’s music nicely plays counter-point with the pictorial action and editing seems right all the way.
1960: Nominations: Best Director, Supp. Actress (Janet Leigh), B&W Cinematography, B&W Art Direction