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Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Another Stay At The Bates Motel

Always Something New in Psycho --- Part One

Random thoughts from umpteenth viewing of Psycho, this time on Blu-Ray. First off: How hot is Phoenix in December? Psycho begins there and then, Janet Leigh and Pat Hitchcock envying their boss his air-conditioner, "Mr. Cassidy" kidding that it's "hot as fresh milk." Here in N.C., December means cold. So does Phoenix ever cool off? (paging RMR for this climate data) Leigh and John Gavin lolling about sleazy hotel environ plays tawdrier than any clandestine meet in a Code movie; imagine effect it had in 1960. Then Pat Hitchcock talks of Teddy and the tranquilizers, mother calling to see if Teddy has called --- we get whole of her life and circumstance in those couple of lines. Mr. Cassidy stands nicely for whatever lech women cope with at varied point(s) in life. Think how many in '60 and since said to selves, "Yes, I've met his kind." Demo of Hitchcock economy in story-telling: Janet changing clothes as camera pans to the bed and stolen money, then suitcase being filled for getaway. Later she sleeps by the road --- would any woman, or man, dream of doing such a thing today? JL asks Officer Mort Mills if she's broken any law, and he says no, but I wonder if Arizona and most states have since passed regulation against snooze in vehicles by the highway (another reveal courtesy of Blu-Ray: it's a double for Mills that first gets out of the patrol car).

About Norman: He likes Kandy Korn, so-called in Psycho, though current Brach's bag labels it "Candy Corn." I know because there's some beside me as I type. Has CC (or KK) become an unsavory treat because Norman ate it? Could overindulgence in it bring on sickness of the mind? I find Norman likeable and appealing, at least at first. He would not have seemed untoward dating my sister in the 60's. Ann and I sometimes borrow lines of his for comic effect: "f-f-f-falsity," and people "clucking their thick tongues." Blu-Ray shows till-now obscure multi-volumes Norman has on "The Art Of Taxidermy." Is the process so complicated as to need more than one book to explain? The "sandwich" Norman gives Marion looks unappetizing, just a thin veneer of cheese on a single slice of white bread, which she barely eats. I kept thinking (still do) that Marion should have gone ahead and paid Norman for the cabin, then push on to Fairvale, especially since it had stopped raining (she's got plenty of cash after all). Why spend the night after finding out your destination is only fifteen miles off? A fateful decision, that.

Query to those who saw Psycho first-run: How many guessed that Norman was Mother? And how shattering was surprise that Janet Leigh dies forty minutes in? Her featured billing had to be a tip-off to some. The shower scene must too have convulsed for suggestions of nudity in addition to the violence. The "slicing" sounds are what I find most effective. It's such a pitiless murder. Anyone who calls Psycho a black comedy has a black heart. The shower curtain snapping off its rings is maybe the most unforgettable moment from standpoint of both sight and sound. I remember when our Channel 2 in Greensboro ran Psycho in 1970 prime-time and cut all but first shots of the shower sequence. Infamous! But that was life in syndication, and besides, they were selling a famous title to viewers, not Psycho itself. Do you suppose management got letters of complaint the following week? Some would say the shower has been excerpted into the ground and has lost effect as result. Should Universal be more reticent in licensing it? I noticed this time how long and lovingly Hitchcock lingers on Norman's clean-up, us getting the whole process right to final swamp disposal. And Norman's eating Kandy Korn as the car sinks into mire! Much as I love that candy, maybe it's better to give it up ...

Then to entrance of Vera Miles. She looks and acts severe in Psycho. Was this really Hitchcock's next blonde discovery after Grace Kelly? What would Vertigo have been with intended Vera Miles? At the least, it would end up an entirely different film. I'm frankly glad Tarzan Scott disqualified his then-wife from doing Vertigo (via impregnation). Did she have regrets for the miss? Hitchcock certainly doesn't glamorize Miles as Lila. Not for a moment do we imagine she'll end up with Sam after healing process of both. Which brings up John Gavin. He's awfully good in Psycho, if few have said so. Applause is had for cat-mouse dialogue between Norman and Martin Balsam's Arbogast, but Gavin v. Bates sizzles too, JG pushing hard as Norman retreats. Has Gavin talked about Psycho other than to Janet Leigh for her book? He and Vera Miles appear to be only principal survivors from the cast. And Miles sure isn't talking. What an interview she'd make. Several with Hitchcock, two for John Ford (including television with both directors). This woman could be basis for a book-length oral history. Has anyone spoken with Vera Miles?

Arbogast is a great and sympathetic character. He is perhaps tactless, but detectives, especially private ones, must sometimes be so. Arbogast is notable for being first to make progress in the case. Had he lived, we'd have had Psycho cleaned up inside of 75 minutes. We're as disoriented to see Arbogast offed as loss of Marion. For a first hour of Psycho, our coming to know a character is cue for their demise. Did Hitchcock want his audience complicit with dreadful fates he planned? I read that Perkins and Balsam were given free hand with dialogue and pace of their exchange. So did Martin Balsam contribute lines, including this: "See, if it doesn't jell, it isn't aspic, and this ain't jelling." That, it took me years discovering, was reference to making aspic jam, or jelly, for which there are many recipes. It can involve, among other things, simmering the bones of beef, veal, chicken, or fish. I've felt at times dumb as a rock for not knowing, but when was aspic jelly ever served on my toast, or anyone's? Have hardest core Psycho fans eaten it, let alone prepared it? (surely so in spirit of investigation if nothing else). Maybe one can't truly know Hitchcock's classic until sit-down with a plate of the stuff.

Conclusion of Psycho is HERE.


Blogger Jerry Kovar said...

I saw PSYCHO in its 1964 re-release when I was 14. Four years after its initial release I knew of the films shock value but amazingly , in this 1nternet age, did not know anything of the plot. The demise of Janet Leigh so early in the film was transparent to the unsophisticated audience of 1964. Again, it was a different time and I'm sure nobody, other than film critics/scholars, took notice. Regarding the black humor reference.....I saw the film on the infamous 42nd Street NYC and there was a lot of prolonged nervous laughter after the the shower scene, Balsam's murder and the Mother finale. So I do see the black humor angle but in a different point of view.

12:26 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

i didn't see PSYCHO first-run, but I did have the opportunity in the '70s to show it (on VHS) to three twenty-ish ladies who, unbelievably, knew nothing about it. It was a great vicarious experience.

They were constantly worried about that $40k. They screamed and hugged each other and hid their eyes during the shower sequence, and not a one of them had a notion of the secret of "Mother" till the root cellar scene. When Vera Miles slowly moved toward the rocking chair, one of the ladies gasped and said, "It's Mother. She's dead!" The other two gave out with "Whaaaat?" As in "are you crazy, what are you talking about?" They all screamed when the chair spun around and when Norman in drag entered. And, incredible as it was to me, they were absolutely, raptly intent on Simon Oakland's long-winded explanation.

It was the next best thing to having enjoyed the surprise myself (said surprise having been totally given away by my 6th grade teacher long before.)

1:28 PM  
Blogger Mike Wallster said...

I'm sure you recognized Frank Albertson who plays Mr. Cassidy....he was Sam Wainright in It's A Wonderful Life.

3:06 PM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

"Well, I'll declare."

"I don't."

3:24 PM  
Blogger lmshah said...


The average high temps in Phoenix in December (adjusted for global warming) are high-60's to mid-70's, the lows can reach freezing. Believe it or not, it even snows once or twice a decade in the Valley of the Sun in Dec-Jan. Back in 1959-60, before the mid-town heat island, it was even cooler. But who are we to question any excuse to see Janet Leigh without a shirt?


3:41 PM  
Blogger Randy said...

Reading Rick's comment makes me a little envious of people who were able to see Psycho completely unprepared for what was coming. By the time I got a chance to see it, I already knew too much about it, negating a certain amount of the film's effect.

3:43 PM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

I think they used mass quantities of Hershey's chocolate syrup in a new plastic squeeze bottle to serve as the blood (real blood looks black in B/W). I knew of aspic from "A Dandy in Aspic."
The murders aren't funny, but it IS funny when the car stops halfway down, or when Norman says Mother hasn't been herself lately. Since this was before Mary Tyler Moore's TV show, no one knew cellkeeper Ted Knight at the time. Then, later, people laughed at seeing him take a blanket to "Mother." Now he's forgotten again as the blow-hard news anchor of that show. Vera Miles is wearing one of the ugliest wigs in movie history because her hair hadn't grown in from the film she made where anti-Nazi Partisans had shaved her head as a collaborator. Janet Leigh and Hitchcock called John Gavin "the stiff," so he probably doesn't have good memories of the experience.

3:48 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Thanks, Richard. I was just waiting to hear from you and Phoenix ...

4:28 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I watched PSYCHO about a month ago and was struck by how good Leigh was as Marion Crane. It is quite a performance.

8:01 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Some really nice memories Johnny Myers shares with us. He was there when "Psycho" was new!:

Dear John,

You should really know better than to ask questions of your readers but ask you did so read on. No I did not suspect that Norman was mother and I had, by the age of thirteen, become very adept at guessing trick endings before they came along. Seeing Psycho in its first run was a completely shocking experience for me because I was simply not prepared for it in any way. The ads were compelling but terribly low key in comparison to the content of the film. All you saw in them was a photo of Janet Leigh in her bra and a still of Anthony Perkins holding his mouth in shock. There was also the gimmick of Hitchcock forbidding anyone entrance after the movie had started which was, at this time, completely unprecedented. Bernard Herrmann's excellent score bears much responsibility for the movie's impact with its rhythmic driving tension and constant intimation of the doom in store for poor Marion.

From the time my family arrived in California in 1952 we always went to Hitchcock pictures together. I remember seeing Rear Window, The Trouble With Harry, The Man Who Knew Too Much and more. My mother Beth had no stomach for violent films and though each of these movies involved mayhem of some sort it was Hitchcock's wit and style which she liked. She was also partial to Charles Addams cartoons in the New Yorker. I did, however, go to see Psycho by myself at the Marin in Sausalito. As the numbing brutal experience of the shower scene subsided, the one thought which dominated my mind was: My mother must not see this film.

Though I was not a regular reader of books I bought and read Robert Bloch's novel, so taken was I with the clever complexities of the story. I knew nothing of the source material involving Ed Gein and didn't learn of him until I was much older. One immediate consequence of seeing Psycho was that my brother and I carried out an execution of our considerable teddy bear collection (its name was Bearville). We had developed the habit of speaking to the bears which, in our own voices, spoke back. Seeing the reality of Norman and his mother clearly resonated with me in a negative way and my brother Jim and I agreed that it was time to bring Bearville to a close.

Your observations about Anthony Perkins's performance (including the Kandy Korn) remind me that he was, until that movie, very much the clean cut all American boy in the movies he starred in. He was also one of a few young Hollywood stars (Tab Hunter being another) who recorded pop records though I cannot recall which ones.

Well John, Stan Freberg famously said: "I ask a simple question I get a pageant," and I'm afraid you've got your pageant. Your site is a constant delight which always surprises, informs and entertains me. Long may you reign.


5:31 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

I was looking forward to seeing "Psycho" for the first time in its original network run on ABC in April 1968. However, the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. caused the network put it on the shelf indefinitely. I never got around to seeing the whole thing until about 20 years later.

10:52 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Actually, and to be very pedantic, it was the murder of the daughter of Charles Percy, senator-elect from Illinois that caused the cancellation of PSYCHO's network premiere.
The premiere was scheduled for CBS, but was postponed after the still-unsolved knife killing. It was rescheduled but cancelled again, supposedly because of the deadly launchpad fire which killed three Apollo astronauts.
Though many have claimed otherwise (including myself, till the evidence changed my mind), PSYCHO never had a network showing. I saw it first on our local CBS station. It was shown in a prime-time slot -- the reason I assumed it was a network showing -- and this was evidently the case in many markets.
The first TV showing was in New York City in '67, and the film suffered several cuts before being shown.

2:14 PM  
Blogger Marc J. Hampton said...

Here's a 1983 interview with Vera Miles. She has nothing nice to say about Donald Spoto's book, thats for sure.,4717710

I've always hoped she show up on the roster for the TCM Film Festival. But no such luck. I'm sure they've tried.

5:01 PM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

PSYCHO was one of the few movies my parents put the kabosh on my seeing during its intial release. Seems my mother had heard talk at the beauty parlor of how it was ruining the mental health of many patrons. Perhaps she felt MY mental health was already in peril and couldn't withstand any more torment (even though I had seen THE TINGLER without any further harm). Then, somehow, I missed it again in its 1965 return. Finally, after its network cancelation, it appeared on a local Charlotte station (WSOC) one Monday night. I watched and loved it. Then Universal sent it back out to theaters in 1967 (I believe), billing it as THE VERSION TV DIDN'T DARE SHOW. I had my driver's license by that time, so I headed to the drive-in theater that had originally been my family's and watched Norman and Marion on the big screen. Frame-for-frame, EXACTLY as I had seen it on television (shame on you, Universal). Fast forwarding to the present, I would estimate my viewings at, at least, 25, with certain segments probably 50. I also enjoy the prequel TV seasonal series BATES MOTEL.

3:11 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Scroll down the page of that Vera Miles newspaper interview, and you'll see ads for... "Psycho II."

3:28 PM  
Blogger Tbone Mankini said...

I also caught the 64/65 're issue'... on a drive in bill with,I think, HOW TO MURDER YOUR WIFE...foolish Mother thought we'd all be asleep on the back seat by then but no....pretty sure I caught my first TV showing on the CBC affiliate in Windsor Ontario Ch9 though maybe someone can confirm the Detroit premiere....and the last time I inflicted it on a small audience,it was double billed with ROSEMARY'S BABY. ...lots of hiding behind cushions esp for the skull overlay on Norman's face at the end.

4:56 AM  

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