"Psycho" is one of Alfred Hitchcock's best and most famous films.
Although it has been called a black comedy or a horror movie,
perhaps it qualifies better as a mystery. There is considerable
suspense throughout, the Bernard HerrmanX score is outstanding,
the script and directing is excellent, and Anthony Perkins'
character (Norman Bates) and performance is one of the most
infamous in film history.
There are spoilers in the following paragraphs, but it would
be difficult to discuss the film properly without giving much away.
The story begins with blonde beauty Janet Leigh, whose character
is vulnerable but calculating. She steals a large sum of cash
from her employer and flees town. She sells her car, and stops
for the night at a cheap hotel. There, she meets lonely hotel
owner Perkins. Perkins has a strong love-hate relationship with
his abusive mother, who is heard but not seen. Leigh is murdered,
apparently by Perkins' mother. Later, a private detective traces
Leigh to the motel. This leads to more confrontations between
Perkins and those looking for Leigh. It is revealed that
Perkins has a split personality: one as Norman, the other as his
Hitchcock plays a trick on us by focusing the first half of
the film on Leigh, when the film is really about Norman Bates.
Even in the second half, the story is told from the viewpoint
of other characters. These characters only know part of the
truth, adding to the mystery and suspense that permeates the
The dramatic tension is strong and endless: Will Leigh steal
the cash? Will she get caught, by the policeman or the car
salesman? What is Bates' relationship with his mother? Will
Bates get charged with his mother's crime? Is Bates' mother
still alive? If not, who is the old lady who lives with him?
Hitchcock keeps the audience guessing by teasing it with
Poor Anthony Perkins. Prior to "Psycho", he played leading
man roles, in successful films such as "Fear Strikes Out" and
"On The Beach". He was sort of a Timothy Hutton of the
1950s. But after "Psycho", he could only be seen by the
audience as Norman Bates. He could then only get Bates-style
roles, such as in "Pretty Poison" and the Psycho sequels.
My only real complaint about "Psycho" is the conclusion.
A psychiatrist is trotted in to explain Perkins' behaviour.
He seems to know everything: that Bates killed his mother,
other strangers, buried them all in the swamp, and didn't
steal the money. Tying up all the loose ends in "Psycho"
goes against the grain of the rest of the film. I can
imagine this character appearing in "2001: A Space Odyssey"
to explain things: "The monkeys represent early man, whose
murderous instincts required alien intervention to advance
Copyright © 1999 Brian Koller