A Phoenix secretary steals $40,000 from her employer’s client, goes on the run and checks into a remote motel run by a young man under the domination of his mother. (IMDB synopsis)
Hitchcock again! Not much I can say going into this one – everyone’s heard of the film, everyone knows the shower scene, everyone knows the twist ending. All I can really do is watch it and give you my thoughts.
(Also, sorry for the late presentation of this review! I was rushed off my feet yesterday working at the Lincoln Showground, which translates into running to the kitchen every fifteen minutes to find a pot of jam for some posh person’s scones.)
The music is frantic and attention-getting right from the start. I hope there’s a Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Violins, because this is surely abuse on a massive scale.
A lady named Marion Crane is sharing a hotel room in a secretive manner with some bloke named Sam, and showing off the fact that she has no tummy at all. She’s torn between calling it off with this dude or marrying him. At work, she gets flirted at by a guy in a hat who wishes to deposit $40,000. This was in the days before women knew that we were talking about sexual harassment here and they didn’t have to take it. She steals the money, planning to drive to Sam and give it to him.
As she drives away, Marion captures the attention of a police officer, so changes her car for a new one at a second-hand car dealership with the most bunting I’ve ever seen in my life (and I’ve lived to see a Royal Wedding). I like how she imagines the suspicious and accusing conversations of everyone she leaves behind.
Eventually, Marion stops at Bates Motel – heeeeeeeere we go – and meets the devilishly handsome Norman Bates, who comes down from the house to greet her. Little does she know that Norman is not what he appears, and that danger is lurking right behind her shower curtain.
As I’ve said, you know the plot twists and I know the plot twists. In fact, at the time of the film’s cinematic release, audiences had to be told to watch the film from beginning to end so they wouldn’t MISS the plot twists. That’s how big and important they are. What I’d really like to do is to comment on the film as if it was all new to me, but it’s just… so… difficult!
I’ll do my best. I suppose if a first-time viewer was watching this, they’d presume that Marion Crane is the protagonist, that the film’s going to be about her criminal exploits, and that it might involve a love triangle between her boyfriend Sam and this new fellow Norman Bates. Maybe she’s about to stuff Norman in her car and go bar-hopping across the state. Maybe she’s going to go completely psycho (ha ha) and murder him and his enfeebled mother for asking too many questions. Maybe-
NGG!-NGG!-NGG! NGG!-NGG!-NGG! NGG!-NGG!-NGG! STAB! STAB! STAB! STAB! DUN DUUUUN… DUN DUUUUN… DUN DUUUUUUUUUUUUN.
They call Hitchcock the master of suspense, and I can certainly understand that. Before the shower scene, the audience expects one thing, and immediately afterwards they’re thrown off guard and don’t know what’s coming. The shower scene was not my favourite scene, but I do like the process that comes afterwards of Marion’s boyfriend, sister and a private detective trying to find out what happened. The mystery of the Bates Motel grows steadily with every passing scene. Is Norman’s mother dead? If so, how can he carry out conversations with her? Who’s been going around stabbing everyone? Is Norman a killer or just an innocent bystander?
And while we’re talking about Norman… let’s talk about Norman. I bloody loved his character. I understand that changes were made from the source material to make him more sympathetic, but actor Anthony Perkins still does a tremendous job of making him as creepy as possible. For one thing, his attitude and demeanour can switch around in an instant – he can go from kind and accommodating to defensive and hostile – and his verbal and visual tics go some way to making Marion feel uneasy and struggle to eat her food.
Norman also has a number of unusual preoccupations, or perhaps I should say obsessions. There’s his hobby of stuffing birds and mounting them all over the parlour – and incidentally, I’ve been suspicious of anyone who performs their own taxidermy ever since I read Roald Dahl’s The Landlady (which you should read too). Norman claims that birds look better stuffed than beasts, as: “well, they’re quite passive to begin with”. Interesting thing to hear in a Hitchcock film. There’s also the obsession with his mother. The viewer senses right down to their bones that something about that relationship is very wrong indeed. THAT is why I prefer the scene in the parlour to the one in the shower.
Towards the end of the film, once they have Norman Bates in police custody, a psychiatrist gives his professional opinion about the tangled ball of wool that is Norman’s psyche. He explains that after Norman killed his mother and her lover in a fit of jealousy, he began gradually to assume the form and identity of his mother, and so on and so on. This is one of the weaker parts of the film, but it definitely does the job of tying up absolutely every plot point, so that the audience understands. This might have been necessary for the time though. Audiences mightn’t have been able to believe such a wacky character could exist without a logical rationale for it.
Although you probably couldn’t call it a horror movie by today’s standards, this is a classically brilliant piece of cinema that deserves all the praise it gets. It supplies shocks, scares, surprises and some sertainly snazzy shower scenes. I think I may grow to like this Alfred Hitchcock and his films. What else has he done?
8 jam sandwiches.