Upon its release, Psycho was nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Best Cinematography and Best Director. It is ranked number one on the American Film institute’s 100 Years, 100 Thrills list and film critic Robin Wood called it ‘one of the key works of our age’. Psycho provides an excellent example of reception context. Modern audiences often aren’t affected by the violence in the film. We’ve seen much more violent and graphic murders on television and in films like Saw and Hostel. We’re the film through a lens cut by years of desensitisation to violence and horror. When Psycho was released, audiences, of course, had a very different reaction. First there was a great deal of anticipation surrounding the film. By the 1960s, Alfred Hitchcock exceptionally well known. Renowned for his films and the television program Alfred Hitchcock Presents, his name was synonymous with suspense. The publicity campaign for the film stressed that no one would be admitted to a screening of the film after it had started. “It is required that you see Psycho from the very beginning!” said posters for the film. “The manager of this theatre has been instructed at the risk of his life, not to admit to the theatre any person after the picture starts. Any spurious attempts to enter by side doors, fire escapes or ventilation shafts will be met by force. The sole objective of this extraordinary policy, of course, is to help you enjoy Psycho more.” In Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, Stephen Rebello noted: “Hitchcock maximised his three most exploitable commodities: the title, the shock climax, and his own persona as a roly-poly ringmaster of a macabre circus of horrors.” The trailer for the film – during which Hitchcock gives the audience a tour of the Bates Motel – reinforced this message while he mischievously planted a few red herrings in the minds of his audience.
For its time, Psycho was edgy. Even the opening sequence of the film – which shows Marion Crane in a bra and skirt – was provocative. Psycho was also the first Hollywood film to feature a toilet flushing. So you can imagine how audiences responded to the brutal stabbing of Marion Crane in the shower. “The atmosphere surrounding Psycho was deeply charged with apprehension,” wrote film theorist William Pecheter, describing how it felt to watch the film with an audience of the day. “Something awful is always about to happen. One could sense that the audience was constantly aware of this…it was, in the fullest sense, an audience; not merely the random gathering of discrete individuals attendant at most plays or movies.”
In Alfred Hitchcock and The Making of Psycho, Joseph Stefano – the film’s screenwriter – recalls watching the film with his wife and some friends. “As the movie went on,” the writer said, “I saw people grabbing each other, howling, screaming, reacting like six-year-olds at a Saturday matinee, I couldn’t believe what was happening. I found it hard to reconcile our movie with how the audience was reacting. I never though it was a movie that would make people scream. When Marion Crane was in the shower and audiences saw the woman coming toward her, I thought they’d shudder and go ‘How awful,’ but I never thought they’d be so vocal. And neither did Hitchcock. When the shower sequence was over, paralysis set in. Nobody knew quite what to do.”
Psycho is one of the most influential horror films ever made, inspiring generations of filmmakers. “Dealing with Hitchcock is like dealing with Bach,” said filmmaker Brian de Palma. “he wrote every tune that was ever done. Hitchcock thought up practically every cinematic idea that has ever been used and probably will be used in this form.”
Psycho opens to the jarring, suspenseful music of Bernard Hermann. The screen turns grey and is violently sliced apart by horizontal black lines. The black lines quickly reveal the words ‘ALFRED HITCHCOCK’S’ and, as the slicing continues, the title of the film also appears. The word ‘PSYCHO’ is torn apart several times before the credit sequence continues. Grey lines continue to split the screen apart, revealing the names of the cast and crew.
The opening credit sequence was designed by Saul Bass. Bass was a designer who specialised in motion picture title sequences. In addition to Psycho, he also collaborated with Alfred Hitchcock on Vertigo and North by Northwest. The opening credit sequence in a film is often used to establish mood, engages audiences and establish significant themes in the narrative. The opening credit sequence of Psycho is no exception. The frenetic and suspenseful score contributes significantly to audience engagement, playing on audience expectations during the film’s initial release that the film was particularly shocking and gruesome.
Thematically, the opening sequence also establishes the idea of schizophrenia, an important element in the narrative that becomes a recurring visual motif throughout the film. There are moments in the film when Hitchcock lights Norman Bates so that one half of his face is almost completely obscured by shadow, at other times we see characters purposefully reflected in mirrors. The opening sequence, with its violent splitting and tearing, is another reference to the theme of split personalities.
THE OPENING SEQUENCE
The opening sequence of a film is an important part of the narrative. Characters are established, a chain of cause and effect begins and audiences actively speculate about what will happen next.
After the opening sequence, the tense and suspenseful music subsides. The film fades in to an extreme long shot of a city. The words ‘PHOENIX – ARIZONA’ appear on screen as the camera pans to the right. The camera continues to pan, dissolves to a closer shot of the city and gradually zooms towards an apartment building. Hitchcock establishes the exact time and date: FRIDAY, DECEMBER THE ELEVENTH, TWO FORTY-THREE P.M.
The camera descends into a dark, partially open window. The venetian blinds are closed. For a moment, the room is completely dark. Despite the low key lighting, it is possible to make out several pieces of furniture: a chest of drawers, beside table and lamp. As the camera pans left, the audience’s first glimpse of Marion Crane, laying on a hotel bed, wearing white lingerie, legs crossed, looking up at her lover, Sam Loomis. A combination of acting, dialogue and music is used to establish these characters and their relationship. Despite meeting in a sleazy hotel room, the audience is encouraged to view their relationship as genuine rather than tawdry. The conversation reveals that they are unable to be together because Sam is still paying his ex-wife alimony and living behind a hardware store in Fairvale. Marion is tired of their secretive relationship. “Oh, we can see each other,” she says. “We can even have dinner – but respectably – in my house, with my mother’s picture on the mantel, and my sister helping me broil a big steak for three.” Sam professes a deep love for her, conceding that he wants to see her under any circumstance, “even respectability”. Although dialogue is primarily used to establish Marion and Sam as characters, shot selection and music also makes a contribution. As the scene progresses, Marion and Sam are often shown in the same frame, which contributes to a sense of intimacy and love. When Marion declares that she wants to marry Sam, romantic strings well and they kiss passionately.
Narratives encourage the audience to identify with certain characters. To achieve this, a number of techniques are used – ranging from shot size and editing to music and acting. It is important to consider how the filmmaker positions the audience to sympathise and identify with particular characters. At the beginning of Psycho, the audience is strongly encouraged to identify with Marion Crane. After her death, the narrative is told from multiple points of view. During the opening sequence, while Hitchcock is establishing her as a character, the audience is encouraged to identify with Marion’s plight through a combination of acting, shot selection and music.
During the production period of the film, it was considered risqué and provocative showing a female character in lingerie. While contemporary audiences don’t give her attire a second thought, it was regarded as extremely provocative when the film was first released. The colour of her lingerie takes on particular importance. The white fabric and generous key lighting suggests that the character is pure and chaste despite meeting her lover in a cheap motel during her lunch break.
1. Watch the opening sequence carefully, compiling a list of dialogue which helps to establish Sam and Marion as characters. What do we learn about their relationship?
2. How does acting contribute to character development? Describe Janet Leigh’s acting when she delivers the following lines:
‘When you’re married you can do a lot of things deliberately’;
‘Oh, we can see each other. We can even have dinner – but respectably – in my house, with my mother’s picture on the mantel, and my sister helping me broil a big steak for three.’;
‘You make respectability sound disrespectful.’
3. Listen carefully to the music throughout this scene. How does it change? What does it tell the audience about the characters and their relationship?
CASSIDY AND THE $40,000
Arguably, when Marion returns to the office after her lunch break is where the main action of the narrative begins. In the preceding scene, Hitchcock has established Marion’s desire to be with Sam despite the financial burden of his failed marriage.
Film Geek: Hitchcock was renowned for making appearances in his own films. In Stranger on a Train (1951), Hitchcock is briefly shown carrying a double bass onto the train. In North By Northwest (1959) we see Hitchcock narrowly missing his bus. In The Birds, he is seen walking with two dogs from a pet store. The Simpsons gave a nod to this cameo in the episode called A Streetcar Name Marge when Hitchcock, with the poodles, walks past a childcare centre. Shortly after she returns to the office, Marion’s boss (George Lowery) and a client (Tom Cassidy) also return to close the sale of a property.
CASSIDY: Wow! It’s as hot as fresh milk! Say, you girls oughtta get your boss to air-condition you up! He can afford it today.
LOWERY: Oh, Marion, will you get the copies of that deed ready for Mr. Cassidy?
CASSIDY: Yeah, tomorrow’s the day! My sweet little girl. Oh, no – not you. My daughter. A baby! And tomorrow she stands her sweet self up there and gets married away from me. Ah – I want you to take a look at my baby. Eighteen years old and she never had an unhappy day in any one of those years!
LOWERY: Come on, Tom. My office is air-conditioned.
CASSIDY: Do you know what I do about unhappiness? I buy it off. Are uh – are you unhappy?
MARION: Not inordinately.
CASSIDY: I’m buying this house for my baby’s wedding present. Forty thousand dollars, cash! Now that’s – that’s not buying happiness. That’s just buying off unhappiness. I never carry more than I can afford to lose. Count ‘em!
CAROLINE: I declare!
CASSIDY: I don’t! That’s how I get to keep it.
LOWERY: Tom, a cash transaction of this size is most irregular.
CASSIDY: Oh, so what. It’s my private money. Now it’s yours.
LOWERY: Uh, suppose we put it in the safe. And then Monday morning when you’re feeling good-
CASSIDY: Oh, speaking of feeling good, where’s that bottle you said was in your desk? Oh-oh! You know, sometimes I can keep my mouth shut.
Throughout this scene, acting and dialogue persuades the audience to identify with Marion. George Lowery (Frank Albertson) sits on the edge of Marion’s desk, leering at her and suggestively raising his eyebrows when he asks whether she’s unhappy. In this instance, Hitchcock uses acting and dialogue to further encourage the audience to side with Marion, particularly when she decides to steal the $40,000.
STEALING THE $40,000
As she leaves work with the $40,000, Hitchcock dissolves to a mid-shot of Marion standing in her bedroom. Significantly, Marion is now dressed in in a black bra and skirt. This change of costume signals her illegal and immoral decision to steal the money. Mise-en-scene is an all purpose term used to describe everything that appears in the frame – including sets, lighting, costume and make-up. The colour black has a long association with evil in Western cinema and Hitchcock purposefully uses this element of the mise-en-scene to foreshadow the immoral decision Marion is about to make. In film, narratives are conveyed through a combination of production elements and story elements. This scene is significant because Hitchcock chose to convey Marion’s inner turmoil without the use of dialogue. Whereas the film often uses voice overs to convey a character’s thoughts, Hitchcock uses editing, music, camera movement, shot size and acting throughout this scene to convey what Marion is thinking. As Marion moves towards the partially open closet, the camera dollies in towards the bed, showing an extreme close-up of the $40,000 stuffed in an envelope on the bed. Bernard Hermann’s suspenseful score increases in intensity as the camera slowly pans to the left, showing a close-up of a an open suitcase draped with clothes. This simple camera movement and use of music conveys Marion’s decision. The camera cuts to Marion as she takes a shirt from the closet, turns back towards the bed and puts it on. As she does up the top button, her face is lined with concern and she looks intently towards the bed. There is a close up of the suitcase and a point-of-view shot of the envelop as she looks over her shoulder while standing in front of the mirror. Although she is clearly going to steal the money, the combination of editing and acting conveys her indecision. Point-of-view shots are a powerful technique for encouraging audiences to identify with particularly characters. Here, the repeated point-of-view shots of the suitcase, envelope of important documents and the $40,000 all continue to build audience identification with Marion. As she closes the suitcase, Marion’s face is once again lined with concern. She looks towards the $40,000. Hitchcock once again shows an extremely close-up of the cash. Hitchcock cuts to a mid-shot of Marion who sighs, picks up her handbag and hesitantly sits next to the envelope. She forces the money into her handbag and the camera tracks her as she takes the suitcase, an overcoat from the closet and leaves the room.
Throughout this scene, Hitchcock returns to the theme of duality. While Norman Bates suffers from schizophrenia, there are other characters whose lives are similarly fragmented. Marion has her real life and a secret life
Film Geek: Hitchcock had a wonderfully dark sense of humour. Foreshadowing Marion’s eventual demise, we briefly glimpse a shower head and curtain in Marion’s en suite.
Hitchcock dissolves to a mid-shot of Marion sitting behind the wheel of her car. The audience hears her imagining what Sam will say when she arrives in Fairvale. The preceding scenes have strongly encouraged the audience to identify with Marion using a variety of production elements, chiefly camera techniques, editing, acting and music. Here, Hitchcock takes this one step further, using sound to convey her inner thoughts.
SAM (Voice Over): Marion, what in the world – what are you doing here? …Of course I’m glad to see you. I always am. …What is it, Marion?
As she is imagining what Sam will say, she nervously adjusts her grip on the steering wheel and, pulls up at an intersection, resting her head on her hand. Hitchcock cuts from the mid-shot of Marion at the wheel of the car to a sustained point-of-view shot through the windshield. Several people pass in front of the car. Hitchcock cuts back to Marion who still appears concerned. Cutting back to the point-of-view shot, Marion – and the audience – see Lowery and Cassidy pass in front of the car. As he passes, Lowery notices Marion and smiles politely. Hitchcock cuts to a mid-shot of Marion. Janet Leigh’s acting contributes significantly to audience engagement. She smiles, clearly shocked. Hitchcock shows a point-of-view shot of Lowery as he turns and looks back at the car. He appears slightly puzzled. Herrmann’s dramatic score begins suddenly. Deep and dramatic violins underscoring Lowery’s discovery that Marion is leaving the city. Using a range of production elements – notably point-of-view shots – Hitchcock has implicated the audience in Marion’s crime. Hitchcock cuts back to a close-up of Marion whose smile disappears. Audience engagement in this scene is particularly effective. Implicated in the crime, the audience desperately wants Marion to escape. Lowery turns away and continues walking. The audience is left with a sustained close-up of Marion as she continues to drive, face lined with apprehension.
Hitchcock dissolves to an extreme long shot of a darkened highway. Marion’s car is shown driving into the distance. This is an example of the structuring of time within a narrative. Filmmakers often manipulate time in this way. Audiences understand that when the close-up of Marion dissolves into the shot of a darkened highway, time has passed. In the next shot, the audience sees a close up of Marion, squinting in the harsh light of oncoming traffic. Hitchcock uses another point-of-view shot, building audience identification with Marion. Another brief close-up as she continues driving before Hitchcock fades to black. A fade to black is another cinematic code used to convey the end of a scene. When Hitchcock fades into the next shot, which shows Marion’s car parked on the side of a quiet road, the audience understands that, once again, time has passed. The difficult driving conditions – conveyed through Marion’s acting and the lighting in the previous scene – combined with the extreme long shot of the car parked on the side of the road, tells the audience that she pulled over to rest.
THE POLICE OFFICER
An extreme long shot, shows Marion’s car parked on the side of a quiet road. In the foreground, a bush quivers in the wind. Hills recede into the distance. Marion is alone. The audience hears the sound of an approaching car. A police cruiser drive into the frame, stops abruptly and backs up, pulling to a halt behind Marion in a cloud of dust. We cut to a full shot of the police officer as he emerges from the patrol car and approaches Marion. For a moment, the audience is afforded a point-of-view shot from the perspective of the police officer as he looks down at Marion, who is asleep on the front seat of the car. He raps on the window several times. Marion wakes suddenly, her eyes wide in terror as she sees the police officer. Because the audience has been positioned so strongly to identify with Marion in the preceding scenes, particularly when Lowery sees her leaving Phoenix, the audience shares the subtle apprehension conveyed through Janet Leigh’s performance. She sits up quickly and Hitchcock cuts to a tight, imposing close-up of the police officer’s face. He stares back, impassive. The dark sunglasses help make him appear emotionless. When Hitchcock cuts back to a close-up of Marion, the audience continues to feel her panic as, in an expression of shock, she tries to start the car.
OFFICER: Hold it there! In quite a hurry.
MARION: Yes, I didn’t intend to sleep so long. I almost had an accident last night – from sleepiness – so I decided to pull over.
OFFICER: You slept here all night?
MARION: Yes. As I said, I couldn’t keep my eyes open.
OFFICER: There are plenty of motels in this area. You should’ve – I mean, just to be safe…
MARION: I didn’t intend to sleep all night. I just pulled over. Have I broken any laws?
OFFICER: No, ma’am.
MARION: Then I’m free to go?
OFFICER: Is anything wrong?
MARION: Of course not. Am I acting as if there’s something wrong?
OFFICER: Frankly, yes.
MARION: Please – I’d like to go.
OFFICER: Well, is there?
MARION: Is there what? I’ve told you there’s nothing wrong – except that I’m in a hurry and you’re taking up my time.
OFFICER: Now, just a moment! Turn your motor off please. May I see your license?
Acting continues significantly to audience engagement and point-of-view throughout this scene. Already encouraged to identify with Marion, the audience feels anxious as she ineffectually tries to explain why she is parked on the side of the road. When shooting this scene, Hitchcock makes Marion look vulnerable by filming her from a slight high angle. In contrast, the tight close-up of the police officer makes him appear slightly sinister. When he asks for her license and registration, we see another point-of-view shot through the windshield as he looks sceptically at the license plate.
Film Geek: In another example of Hitchcock’s black humour, the police officer suggests she should have booked into a motel “just to be safe”.
As the police officer leaves and Marion starts the ignition, Herrmann’s dramatic score begins once again. There is a sustained close-up of Marion as she pulls onto the road. Visual composition has been used effectively here to accentuate that the police car is following her. Once again, Hitchcock uses point-of-view shots through the windshield and into the rear vision mirror, encouraging the audience to identify with Marion’s perspective. As she looks towards the rear vision mirror, the audience sees the sinister, black patrol car following close behind. Janet Leigh continues to concerned and paranoid, conveying through subtle gestures, Marion’s state-of-mind and also engaging the audience. This series of shots continues throughout the rest of the scene until the patrol car pulls off the highway. As the car pulls away, Marion looks relieved. Hitchcock cross dissolves to a much busier urban street through the windshield of Marion’s car.
A NEW CAR
A long shot shows Marion’s car pulling into a used car yard. While waiting for the car salesman, Marion examines some of the number plates. Hitchcock cuts from a mid-shot of Marion to an extreme close-up of one of the number plates, highlighting the word ‘CALIFORNIA’. She looks back towards her car. There is an extreme close-up of the word ‘ARIZONA’. This use of shot size and editing clearly conveys that she is looking for another car to evade the attention of the authorities. She paces quickly towards a newspaper vending machine and purchase a copy of the newspaper. The rapid tracking shot and speed at which she moves builds on the paranoia that Hitchcock has already established. Is there a report about the stolen money. Before the audience gets a satisfactory answer, Hitchcock cuts to a close-up of the police cruiser pulling to a stop. The officer looks through the window, noticing both Marion and her vehicle. He turns around quickly and comes to a stop on the other side of the road. Marion looks through the newspaper desperately, not noticing the police officer on the other side of the road as he emerges from the car and watches her.
SALESMAN: I’m in no mood for trouble.
SALESMAN: There’s an old saying: First customer of the day is always the most trouble. But like I say, I’m in no mood for it, so I’m gonna treat you so fair and square that you won’t have one human reason to give me –
MARION: Can I trade my car in and take another?
SALESMAN: Can do anything you’ve a mind to, and bein’ a woman, you will. That yours?
MARION: Yes. It’s – there’s nothing wrong with it. I just –
SALESMAN: – sick of the sight of it. Well, why don’t you have a look around here and see if there’s somethin’ that strikes your eyes, and meanwhile I’ll have my mechanic give yours the once over. You want some coffee? I was just about –
MARION: No, thank you. I’m in a hurry. I just want to make a change and-
SALESMAN: One thing people never oughtta be when they’re buyin’ used cars and that’s in a hurry. But like I said, it’s too nice a day to argue. I’ll shoot your car in the garage here.
SALESMAN: That’s the one I’d’ve picked for you myself.
MARION: Uh, how much?
SALESMAN: Go ahead and spin it around the block.
MARION: It looks fine. How much would it be with my car?
SALESMAN: You mean you don’t want the usual day and a half to think it over? You are in a hurry, aren’t you! Somebody chasin’ you?
MARION: Of course not. Please.
SALESMAN: Well, it’s the first time a customer ever high-pressured the salesman! Uh-figure roughly – your car plus seven hundred dollars.
MARION: Seven hundred?
SALESMAN: Ah, you always got time to argue money, huh?
MARION: All right.
SALESMAN: (His cheerful manner ceases.) I take it you can prove that car is yours – I mean, uh – out of state license and all. You got your pink slip and –
MARION: I believe I have the necessary papers. Is there a ladies room?
SALESMAN: In the building.
The conversation between Marion and the salesman is shot using a conventional mid-shot. Audience engagement is achieved through Janet Leigh’s acting, as she tries to justify making a hasty purchase. Midway through the conversation, as she’s explaining that she just wants to make a change, Janet Leigh acts suddenly concerned, as if noticing something off camera. Hitchcock cuts to a point-of-view shot of the police officer, leaning against the patrol car. This edit, combined with Janet Leigh’s acting, conveys that her plan to swap cars has been discovered but she continues nonetheless to avoid raising further suspicion. As the salesman leaves to drive her car into the garage, Marion once again appears anxious, looking back towards the police officer. Another point-of-view shot shows him still leaning against the car, staring patiently towards Marion. The subtle acting of the car salesman also establishes the fact that Marion is failing to avoid suspicion. After naming his price, Marion relies a little too quickly: “All right.” The smile fades slowly from his face. The camera tracks the actors as they walk back towards the office. Marion looks over her shoulder and the salesman notices that the police officer is watching them. He acts slightly perturbed, glancing suspiciously at Marion.
Suspense continues to build when she enters the bathroom. The slow, insistent score continues to ratchet the tension. Mirrors are a recurring motif throughout the film, hinting at the split personality of Norman Bates and Marion’s secret desires which ultimately compel her to steal the money. In the bathroom, she is once again reflected in a mirror. On the surface, Marion is a reliable and honest employee who has worked in the same job for ten years. Underneath the facade, she has a secret relationship with a divorcee which compels her to steal a significant amount of money. In scenes like this, Hitchcock alludes to these the duality in her character. Reflected in the mirror, she counts seven hundred dollars from the pile of cash, closes the envelope and returns to the salesman.
SALESMAN: Ah – I think you’d better take it for a trial spin. Don’t want any bad word of mouth about California Charlie.
MARION: I’d really rather not. Can’t we just settle this?
SALESMAN: I uh, might as well be perfectly honest with you, ma’am. It’s not that I don’t trust you, but uh –
MARION: But what? Is there anything so terribly wrong about making a decision and wanting to hurry? Do you think I’ve stolen my car?
SALESMAN: No ma’am. All right, let’s go inside.
When they go inside to finalise the deal, Hitchcock cuts to a long shot of the police officer, who gets into his car and drives across to the lot. Marion emerges from the offices and, on noticing him, hastily gets into her new car. Here, sound is used to engage the audience. As she starts to leave the lot, the audience hears a voice off screen: “HEY!” For a moment, the audience fears she might have been discovered. Cutting to a wider shot, Hitchcock shows the mechanic rushing to the car, holding her suitcase and jacket. Attempting to swap cars, Marion has only drawn further attention to herself. In the following scene, audience identification with this character grows as we are given further insight into her paranoia. Returning to the close-up of Marion sitting behind the wheel of her car, Hitchcock uses sound to convey her inner thoughts as she imagines what the salesman and police officer were talking about. Janet Leigh’s acting is significant throughout this scene, becoming increasingly more anxious.
SALESMAN: Heck, Officer, that was the first time I ever saw the customer high-pressure the salesman! Somebody chasin’ her?
OFFICER: I better have a look at those papers, Charlie.
SALESMAN: She look like a wrong one to you?
OFFICER: Acted like one.
SALESMAN: The only funny thing, she paid me seven hundred dollars in cash.
Marion’s paranoia continue to increase as she imagines what’s happening in Phoenix.
CAROLINE: Yes, Mr. Lowery?
LOWERY: Caroline? Marion still isn’t in?
CAROLINE: No, Mr. Lowery. But then, she’s always a bit late on Monday mornings.
LOWERY: Buzz me the minute she comes in…then call her sister if no one’s answering at the house.
CAROLINE: I called her sister, Mr. Lowery, where she works – the Music Makers Music Store, you know – and she doesn’t know where Marion is any more than we do.
LOWERY: You’d better run out to the house. She may be unable to answer the phone.
CAROLINE: Her sister’s going to do that. She’s as worried as we are.
LOWERY: No, I haven’t the faintest idea. As I said, I last saw your sister when she left this office on Friday. She said she didn’t feel well and wanted to leave early. I said she could. That was the last time I saw – now wait a minute, I did see her sometime later, driving – uh, I think you’d better come over here to my office – quick! Caroline, get Mr. Cassidy for me!
LOWERY: …After all, Cassidy, I told you – all that cash! I’m not taking the responsibility! Oh, for heaven’s sake, a girl works for you for ten years, you trust her! …All right. Yes. You better come over.
CASSIDY: Well, I ain’t about to kiss off forty thousand dollars! I’ll get it back, and if any of it’s missing I’ll replace it with her fine, soft flesh! I’ll track her, never you doubt it!
LOWERY: Oh, hold on, Cassidy! I-I still can’t believe – It must be some kind of mystery. I-I can’t –
CASSIDY: You checked with the bank, no? They never laid eyes on her, no? You still trustin’? Hot creepers! She sat there while I dumped it out! Hardly even looked at it! Plannin’ and – and even flirtin’ with me!
This scene continues to use the techniques established in the first part of the film to engage audiences and encourage them to identify with Marion’s point-of-view. Although this scene only takes a few minutes, time is structured in an interesting way. As Hitchcock cuts back and forth between the close-up of Marion and the point-of-view shot through the windshield, the footage becomes increasingly darker. In a few minutes, very subtly, Hitchcock makes the transition from day to night. In one shot of Marion, for example, it is still daylight in the background. Hitchcock cuts to a shot of the oncoming traffic, the sky is slightly darker and the cars have their headlights on. When he cuts to the reverse shot, the sky is darker again. Using editing and lighting, Hitchcock is able to compress time and engage the audience. As her thoughts become increasingly more paranoid, the mise-en-scene becomes darker and more ominous, sheets of rain cascading across the windshield. As Marion imagines Cassidy reacting to the theft, she smirks. Perhaps this is the darker side to her character that Hitchcock alluded to earlier with his use of reflections.
THE BATES MOTEL
The dramatic music subsides and the headlights fade as Marion pulls of the highway. Through the darkness, we see a neon sign that reads ‘BATES MOTEL’. Through the windshield, we see the motel loom out of the darkness. The handheld camera movement follows Marion’s line of sight as she glances towards the sign and back down to the humble motel. The sound of rain is pervasive. The camera follows Marion as she quickly looks around the office, walks to the end of the veranda and looks up the hill towards an old house. In the darkness, the house appears exceptionally ominous. She notices a silhouette in one of the windows, returns to the car and honks the horn repeatedly. Cutting to a long shot of the house, Hitchcock shows Norman Bates running down the stairs towards the office.
NORMAN: I’m sorry. I didn’t hear you in all this rain. Go ahead in please.
NORMAN: Dirty night!
MARION: Do you have a vacancy?
NORMAN: Oh, we have twelve vacancies. Twelve cabins – twelve vacancies. They uh – they moved away the highway.
MARION: Oh. I thought I’d gotten off the main road.
NORMAN: I knew you must have. Nobody ever stops here anymore unless they’ve done that. But there’s no sense dwelling on our losses. We just keep on lighting the lights and following the formalities. Your home address – oh, just the town will do.
MARION: Los Angeles.
NORMAN: Cabin One. It’s closer in case you want anything. It’s right next to the office.
MARION: I want to sleep more than anything else. Except maybe food.
NORMAN: Well, there’s a big diner about ten miles up the road, just outside of Fairvale.
MARION: Am I that close to Fairvale?
NORMAN: Fifteen miles. I’ll get your bags. Boy, it’s stuffy in here. Well, the uh – the mattress is soft and – there’s hangers in the closet and stationary with ‘Bates Motel’ printed on it, in case you want to make your friends back home feel envious – and the uh – over there.
MARION: The bathroom.
NORMAN: Yes. Well, uh, i-if you want anything just – just tap on the wall. I’ll – I’ll be in the office.
MARION: Thank you, Mr. Bates.
NORMAN: Norman Bates. You’re not really gonna go out again and drive up to the diner, are you?
NORMAN: Well, then, would you do me a favour? Would you have dinner with me? I was just about to, myself. You know, nothing special – just sandwiches and milk. But I’d like it very much if you’d come up to the house. I-I don’t set a fancy table but the kitchen’s awful homey.
MARION: I’d like to.
NORMAN: All right – uh – you get yourself settled, and – and take off your wet shoes – and I’ll be back as soon as it’s ready. (He takes the key from the door and hands it to her.) With my – with my trusty umbrella.
1. Describe how Norman Bates is established as a character during this scene, selecting appropriate quotations that help to develop this character. Carefully watch how Anthony Perkins performs throughout the scene, noting his use of facial expressions and body language. Which makes a great contribution to the character development, acting or dialogue?
2. At this point in the film, how do you think the audience is being encouraged to respond to the character of Norman Bates? Why?
Film Geek: A MacGuffin is an object in the narrative that motivates the characters. Alfred Hitchcock was responsible for popularising the term, describing a MacGuffin as “the mechanical element that usually crops up in any story. In crook stories it is almost always the necklace and in spy stories it is most always the papers.” In Psycho, the stolen money is the MacGuffin.
The camera tracks Marion around the room as she searches for somewhere to hide the stolen money. Hitchcock draws that audience’s attention to the newspaper using an extreme close-up, conveying Marion’s decision to hide the money inside its pages. As she puts the money on the bedside table, she overhears a conversation between Norman and his mother.
MOTHER: No! I tell you no! I won’t have you bringing strange young girls in here for supper – by candlelight, I suppose, in the cheap erotic fashion of young men with cheap erotic minds!
NORMAN: Mother, please!
MOTHER: And then what, after supper? Music? Whispers?
NORMAN: Mother, she’s just a stranger! She’s hungry and it’s raining out.
MOTHER: ’Mother, she’s just a stranger.’ As if men don’t desire strangers. Ah! I refuse to speak of disgusting things, because they disgust me! Do you understand, boy? Go on! Go tell her she’ll not be appeasing her ugly appetite with my food, or my son! Or do I have to tell her ’cause you don’t have the guts, boy? Huh, boy? You have the guts, boy?
MOTHER: Shut up! Shut up!
The use of sound and acting in this sequence contributes significantly to the development of Norman’s role as a dutiful son. Overhearing the conversation, the audience is encouraged to feel sympathy for the character. Until this point in the narrative, the audience has been largely encouraged to identify with Marion Crane. Establishing sympathy for Norman helps the audience accept his point-of-view after Marion’s murder.
In the preceding scene, when Norman and Marion were filmed together in the motel room, they were shown in different shots. When they meet outside, they’re filmed in a single frame, as Norman rounds the corner with a tray of sandwiches and when he draws closer after she admits that she has caused him “some trouble”. Framing a shot like this implies that there is a closeness or intimacy between two characters. At this stage in the narrative, one of the narrative possibilities that exists is that Norman and Marion will become romantically involved. Norman’s inexperience with women is accentuated through the use of visual composition and acting when Marion takes a step back, motioning towards the open door of her room. Norman hesitantly takes a step forward, then stops, moving back to his original position. Hitchcock focuses audience attention on his embarrassed expression. The acting and visual composition of this moment conveys to the audience that, although Norman is attracted to Marion, he feels nervous and self-conscious in her presence. He stutters for a moment before suggesting that they eat supper in the office: “It – it might be uh, nicer – and warmer – in the office.” As he hesitantly retreats towards the office door, Hitchcock cuts to mid-shot of Marion who looks slightly bemused.
Film Geek: The dark humour continues when Norman admits that his mother ‘isn’t quite herself today’.
THE PARLOUR SCENE
The parlour scene is an excellent example of how visual composition can contribute to audience engagement. When Marion enters the parlour, she looks around. Hitchcock cuts to several point-of-view shots. The first shows a stuffed owl, its wings outstretched, casting ominous shadows against the ceiling. The second point-of-view shot shows a stuffed raven perched menacingly on a branch, a large shadow cast against the wall. Hitchcock cuts to a mid-shot of Norman as he places the tray on a table, surrounded by the menacing birds. During the ensuing conversation, Marion and Norman are framed separately. Hitchcock uses visual composition to give an insight into the twisted mind of Norman Bates.
NORMAN: It’s all for you. I’m not hungry. Go ahead. (delightedly watching her eat) You – you eat like a bird.
MARION: You’d know, of course.
NORMAN: No, not really. Anyway, I hear the expression ‘eats like a bird’ – is really a fals- fals- falsity. Because birds really eat a tremendous lot. But I don’t really know anything about birds. My hobby is stuffing things – you know – taxidermy. And I guess I’d just rather stuff birds because I hate the look of beasts when they’re stuffed – you know, foxes and chimps. Some people even stuff dogs and cats – but, oh, I can’t do that. I think only birds look well stuffed because – well, because they’re kind of passive to begin with.
MARION: It’s a strange hobby. Curious.
NORMAN: Uncommon, too.
MARION: Oh, I imagine so.
NORMAN: And it’s not as expensive as you’d think. It’s cheap really. You know – needles and thread, sawdust. The chemicals are the only thing that cost anything.
MARION: A man should have a hobby.
NORMAN: Well, it’s – it’s more than a hobby. A hobby’s supposed to pass the time – not fill it.
MARION: Is your time so empty?
NORMAN: No, uh – well, I run the office, and uh, tend the cabins and grounds, and – and do little errands for my mother – the ones she allows I might be capable of doing.
MARION: Do you go out with friends?
NORMAN: Well, uh – a boy’s best friend is his mother. (Marion tries not to react.) You’ve never had an empty moment in your entire life, have you?
MARION: Only my share.
NORMAN: Where are you going? I didn’t mean to pry.
MARION: Um – I’m looking for a private island.
NORMAN: What are you running away from?
MARION: W-why do you ask that?
NORMAN: No. People never run away from anything. The rain didn’t last long, did it. You know what I think? I think that we’re all in our private traps – clamped in them. And none of us can ever get out. We – we scratch and claw, but only at the air – only at each other. And for all of it, we never budge an inch.
MARION: Sometimes we deliberately step into those traps.
NORMAN: I was born in mine. I don’t mind it anymore.
MARION: Oh, but you should. You should mind it.
NORMAN: Oh, I do but I say I don’t.
MARION: You know, if anyone ever talked to me the way I heard – the way she spoke to you –
NORMAN: Sometimes – when she talks to me like that – I feel I’d like to go up there – and curse her – and-and-and leave her forever! Or at least defy her. But I know I can’t. She’s ill.
MARION: She sounded strong.
NORMAN: No, I mean – ill. She had to raise me all by herself, after my father died. I was only five and it must’ve been quite a strain for her. I mean, she didn’t have to go to work or anything like that. He left her a little money. Anyway, a few years ago Mother met this man, and he talked her into building this motel. He could’ve talked her into anything. And when he died too, it was just too great a shock for her. And – and the way he died – I guess it’s nothing to talk about while you’re eating. Anyway, it was just too great a loss for her. She had nothing left.
MARION: Except you.
NORMAN: Well, a son is a poor substitute for a lover.
MARION: Why don’t you go away?
NORMAN: To a private island, like you?
MARION: No, not like me.
NORMAN: I couldn’t do that. Who’d look after her? She’d be alone up there. The fire would go out. It’d be cold and damp like a grave. If you love someone, you don’t do that to them even if you hate them. You understand that I don’t hate her – I hate what she’s become. I hate the illness.
MARION: Wouldn’t it be better – if you put her – someplace – ?
NORMAN: You mean an institution? A madhouse! People always call a madhouse ‘someplace,’ don’t they. ‘Put her in – someplace.’
MARION: I-I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it to sound uncaring.
NORMAN: What do you know about caring. Have you ever seen the inside of one of those places? The laughing and the tears – and the cruel eyes studying you. My mother there! But she’s harmless! Wh – she’s as harmless as one of those stuffed birds!
MARION: I am sorry. I only felt – it seems she’s hurting you. I meant well.
NORMAN: People always mean well! They cluck their thick tongues and shake their heads and suggest, oh so very delicately – Of course, I’ve suggested it myself. But I hate to even think about it. She needs me. It-it’s not as if she were a – a maniac – a raving thing. She just goes a little mad sometimes. We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven’t you?
MARION: Yes. Sometimes just one time can be enough. Thank you.
NORMAN: ’Thank you, Norman.’
Marion’s murder is particularly shocking because it defies audience expectation of traditional Hollywood narratives. It is unusual for the main character of the film to be killed off midway through the narrative, making Marion’s death more unanticipated.
1. Describe how the following shots of Marion and Norman are composed. What does the audience see behind each of the characters? How do the frames contrast?
2. Describe the contribution of acting and dialogue to character development in this scene. When does the audience realise that Marion plans on returning the money?
3. How is the audience positioned to feel about Norman throughout this scene? Refer to the use of dialogue, acting, lighting and visual composition? What do you make of the shadow that divide’s Norman’s face in half?
As Marion leaves the parlour, Norman returns to office and looks in the ledger. Cutting to an extreme close-up of the register, Hitchcock tells the audience that Norman knows Marion has lied about her name. Just as the audience was implicated in the theft of the $40,000, Hitchcock is preparing to implicate us in Norman’s crime. At this point in the film, the audience may feel ambivalent towards Norman given the way his character is developed during the parlour scene. As he returns to the parlour, his lurid desire to watch Marion through the peephole is conveyed through the low-key lighting and murky cinematography. As he crosses the room, Anthony Perkins is lit from below, giving him a ghastly and baleful appearance. Standing in front of the paintings, his face is once again bisected by shadow, hinting at his split personality. He hesitates for a moment before looking towards the painting, the whites of his eyes glint menacingly. He hesitates for a moment before Hitchcock cuts to a close-up of the painting as he removes it from the wall to reveal the peephole. Cutting between an extreme close-up of Norman’s eye and a full shot of Marion undressing, Hitchcock encourages the audience to identify with Norman by implicating them in his crime.
Although the audience my have felt ambivalent towards Norman during the parlour scene, this point-of-view shot encourages viewers to identify with this character. Similarly, when he returns to the parlour – appropriately bathed in shadows – the extreme close-up of Norman’s eye and the view through the peep hole is a highly subjective and voyeuristic. One of the interesting things about Psycho is that Hitchcock encourages the audience to identify with the murderer, although we don’t realise it until the end of the film. When Marion Crane is murdered, the audience’s identification is directed towards Norman, the only other character available at the time. The brief point-of-view shots used throughout this scene pave the way for this switch in point-of-view. When Norman returns to the house, Hitchcock uses visual composition to engender sympathy for the character. Norman is filmed sitting alone in the kitchen, perched on the edge of a kitchen chair. Shot size and acting contributes to his sense of isolation. Although he has just broken Marion’s trust, the audience is encouraged to view him in a sympathetic light.
The events in a narrative are often linked by cause and effect. In Psycho, one of the significant events in the narrative is when Marion works out how much money she has spent, tears up the piece of paper and flushes it down the toilet. Later in the narrative, Sam and Lila use this as confirmation that Marion stayed in the motel room.
Film Geek: When it was released, Psycho was considered shocking. Toilets had always been a taboo subject in mainstream filmmaking and Hitchcock was being particularly mischievous by showing the toilet flush in this scene. According to Joseph Stephano in Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of ‘Psycho’ (Dembner Books, 1990): “I told Hitch ‘I would like Marion to tear up a piece of paper and flush it down the toilet and SEE that toilet. Can we do that?’ A toilet had never been seen on-screen before, let alone flushing it. Hitch said, ‘I’m going to have to fight them on it.’ I thought if I could begin to unhinge audiences by showing a toilet flushing – we all suffer from peccadillos from toilet procedures – they’d be so out of it by the time of the shower murder, it would be an absolute killer. I thought, ‘This is where you’re going to begin to know what the human race is all about. We’re going to start by showing you the toilet and it’s only going to get worse.’ We were getting into Freudian stuff and Hitchcock dug that kind of thing, so I knew we would get to see that toilet on-screen.”
1. As a contemporary viewer, what did you think about Psycho? Which scenes remain effective? Which scenes don’t stand the test of time? Which parts do you think audiences in the 1960s might have found disturbing and why?
THE SHOWER SCENE
The shower scene is one of the most celebrated moments in the history of cinema. It engages the audience on a number of levels, both through the shocking use of sound and editing, and by defying the well-established convention of Hollywood narratives that the main character will live until the end of the film. The scene begins as the camera tracks Marion, she closes the bathroom door, removes the robe and steps into the bathtub. The audiences sees Marion through the shower curtain for a moment before cutting to a shot of Marion inside the shower, the water comes on and she begins washing herself. In Psycho : Behind the Scenes of the Classic Thriller, Janet Leigh explains the significance of this scene: “Marion had decided to go back to Phoenix, come clean, and take the consequence, so when she stepped into the bathtub it was as if she were stepping into the baptismal waters. The spray beating down on her was purifying the corruption from her mind, purging the evil from her soul. She was like a virgin again, tranquil, at peace.” Sound editing is crucial throughout this scene. When Marion first steps into the shower, the audience can only hear the diegetic sound of the water and creates a sense of relative calm, accentuating the violence and brutality of the attack. Hitchcock cuts to a shot of Marion which looks back through the shower curtain. In the foreground of the shot, we see Marion enjoying the warm water, completely oblivious to what is happening behind her. Hitchcock holds this shot for several seconds, building suspense as the audience sees the door – obscured by the plastic shower curtain – swings open. The audience feels a sense of dread and unease as a sinister figure approaches the shower curtain. The camera dollies in slightly and the shower curtain is whipped to one side. The use of lighting in this shot creates considerable suspense because the sinister figure – that the audience assumes is Marion’s mother – is backlit by a light on the wall. As the shower curtain is thrown open, the shrill, shrieking sound of Bernard Herrmann’s score begins. This combination of acting, editing, lighting and music all contribute to a sense of horror and revulsion throughout this scene. Throughout the shower scene, Hitchcock cuts from the knife making savage downward arcs to the screaming face of Marion Crane. Although we don’t see the knife penetrating her skin, we hear the terrible sound of the knife rending flesh. There is only one shot in the entire sequence that shows the knife touching Marion’s skin and a small trickle of blood on her stomach.
Film Geek: The sound of the knife throughout this scene was actually the sound of a melon being stabbed and the blood is actually chocolate syrup.
The scene, which featured over seventy different camera set-ups and took over a week to shoot, runs for about three minutes and has fifty cuts. The rapid editing, sound effects, acting and music all contribute to a sense of horror and revulsion. The scene draws to an end with deep strings and an extreme close-up of Marion’s hand as it claws against the bathroom tiles. Hitchcock cuts to a wider shot in which we see the life draining from Marion’s face as she gasps for air and slides into the bath, slowly reaching out for the shower curtain. An overshot shows her slumping forward and there is an extreme close-up of the shower curtain being suddenly torn down.
Film Geek: The Motion Picture Association of America instructed Hitchcock to recut the shower scene after the censors complained that they could see one of Marion Crane’s breasts. Hitchcock submitted the same footage several days later and it was accepted without question.
Until this point in the film, the audience has been encouraged to identify with the point of view of Marion. Her death allows Hitchcock to switch their sympathies to Norman Bates, essentially encourage the audience to identify with a murderer. In the previous scene, Norman was established as a relatively sympathetic character who is controlled by his domineering mother. It is interesting to see how Hitchcock visually achieves the transfer of point-of-view from Marion to Norman. The camera slowly tracks the blood as it runs towards the plug hole, heading towards the drain Hitchcock dissolves to a shot of Marion’s lifeless eye. Twisting, the camera withdraws, showing her motionless face resting against the tiled bathroom floor. From here, the camera moves through the empty motel room, dollying in on the newspaper containing the $40,000 and then panning to the open window. Silhouetted and ominous, we hear the voice of Norman Bates coming from the house on the hilltop. “Mother! Oh God! Mother! Blood! Blood!” he screams. He emerges from the house and, as Hitchcock cuts to a shot of him hurtling down the path, Bernard Hermann’s score builds in intensity. The use of acting and music helps the audience to identify with Norman Bates who, at this point in the film, is the only character they can identify with. He bursts into the motel room and, upon seeing Marion’s body, slumps against the wall with one hand clasped over his mouth. Hitchcock briefly cuts to a framed picture of a bird as it clatters to the floor. This is another example of Hitchcock’s black humour, another bird has fallen off its perch. When he cuts back to Norman, Hitchcock lingers on a close-up of his expression for several seconds. Anthony Perkin’s acting contributes significantly to the sense of shock and terror that Norman his feeling. He trembles, blinking repeatedly.
1. Why do you think Hitchcock spends so long showing how Norman disposes of the body? What production elements are used throughout this sequence to encourage the audience to identify with the point of view of Norman Bates?
Death should always be painless…
After Norman has disposed of the body in the swamp, Hitchcock fades into a shot of a letter which reads: “Dearest right-as-always Marion: I’m sitting in this tiny back room which isn’t big enough for both of us, and suddenly it looks big enough for both of us. So what if we’re poor and cramped and miserable, at least we’ll be happy. If you haven’t come to your senses, and still…” Hitchcock cuts to a wider shot of Sam as he turns the page over and the camera dollies out into the hardware store where a customer is having a macabre conversation with the sales assistant, Bob. “They tell you what its ingredients are, and how it’s guaranteed to exterminate every insect in the world, but they do not tell you whether or not it’s painless,” the woman says.”And, I say, insect or man, death should always be painless.”
Hitchcock cuts to a shot of Lila Crane emerging from a taxi. She hesitantly approaches the hardware store and opens the door. After a brief exchange with the sales assistant, she and Sam discuss Marion’s disappearance. In the narrative, this scene is largely expository, setting up the investigation into Marion’s disappearance and introducing the characters of Arbogast and Lila. As such, it is an important
LILA: I’m Marion’s sister.
SAM: Oh, sure–Lila!
LILA: Is Marion here?
SAM: Why, of course not. Is something wrong?
LILA: (puts down suitcase) She left home on Friday. I was in Tucson over the weekend and I haven’t heard from her since–not even a phone call. (pause) Look, if you two are in this thing together, I don’t care–It’s none of my business–but I want to talk to Marion and I want her to tell me it’s none of my business! And then I’ll go–
SAM: Bob, run out and get yourself some lunch, will you?
BOB: Oh, that’s okay, Sam. I brought it with me.
SAM: Run out and eat it! Now–what thing could we be in together?
LILA: Sorry about the tears.
SAM: Well, is Marion in trouble? What is it?
ARBOGAST: Let’s all talk about Marion, shall we?
SAM: Who are you, friend?
ARBOGAST: My name is Arbogast, friend. I’m a private investigator. Where is she, Miss Crane?
LILA: I don’t know you.
ARBOGAST: Oh, I know you don’t, because if you did I wouldn’t be able to follow you.
SAM: What’s your interest in this?
ARBOGAST: Well–forty thousand dollars.
SAM: Forty thousand dollars?
ARBOGAST: That’s right.
SAM: Well one of you better tell me what’s going on and tell me fast! I can take just so much of this!
ARBOGAST: Now take is easy, friend. Take it easy–you just–your girl friend stole forty thousand dollars.
SAM: What’re you talking about! What is this?
LILA: She was supposed to bank it on Friday for her boss, and she didn’t. And no one has seen her since.
ARBOGAST: Someone has seen her. Someone always sees a girl with forty thousand dollars.
LILA: Sam, they don’t want to prosecute. They just want the money back. Sam, if she’s here–
SAM: She isn’t! She isn’t.
ARBOGAST: Miss Crane, can I ask you a question? Did you come up here on just a hunch and nothing more?
LILA: Not even a hunch. Just hope.
ARBOGAST: Well, with a little checking, I could get to believe you.
LILA: I don’t care if you believe me or not! All I want to do is see Marion before she gets in this too deeply.
SAM: Did you check in Phoenix? Hospitals? Maybe she had an accident. Or a holdup.
ARBOGAST: No, she was seen leaving town in her own car–by her employer, I might add.
SAM: I can’t believe it. Can you?
ARBOGAST: Well, you know we’re always quickest to doubt people who have a reputation for being honest. I think she’s here, Miss Crane–where there’s a boy friend. Well, she’s not back there with the nuts and bolts, but she’s here, in this town, somewhere. I’ll find her. I’ll be seeing you.
Arbogast is a good example of stereotypical characterization. Because this character is introduced midway through the film, there isn’t a great deal of time to establish this character. Mise-en-scene, particularly the use of costume, helps to establish him as a no-nonsense private investigator in the vein of Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade. He wears a fedora and a suit with a trench coat folded over one arm. His cynical attitude is conveyed through the delivery of the line ‘…with a little checking, I could get to believe you.’
The following scene is a great example of the structuring of time in a narrative, featuring a montage of shots as Arbogast searches for Marion. Hitchcock dissolves from a shot of the three characters standing in the hardware store to a shot of Arbogast walking towards two doors with the words ‘HOTEL’ on the glass. Another shot shows Arbogast talking to a woman next to a sign that reads ‘ROOM AND BOARD WK AND MONTH’. As he talks to yet another woman, the audience can see a sign over his shoulder that reads ‘ROOMS FOR RENT’. Another shot shows Arbogast entering the lobby of a hotel before Hitchcock finally cross dissolves to a shot of Norman Bates reading a magazine on the veranda of the Bates Motel. This is a good example of how time can be structured in a narrative using editing, principally a cross dissolve.
In the shot of Norman sitting on the porch of the motel, Anthony Perkin’s acting conveys that Norman is slightly perturbed by the visitor. As we hear the car approaching, a look of concern crosses his face before he stands to greet the visitor.
Throughout the conversation between Norman and Arbogast, Anthony Perkins acts nervously – stuttering frequently.
ARBOGAST: Good evening.
ARBOGAST: I almost drove right past.
NORMAN: I’m always forgetting to turn the sign on, but we do have a vacancy. Twelve, in fact. Twelve cabins–twelve vacancies. Some candy?
ARBOGAST: No, thanks. Uh, the last two days I’ve been to so many motels that my eyes are bleary with neon, but, you know, this is the first place that looks like it’s hiding from the world.
NORMAN: Well, I’ll tell you the truth. I didn’t really forget to turn the sign on. It just doesn’t seem like any use anymore, you know?
NORMAN: You see, that used to be the main highway right there. Well–do you want to come in and register?
ARBOGAST: No, no. Sit down. I don’t want to trouble you. I just want to ask you a few questions.
NORMAN: Oh, that’s no trouble. Today’s linen day. I always change the beds here once a week, whether they’ve been used or not. Hate the smell of dampness, don’t you? It’s such a–I don’t know–creepy smell. Come on. You, uh, you out to buy a motel?
NORMAN: Reason I asked, you said you’d seen so many in the past couple of days, I though maybe you uh– What uh, what was it you wanted to ask?
ARBOGAST: Well, you see, I’m looking for a missing person. My name’s Arbogast. I’m a private investigator.
ARBOGAST: I’ve been trying to trace a girl that’s been missing for–oh, about a week now–from Phoenix. It’s a private matter–the family wants to forgive her. She’s not in any trouble.
NORMAN: I didn’t think the police went looking for people who aren’t in trouble.
ARBOGAST: Oh, I’m–I’m not the police.
NORMAN: Oh, you’re–
ARBOGAST: We have reason to believe that she came along this way and may have stopped in the area. Did she stop here?
NORMAN: Well, no one’s stopped here for a couple of weeks.
ARBOGAST: Would you mind looking at the picture before committing yourself?
NORMAN: Commit myself? You sure talk like a policeman!
ARBOGAST: Well, look at the picture, please.
ARBOGAST: Well, she may have used an alias. Marion Crane’s her real name, but she could have registered under a different one.
NORMAN: Well, I’ll tell you, I don’t even much bother with guests registering anymore. You know, one by one you drop the formalities. I shouldn’t even bother changing the sheets, but–old habits die hard–which reminds me–
ARBOGAST: What’s that?
NORMAN: It’s the light–the sign.
NORMAN: We had a couple last week said if the thing hadn’t been on they would have thought this was an old deserted–
ARBOGAST: (smiling) Well, you see–and that’s exactly my point! You said that nobody’d been here for a couple of weeks and there’s a couple came by and they didn’t know that you were open.
ARBOGAST: Well, as you say, old habits die hard. It’s possible this girl could have registered under another name. Do you mind if I look at your book?
ARBOGAST: Thank you. Now let’s see. Now here’s the date somewhere–hmm.
NORMAN: …there’s nobody…
ARBOGAST: Let’s see now, I have a sample of her handwriting here–oh, yes, here we are. Marie Samuels. That’s an interesting alias.
NORMAN: Is that her?
ARBOGAST: Yeah. Yeah, I think so. Marie–Marion–Samuels. Her boyfriend’s name is Sam.
ARBOGAST: Was she in disguise by any chance? Want to check the picture again?
NORMAN: Look, I-I wasn’t lying to you, mister. It’s just that–
ARBOGAST: Oh, I know that. I know you wouldn’t lie.
NORMAN: You know, it’s tough keeping track of the time around here–
ARBOGAST: Oh, I know, I know.
NORMAN: Ohhh, yeah! Well, it-it was raining and uh–her hair was all wet. I tell you, it’s not really a very good picture of her either.
ARBOGAST: No, I guess not. Now, tell me all about her.
NORMAN: Well, uh–she arrived uh–rather late one night and she went straight to sleep and uh–left early the next morning.
ARBOGAST: Well, how early?
NORMAN: Oh, ex- very early.
ARBOGAST: Uh-huh. Which morning was that?
NORMAN: Uh–the uh–th-th-th-th-th-th-th-the next morning. Sunday.
ARBOGAST: I see. Uh-huh. Uh, did anyone meet her here?
ARBOGAST: Did she arrive with anyone?
ARBOGAST: Uh-huh. She make any phone calls or–?
ARBOGAST: –locally? Did you spend the night with her?
ARBOGAST: Well, then–how would you know that she didn’t make any phone calls?
NORMAN: Oh, we … w-well, she was very tired and uh– See, I–now I’m starting to uh, remember it. I’m making a mental picture of it in my mind. You know, if you make a mental picturization of something–
ARBOGAST: That’s right, that’s right. Take your time.
NORMAN: Uh, she was–she was sitting back there–no, no, she was standing back there with a sandwich in her hand, and she said uh–she had to go to sleep early because she had uh–a long d-d-d-dr-drive uh, ahead of her.
ARBOGAST: Uh-huh. Back where?
NORMAN: Back uh, where she came from.
ARBOGAST: No, no. You said before that she was sitting back–
NORMAN: Oh, uh–
ARBOGAST: –or standing back there…
NORMAN: Yes. B-back in my uh–my parlor there. She was very hungry and I made her a sandwich. And then she said uh–that she was tired and she had to go uh–back to bed.
ARBOGAST: Oh, I see. How did she pay you? Cash? Check?
ARBOGAST: Oh, cash, huh? Uh-huh. And after she left she–didn’t come back?
NORMAN: Uh-uh. Well, why should she?
NORMAN: Well, Mr. Arbogast, uh–I guess that’s about it, eh? I’ve got some work to do, if you don’t mind.
ARBOGAST: Well, to tell you the truth, I do mind. You see, if it doesn’t jell, it isn’t aspic. And this ain’t jelling. It’s not coming together. Something’s missing.
NORMAN: Well … I–I don’t know what you ex- could expect me to know. People just come and go, you know.
ARBOGAST: That’s right. …She isn’t still here, is she?
ARBOGAST: Uh-huh. If I wanted to uh–check the cabins–all twelve of them–I’d need a warrant, wouldn’t I?
NORMAN: Listen, if you don’t believe me, come on–come on with me and you can help me change beds–okay?
ARBOGAST: Oh–oh–well, no thanks.
They go outside. Arbogast watches as Norman starts to go in cabin one, hesitates, moves on instead. Then Arbogast sees the house around the corner, and in the lit window, a figure.
NORMAN: Oh, uh–change your mind? …You know, I think I must have one of those faces you just can’t help believing.
ARBOGAST: Is anyone at home?
ARBOGAST: Oh, well, there’s somebody sitting up in the window.
NORMAN: No- no there isn’t.
ARBOGAST: Oh, sure there is. Take a look.
NORMAN: Oh, th-that–that must be my mother. She’s–she’s an invlad- an invalid. Uh–it’s practically like living alone.
ARBOGAST: Oh, I see. Now if this girl, Marion Crane, were here, you wouldn’t be hiding her, would you?
ARBOGAST: Not even if she paid you well?
ARBOGAST: Let’s just say for the–just for the sake of argument–that she wanted you to gallantly protect her–you’d know that you were being used. You wouldn’t be made a fool of, would you?
NORMAN: But, I’m–I’m not a fool.
ARBOGAST: Well, then–
NORMAN: And I’m not capable of being fooled! N-not even by a woman!
ARBOGAST: Well, this is not a slur on your manhood. I’m sorry.
NORMAN: No, let’s put it this way. She might have fooled me–but she didn’t fool my mother.
ARBOGAST: Well, then your mother met her! Could I talk to your mother?
NORMAN: No. As–as I told you, she’s–she’s confined.
ARBOGAST: Yes, but just for a few minutes, that’s all. There might be some hint that you missed out on. You know, sick old women are usually pretty sharp–
NORMAN: (overlapping) Uh, mis- mister–
ARBOGAST: Just a moment. I wouldn’t disturb her.
NORMAN: (overlapping) Mister Arbogast, I–I think I’ve–I think I’ve talked to you all I want to.
ARBOGAST: Yes, but just for–
NORMAN: So I think it’d be much better if you left now. Thanks.
ARBOGAST: Uh–All right. All right. You sure would save me a lot of leg work if you’d let me talk to her about–Would I need a warrant for that, too?
ARBOGAST: Uh-huh. All right. Thanks anyway.
As Arbogast checks the register, Norman leans across the desk and examines the sample of her handwriting. Hitchcock uses an extreme low-angle, showing Norman’s avian-like neck quivering as he chews the candy corn. As Arbogast leaves, a sinister smile crosses his face. There is a brief conversation between Arbogast and Lila as he explains how he wants to return to speak to the boy’s “sick old mother”.
When Arbogast is murdered, Hitchcock uses a range of techniques to engage the audience – including camera techniques, acting, mise-en-scene, editing, lighting and sound.
The scene begins with Arbogast pulling up to the Bates Motel in his car. The scene unfolds at night. the lighting deliberately low key to engage audiences and create a sense of suspense. As Arbogast slides across the front seat of his car and heads towards the motel, the music is low and suspenseful in a clear attempt to engage the audience. Hitchcock cuts to a close-up of Arbogast as he steps into the parlour. There are three point-of-view shots: the stuffed crow, a ominous-looking owl and the safe. This helps to engage the audience by encouraging the audience to identify with Arbogast as he explores the motel. The sinister music and low-key lighting continue as Arbogast climbs the steps to the Bates house. When he reaches the house, Hitchcock once again uses point-of-view shots to engage the audience by putting them in the place of Arbogast. When he enters the foyer, Arbogast looks around, deciding to ascend the stairs. As he slowly ascends the stairs, Hitchcock cuts to a close-up of the back of Arbogast’s legs. This claustrophobic shot builds suspense by not allowing the audience to see where the malevolent Mrs Bates will emerge from. Hitchcock uses editing to engage the audience by cutting away to a door ominously swinging open. As he climbs the stairs, the music becomes low and almost stops entirely, making the screech of violins that follows more shocking. Throughout this scene, Hitchcock uses a range of techniques – including camera techniques, lighting, editing and sound – to engage the audience. The fate of Arbogast is conveyed later when Sam goes to the motel. The camera dollies in on Norman who is standing beside the same swamp that he pushed Marion’s car into. He turns towards the camera, his face obscured by shadows.
EXPLORING THE BATES HOUSE
In the climactic scene of the film, Hitchcock uses a range of techniques to engage the audience – cutting back and forth between Norman and Sam’s conversation and Lila’s exploration of the Bates house. Lila rounds the corner of the motel and heads towards the ominous looking house. Although the front of the motel is neat and orderly, the back is littered with old crates and the wreck of an ancient car. Lila moves apprehensively towards the building. As she climbs the hill, Hitchcock cuts between a high angle shot of Lila and a low angle shot of the house, it’s almost as if the house itself seems to be looking down on Lila. In contrast, the low angle shot of the building makes it appear larger and more sinister.
When Sam returns to the hardware store, there are a series of scenes during which they attempt to determine what happened to Arbogast before finally resolving to ‘register as man and wife’. During these scenes, the mystery of Mrs Bates develops when Sheriff Chambers reveals that she has been dead for the past ten years: “Norman Bates’ mother has been dead and buried in Greenlawn Cemetery for the past ten years. Tain’t only local history, Sam. It’s the only case of murder and suicide on Fairvale ledgers. Mrs. Bates poisoned this guy she was–involved with, when she found out he was married. Then took a helpin’ of the same stuff herself. Strychnine. Ugly way to die.” Meanwhile, Norman moves his mother to the fruit cellar. To maintain the illusion that his mother is still alive, Hitchcock returns to the overshot used during Arbogast’s murder. The audiences sees Norman carrying his mother down the stairs towards the cellar. Bernard Hermann’s score contributes significantly to the suspense in this scene, taut high pitched strings saw away in the background. The low angle shot is from Lila’s point-of-view, contributing to audience engagement by simulating the slightly unsteady movement of real vision. As she reaches the building, there is almost a moment of indecision as she stands at the bottom of the steps. Hitchcock uses this moment to build further suspense before she steps forward, climbs the steps and pushes open the door. She looks around the foyer cautiously before closing the door behind her.
Meanwhile, Sam and Norman are in the office conversing.
SAM: I’ve been doing all the talking so far, haven’t I. I thought it was the people who were alone all the time who did most of the talking when they got the chance. Here you are doing all the listening. You are alone here, aren’t you? ‘Drive me crazy.
NORMAN: I think that would be a rather extreme reaction, don’t you?
SAM: Just an expression. What I meant was, I’d do just about anything to get away, wouldn’t you?
Lila climbs the stairs and heads towards Mrs Bates bedroom. Throughout the climatic sequence of the narrative, Lila is often shown through the bar-like struts of the banisters, encouraging some theorists to compare her to a caged bird. According to the Bright Lights Film Journal, Hitchcock often used “banister slats to suggest prison bars and confinement.” This certainly seems to be the case towards the end of Psycho, where Lila becomes trapped in the Bates house. Hitchcock continues to use a range of production elements to engage the audience as Lila explores Mrs Bates’ bedroom. Low, suspenseful music plays as she moves around the room. There are a series of point-of-view shots, making the audience feel as if they are exploring the room with Lila: the room itself, a sink with a bar of soap and glass of water and the ornate fireplace. She opens the closet to reveal several dresses. As she approaches the dressing table, there is another point of view shot – using a combination of editing and acting, Hitchcock creates another scare as Lila catches her reflection in one of the mirrors. Before her exploration of the room ends, she notices an indentation on the bed where Mrs Bates is supposed to have spent much of her time. This, again, is first shown using a point of view shot. Throughout this part of the scene, editing, music, acting and the repeated use of point-of-view shots help to engage the audience.
In the office, the conversation between Sam and Norman continues.
SAM: I’m not saying you shouldn’t be contented here, I’m just doubting that you are. I think if you saw a chance to get out from under you would unload this place.
NORMAN: This place? This place happens to be my only world. I grew up in that house up there. I happen to have had a very happy childhood. My mother and I were more than happy.
Cutting back to the house, Hitchcock shows Lila approaching the door to Norman’s bedroom. She is, once again, framed through the slats of the banister. As she looks around his bedroom, the character of Norman Bates is developed further. There are a series of point-of-view shots: a doll, toy truck, teddy bear and model house are stacked onto one of the shelves; a stuffed toy rabbit sits on the unmade bed; a record player with Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony on the turntable. Lila looks inside a book that is sitting on the bookcase, although the audiences doesn’t see its contents.
The conversation between Sam and Norman continues.
SAM: You look frightened. Have I been saying something frightening?
NORMAN: I don’t know what you’ve been saying.
SAM: I’ve been talking about your mother, about your motel. How are you going to do it?
NORMAN: Do what?
SAM: Buy a new one–in a new town, where you won’t have to hide your mother.
NORMAN: Why don’t you just get in your car and drive away from here, okay?
SAM: Where will you get the money to do that, Bates, or do you already have it socked away?
NORMAN: Shut up!
SAM: A lot of money–forty thousand dollars. I bet your mother knows where the money is and what you did to get it. I think she’ll tell us.
NORMAN: Where’s that girl you came here with? Where is she?
Hitchcock cuts quickly back to Lila, who starts to descend the stairs, then back to Norman who struggles with Sam briefly before knocking him unconscious. The intensity of the music increases. Hitchcock uses a point-of-view shot in a particularly engaging way when he shows Lila looking through the window as Norman sprints up the steps towards the house, making the audience feel as if they’re trapped along with her.
In the final part of this sequence, Hitchcock uses a combination of acting, editing, sound, music, lighting and camera techniques to engage the audience. Once again, hiding behind the banister, she looks towards the door of the basement. yet another point-of-view shot helps to immerse the audience in the narrative. As she moves through the basement, the lighting is deliberately low key. The room is obscured by shadows. Vera Miles moves cautiously across the room and Bernard Hermann’s score continues and almost fades out completely as she opens the door to the fruit cellar. The near-silence as she approaches Mrs Bates accentuates the suddenness of her scream and the screeching music as Norman bursts into the basement. As the chair that Mrs Bates is sitting in spins around, Hitchcock cuts into a close-up of her grisly, desiccated face. The key light throughout this scene is a single lightbulb hanging from the ceiling. When Lila screams, she throws back her hand, knocking the lightbulb which sways violently, casting erratic shadows around the room. While Lila’s sudden scream is shocking, the appearance of Norman Bates is accompanied by the shrieking violins of Hermann’s score. As Sam wrestles him into subimission, Norman’s wig drops to the floor. Hitchcock cuts between a shot of the wig and the dessicated face of Mrs Bates, both of which are hideously animated by the swinging light.
The final scene in the Sheriff’s office brings closure to the narrative, largely through the exposition of Doctor Richmond, as he explains the complex psychosis of Norman Bates.
DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Did he talk to you?
DR. RICHMOND: No. I got the whole story–but not from Norman. I got it–from his mother. Norman Bates no longer exists. He only half existed to begin with. And now, the other half has taken over–probably for all time.
LILA: Did he kill my sister?
DR. RICHMOND: Yes. And no.
DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Well, now look, if you’re trying to lay some psychiatric groundwork for some sort of plea this fellow would like to cop–
DR. RICHMOND: A psychiatrist doesn’t lay the groundwork. He merely tries to explain it.
LILA: But my sister is–
DR. RICHMOND: Yes. Yes, I’m sorry. The private investigator, too. If you drag that swamp somewhere in the vicinity of the motel, you’ll–uh–have you any unsolved missing persons cases on your books?
CHIEF OF POLICE: Yes. Two.
DR. RICHMOND: Young girls?
CHIEF OF POLICE: Did he confess to–?
DR. RICHMOND: Like I said–the mother…Now to understand it the way I understood it, hearing it from the mother–that is, from the mother half of Norman’s mind–you have to go back ten years, to the time when Norman murdered his mother and her lover. Now he was already dangerously disturbed–had been ever since his father died. His mother was a clinging, demanding woman, and for years the two of them lived as if there was no one else in the world. Then she met a man–and it seemed to Norman that she threw him over for this man. Now that pushed him over the line and he killed them both. Matricide is probably the most unbearable crime of all–most unbearable to the son who commits it. So he had to erase the crime, at least in his own mind. He stole her corpse. A weighted coffin was buried. He hid the body in the fruit cellar. Even treated it to keep it as well as it would keep. And that still wasn’t enough. She was there, but she was a corpse. So he began to think and speak for her–give her half his life, so to speak. At times, he could be both personalities, carry on conversations. At other times, the mother half took over completely. Now he was never all Norman, but he was often only Mother. And because he was so pathologically jealous of her, he assumed that she was as jealous of him. Therefore, if he felt a strong attraction to any other woman, the mother side of him would go wild. When he met your sister, he was touched by her, aroused by her. He wanted her. That set off the jealous mother, and Mother killed the girl. Now after the murder, Norman returned as if from a deep sleep. And like a dutiful son, covered up all traces of the crime he was convinced his mother had committed.
SAM: Why was he–dressed like that?
DISTRICT ATTORNEY: He’s a transvestite.
DR. RICHMOND: Ah–not exactly. A man who dresses in women’s clothing in order to achieve a sexual change or satisfaction is a transvestite. But in Norman’s case, he was simply doing everything possible to keep alive the illusion of his mother being alive. And when reality came too close–when danger or desire threatened that illusion–he dressed up, even to a cheap wig he bought. He’d walk about the house, sit in her chair, speak in her voice. He tried to be his mother! And, uh–now, he is. Now that’s what I meant when I said I got the story from the mother. You see, when the mind houses two personalities, there’s always a conflict, a battle. In Norman’s case, the battle is over–and the dominant personality has won.
SHERIFF: And the forty thousand dollars–who got that?
DR. RICHMOND: The swamp. These were crimes of passion, not profit.
Although the film is resolved when Norman is taken into custody and the psychologist explains his schizophrenia, the following scene leaves the fate of Norman Bates open. The camera dollies in on Norman, sitting in the cell wrapped in a blanket. The audience hears the voice of Norman’s mother: “It’s sad when a mother has to speak the words that condemn her own son. But I couldn’t allow them to believe that I would commit murder. They’ll put him away now as I should have years ago. He was always bad, and in the end he intended to tell them I killed those girls and that man. As if I could do anything except just sit and stare–like one of his stuffed birds. Well, they know I can’t move a finger. And I won’t. I’ll just sit here and be quiet, just in case they do suspect me. They’re probably watching me. Well, let them. Let them see what kind of person I am. A fly has landed upon his hand, which rests in his lap. I’m not even going to swat that fly. I hope they are watching. They’ll see. They’ll see, and they’ll know, and they’ll say…’Why, she wouldn’t even harm a fly!’” Hitchcock cuts to a shot of Marion’s car being towed out of the swamp. In the middle of the cross dissolve, the audience is given a brief glimpse of Mrs Bate’s cadaverous face, suggesting that Norman has become his mother.