PSYCHO: the movie, the documentary and the podcast

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.

inside psycho

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.

Simon Oakland in PSYCHO




TCM’s Hitchcock binge-a-thon


You can spend New Years Day watching football OR you can tune into Turner Classic Movies for OVER TWENTY-FOUR HOURS OF ALFRED HITCHCOCK.  Seven out of Hitchcock’s best eight films are on tap:  Rope, Strangers on a Train, The Birds, Psycho, Vertigo, Rear Window and Shadow of a Doubt.  (Only North by Northwest is missing.)

Because Hitchcock was known for the “psychological” thriller, look for John Dall playing the classic narcissist in Rope and Robert Walker playing the most creepily functional psychopath in Strangers on a Train.  If I had to pick just one Hitchcock classic to watch tomorrow, it would be Rear Window.

TCM is also mixing in some not-so-great Hitchcock for those of you who are curious (or obsessive):  Torn Curtain, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Family Plot, Marnie and The Trouble with Harry.

Happy binge-watching!


HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT: essential for serious movie fans


The documentary Hitchcock/Truffaut is a Must See for cinéastes.  In 1962, Francois Truffaut spent a week in Hollywood interviewing Alfred Hitchcock. These interviews formed the basis of Truffaut’s seminal 1966 book Hitchcock/Truffaut. At this moment, Truffaut was the hottest new thing in international cinema.  He was horrified that Hitchcock was viewed in the U.S. as only a genre director and pop celebrity, but not as the master of cinema that influenced Truffaut and the rest of the French New Wave. Vertigo, now rated by many as the greatest of films, had only broken even at the box office four years before.

Filmmaker Kent Jones took the audiotapes and stills from those 1962 interview sessions and adds what Truffaut could not – illustrative clips from the Hitchcock films themselves.  Because Truffaut is no longer with us, Jones also provides commentary from directors like martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Peter Bogdanovich and others. The result is an insightful celebration of Hitchcock’s body of work.

I had thought that I had a pretty fair grasp of Hitchcock, especially his love of surprise and the MacGuffin, his subversion of convention in Psycho and obsession with blonde actresses. But Hitchcock/Truffaut gave me a much richer understanding of Hitchcock’s visual sensibilities, his mastery of overhead shots, and his very limited expectations of his actors, as well as his compression and expansion of time.

Hitchcock/Truffaut will be interesting to any audience, but essential to serious movie fans.


Coming up on TV: Strangers on a Train

On June 24, Turner Classic Movies is broadcasting this 1951 Alfred Hitchcock suspense thriller – one of his very best. A hypothetical discussion about murdering inconvenient people turns out to be not so hypothetical.

Robert Walker plays one of the creepiest villains in movie history.  The tennis match and carousel finale are great set pieces.