It’s the favorite month for scary movies, so The Movie Gourmet is featuring Hitchcock’s classic Psycho, with two superb 2017 accompaniments.
I recommend that you start with the six-part series of podcasts Inside Psycho. Podcaster Mark Ramsey begins with the real-life crime that sparked Psycho’s origin story and takes us through the purchase of the book rights, which turned out to be a very one-sided business deal. Ramsey puts Psycho in the context of Hitchcock’s career moment and reveals the film’s stepchild status at Paramount (it was filmed at Universal with a TV crew). He gives us a deep dive into the filming of the shower scene, including the censors’ search for the nudity (was it really in there?). We even learned about Hitchcock’s demands as to how Psycho would be exhibited – rules that changed the movie-going habits in our culture. Ramsey even tells us what happened to Marion’s car.
You’ll enjoy the movie more after you’ve listened to this podcast. Go to your podcast app and search for “Inside Psycho” or access the Inside Psycho website.
For your next course, I recommend this year’s documentary 78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene, named for the 78 setups and 52 cuts in Psycho’s shower scene. Documentarian Alexandre O. Philippe takes us through aspects of the movie, but drills most deeply into the notorious shower scene. Philippe brings us noted composer Danny Elfman to comment on Bernard Herrmann’s famously screeching strings. We hear from Walter Murch, the brilliant film editor who invented the field of movie sound design, about the visual imagery and sound effects. And Amy Duddleston, the film editor on the 1998 Gus Van Sant Psycho remake, ruefully recounts how it’s all even harder than it looks.
Here’s a representative nugget from both Inside Psycho and 78/52. Before her shower, Janet Leigh as Marion enters the bathroom, tears up paper notes and flushes them down the toilet. Amazingly, this is the first flushing toilet in hitherto prudish American cinema. Seconds later, of course, come more shocks.
And here’s a treat, we meet the perky and amiable Marli Renfro, the Playboy Bunny and pin-up girl who was Janet Leigh’s nude body double in the shower scene. That scene took seven grueling days to film. Jamie Lee Curtis relates her mom’s weariness with the strategic moleskin that kept slipping off. Renfro was just happy to pick up the extra paychecks.
Finally, there’s a fun montage of Psycho references in later movies and popular culture. In what must be a spectacular half-joke, the documentary is dedicated “to Mother”. 78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene is available to stream from Amazon, iTunes, YouTube and Google Play.
And then, of course there’s the original Psycho itself. It’s still effectively shocking – both in killing off the star one-third of the way through (almost unthinkable even today) and in the climactic reveal. Anthony Perkins is wonderful as Norman Bates, especially in how he gets us to understand immediately that Norman’s awkward oddness may be an indicator of more severe insanity.
Psycho is one hour and 49 minutes long. The key is to stop watching as soon as poor Simon Oakland shows up on-screen as the shrink Dr. Fred Richman. The usually reliable character actor Oakland was thanklessly tasked with delivering an interminable five-minute lecture on Norman Bates’ diagnosis. It’s painful overexplaining and brings downs the Psycho experience. You’ll thank me.
You can rent the original Psycho on DVD from Netflix, stream it from iTunes, Vudu and YouTube, or catch it on Turner Classic Movies or elsewhere on TV.