AFI #14 – Psycho

Psycho - Poster

Been a while since I’ve done one of these. I mean, I took that long break from blogging and then I just never got back into a regular routine. But I’m so close to finishing! Also, I’ve recently been asked to participate in a podcast discussing the AFI Top 100 films, so it’s kind of renewed my interest in completing the list. I’ll keep you posted on when the podcasts go out, if you’re interested.



Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Netflix says… When larcenous real estate clerk Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) goes on the lam with a wad of cash and hopes of starting a new life, she ends up at the notorious Bates Motel, where twitchy manager Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) cares for his housebound mother. The pace seems quirky but fine… until Marion decides to take a shower. Director Alfred Hitchcock’s Oscar-nominated shocker has been terrifying viewers for decades–and for good reason.

I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure it’s been said that this movie pretty much changed the thriller genre. Maybe it invented it. I mean, I know Hitchcock had some suspense films before this (right?), but this put the insane psycho killer in the spotlight for the first time (right?). It’s hard for me to make assumptions about a movie that’s 57 years old.

Anyway, in today’s world, I feel like it would be difficult to market this kind of movie. I mean, the title is Psycho. Even without seeing a trailer for this thing, you know it would involve some kind of mental instability. But I’m wondering how the original trailers for this movie looked back in 1960. And I only say that because I wonder what it would be like for someone to go into this movie with no knowledge of the plot whatsoever.

Because you start off with Marion Crane stealing $40,000 from a client. The first third of the movie makes it look like that’s what it’s about. She’s a thief and we’re watching from her point of view. Will she get caught?

Then Marion pulls into the wrong motel. I mean, as wrong as you can get. At that point, the movie pretty much earns its title. Which begs another question: what must Psycho have done to independently owned hotels after it was released? I mean, sure, you had the interstate that would have drawn traffic away from what used to be America’s main roads. But the perceived threat that a weird guy would dress as his dead mother and attack you in the shower would probably deter folks from stopping at something that wasn’t a Holiday Inn sort of place.

I’m sure I’m not the first person to point this out… But have you ever noticed that Norman’s hobby is taxidermy? Particularly the stuffing of birds? And Marion’s last name is a kind of bird?

I really do wish there was some way I could watch this movie with no idea of what would happen. I mean, I’m pretty sure even the first time I saw it, all of the plot details had already been spoiled for me. Hard to avoid spoilers for a movie as iconic as this one. But what would it have been like to go into it thinking, “Oh, it’s a heist movie… Will Marion get away with the money?” Then moving on to, “Oh, that nice young man’s mother is a lunatic!” Finally, “Oh, that nice young man is actually the lunatic!” I mean, did audiences in 1960 see the split personality thing coming? If you’re old enough to remember Psycho as it was originally released, please fill me in on reactions back then. I’m genuinely curious.

Psycho‘s spot in the top 20 is well-deserved. Though, personally, it’s still not my favorite Hitchcock. That still falls to Rear Window (#48).

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