.. for a peeping Tom killer in his forties (theage of the murderer in Bloch’s novel), thedirector proposed using a much younger characterand even suggested to the writer that Perkins getthe lead role(Rebello 111).
When Hitchcock beganproduction on PSYCHO, he was told that he wouldhave to use the facilities at Revue Studios, thetelevision division of Universal Studios, whichParamount had rented for the making of thefilm(Rebello 112). Although he was unable to usehis regular cinematographer, Robert Burks,Hitchcock managed to convince Paramount that hisspecial editor, George Tomasini, should beincluded in the production(Rebello 110). Thedirector’s desire for detail was in full forcehere.
He insisted that Stefano and others scoutmotels along Route 99 to learn how they operated,who stopped at them, and who ran them.The BatesMotel was then put together on the Universal backlot and was definitely on the seedy side, with ascaled-down The mansion cost only $15,000 toconstruct and technicians cannibalized severalother stock buildings on the lot to keep the costsdown, throwing onto the structure a tower that hadbeen part of the Dowd home in HARVEY(Rebello 150).Perkins, then only twenty-seven, was hired withoutthe actor even reading the script. The risingyoung performer owed Paramount one film under hiscontract and was taken aboard because Hitchcockthought him right for the role of Norman Batesalong with other reasons(Rebello 128). The role ofthe female lead was a problem. Hitchcock wasinterested in using Shirley Jones, but her salarywould have been too high. Instead, he selectedLeigh, who was more of a starlet than a star atthe time, although this part would changethat(Rebello 132).
Leigh received a copy of theBloch novel before shooting began, but thedirector wrote a note to her pointing out that thefemale victim, who is almost incidental in thenovel, would have much more importance in thefilm(Rebello 133).Actually Leigh is on screen foronly forty-five minutes before she is brutallyslashed. Leigh’s relatively rapid departure forcesviewers to switch the focus that they began. Toprotect the murderous mother’s real identity,Hitchcock announced to the press that he was”considering” Helen Hayes or Judith Anderson toplay the role(Rebello 136).
This attempt to set upviewers for the surprise ending (an atypicalfinish for a film by a director who always avoidedsurprise endings) backfired somewhat whenHitchcock was attacked with wires and letters fromactresses asking to be considered for the role ofthe mother(Rebello 136). Originally, the conceptfor the horrific mother was nothing more than alarge plastic doll with glass eyes; however,Hitchcock was quick to alter this approach,substituting a sunken-faced and an ossified corpseof his own design(Rebello 137). He used thatcadaver for one of the many offbeat pranks hepulled on Leigh, which the actress took so wellthat she quickly became one of Hitchcock’sfavorite performers.Once the corpse was created,Hitchcock had it placed in Leigh’s dressing roomso that when she entered and turned on the lightthe corpse sat grinning at her, causing theactress to let out piercing screams louder andmore frightening than her shrieks in the showerscene(Rebello 140). When it came to that famousshower scene, Hitchcock not only approved of everylittle detail in the scenefrom toilet to showernozzlebut he demonstrated every move the killerand victim were to make. The director even showedPerkins exactly how he was to wrap the body in theshower curtain.
Ironically, Perkins was notpresent for the filming of Leigh’s murder. Helater commented: “Not many people know this, but Iwas in New York rehearsing for a play when theshower scene was filmed in Hollywood. It is ratherstrange to go through life being identified withthis sequence knowing that it was my double.Actually the first time I saw PSYCHO and thatshower scene was at the studio.
I found it reallyscary. I was just as frightened as anybody else.Working on the picture, though, was one of thehappiest filming experiences of my life. We hadfun making itnever realizing the impact it wouldhave.”(Rebello 192). It was Hitchcock whospecifically ordered this murder shown as a brutalthing, scribbling in his own hand for shot 116:”The slashing. An impression of a knife slashing,as if tearing at the very screen, ripping thefilm”.
This brutal slaying is long, terrifying,and gory.Through lightning cuts between Leigh andclose ups of the knife striking her body (she isstabbed at least a dozen times) and seeminglypiercing her flesh, Hitchcock depictsfor the firsttime in film historythe bloody realities ofviolent murder(Rebello 189). Reportedly, a fastmotion reverse shot was used to give theimpression that the knife actually enters Leigh’sabdomen. Another of the inventive techniquesHitchcock uses in this legendary scene is the wayin which he shows the spray coming directly out ofthe shower nozzle. Jets of water encompass thecamera without ever hitting the lens, as if Leighis looking directly into the nozzle. To achievethis effect, Hitchcock ordered a huge showernozzle made, then moved his camera in for aclose-up.
Even though the film was shot on ahectic schedule of a little over a month,Hitchcock took a full week to shoot the showerscene, directing it from a tower above the set,employing a single cameraman.He had abandoned theuse of Technicolor, so as not to make the filmmore gory than it already was, and washedchocolate sauce down the drain as if it wereLeigh’s blood(Rebello 200). Leigh was opposed toshooting this scene naked.
She went through manyoptions such as special garments such as the onesthat strippers wore, but none worked. Finally, thedirector came up with a solution; flesh-coloredmoleskin. But during shooting hot water from theshower undermined this solution. “I felt somethingstrange happening around my breasts,” Leigh latersaid.
“The steam from the hot water had melted theadhesive on the moleskin and I sensed the nappedcotton fabric peeling away from my skin. What todo?To spoil the so far successful shot and bemodest? Or get it over with and be immodest. Iopted for immodestythat was the printed take, andno one noticed my bareness before I could cover itup. I think!”(Rebello 209).
Because he owned somuch of the film, Hitchcock turned promotionminded with PSYCHO, devising the entire publicitycampaign for his gruesome masterpiece. He insistedthat no moviegoer be seated during the showing ofthe film.The director said that he had fun withthe film. In an interview with French directorFranois Truffaut, Hitchcock stated that “it wasrather exciting to use the camera to deceive theaudiencesThe game with the audience wasfascinating. I was directing the viewers. Youmight say I was playing them like an organ Ididn’t start off to make an important movie.
Ithought I could have fun with this subject andthis situation My main satisfaction is that thefilm had an effect on the audience I feel it’stremendously satisfying for us to be able to usethe cinematic art to achieve something of a massemotion. With PSYCHO we most definitely achievedthis.It wasn’t a message that stirred theaudiences, nor was it a great performance or theirenjoyment of the novel. They were aroused by purefilm. That’s why I take pride in the fact thatPSYCHO, more than any of my other pictures, is afilm that befilm.”(Rebello 234).
In a 1947 pressconference the great director laid out hisphilosophy of the mystery-horror genre: “I am toprovide the public with beneficial shocks.Civilization has become so protective that we’reno longer able to get our goose bumpsinstinctively. The only way to remove the numbnessand revive our moral equilibrium is to useartificial means to bring about the shock. Thebest way to achieve that, it seems to me, isthrough a movie.”(Rebello 236).
PSYCHO providedshocks heard around the world and became aninstant smash, breaking all box-office records inits initial release. Hitchcock had the last laughwith the Paramount executives who wanted no partof PSYCHO from the beginning. The film became oneof Paramount’s most popular pictures and it madeHitchcock not only a master of the modern horrorfilm but also fabulously wealthy. He had outwittedeveryonethe industry, the audience, and thecritics. Alfred Joseph Hitchcock lived for 80years. He died on April 28, 1980.He lived a long,and very successful life.
Throughout his life, hetook part in the creation of a countless number offilms. His films were very popular at the timethat he made them, and they are still appreciatedby many today. He is undoubtedly the “Master ofSuspense”. Bibliography: 791.43 Sen Sennet, Ted.Great Movie Directors. New York: 1982.HerricksHigh School Library 791.
43 Phi Philips, Gene D.Alfred Hitchcock. New York: 1976. Herricks HighSchool Library 791.4302 Reb Rebello, Stephen.
Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho. NewYork: 1986. Herricks High School Library 791.43Spo Spoto, Donald. The Art of Alfred Hitchcock.Fifty Years of his Motion Pictures.
New York:1976. Herricks High School Library.