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Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller

Year: 1960

Duration: 1h 49min

Stars: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam

Director: Alfred Hitchcock


The film kicks off with Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) and her lover Sam (John Gavin), making out in a hotel room. Albeit head over heels in love, they cannot marry on account of Sam’s being knee- deep in debt and having to pay alimony to his ex- wife.

Marion works as a real- estate secretary in Phoenix, Arizona, and as a perfect opportunity comes her way, she resolves to steal her boss’s money (that she was to deposit), looking to dig Sam out of the debt hole so he can make her his wife.

So she heads for California to give it to Sam. Ever so jumpy, she freaks out big time when on her way out of town she bumps into her boss (who, of course, doesn’t know a thing). Growing more and more drowsy she eventually pulls over to take a nap. This – her sleeping in a car parked on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere- arouses the suspicion of a passing cop, who comes up to her and wakes her up. Naturally, this brings her out in a cold sweat. She tries to conceal her nervousness , but it’s no use- her voice falters and her being rather curt in answering his inquiries, anxious to get rid of him, fuels his suspicions. He follows her. Paranoid that the cop is after her and the stolen money, she ditches her car and buys a new one to throw him off the trail (which he, need I say, sees).

Anyhow, off she goes- only a rainstorm comes about, compelling her to stop for the night. She winds up at the out-of-the-way Bates Motel, run by Norman Bates. And his mother. This awkwardly and clumsily shy guy feels visibly attracted to our sultry protagonist. He sways her into having dinner with him inside the big Mansion overlooking the motel. His mother though, doesn’t take kindly to his enthusiastic plans. In fact, she gives him quite a tongue- lashing, rebuking him for his sexual thoughts and whatnot. All this on such a loud voice that Marion- who’s been waiting inside the motel for Norman to come back, actually overhears the humiliating scalding.

They have to settle for a mini-dinner in Norman’s office. Dining in the big house is a no-go on account of Norman’s sick mother and Marion makes one or two observations in this respect, as Norman gradually seems to open up to her. Only Norman doesn’t quite like what she says and takes issue with them, raising his voice. Anyway, he likes her. They’re soon done eating, Norman takes the dishes away, Marion goes on to take a shower. He comes back, she’s dead. Who the heck killed her? You didn’t hear this from me: Marion could see some thin, woman silhouette behind the shower curtain. Anyhow, Norman comes back, flips out, has to hide the body- and he does so, putting it inside the trunk of Marion’s car (along with the money) and then proceeds to sink the car in a nearby swamp.

A detective hired by Marion’s boss comes along looking for her and the stolen money. He gradually comes to put two and two together but is killed upon entering the mansion looking to get to the bottom of it. Now Marion’s lover and her sister have all the while been waiting, hearts in their mouths, for the detective’s call – long overdue by now. As they get no callback, they sense that something must be off and resolve to go there themselves and unravel the whole shebang.

Anthony Perking as Norman Bates
Anthony Perking as Norman Bates

American Psycho, featuring a stellar Christian Bale playing the role of Patrick Bateman, is one of my favorite movies to begin with. Shameful as it is, I must admit that I first thought, upon coming across Psycho- and noticing it is black and white– that it’s some antediluvian version of American Psycho, and proceeded to watch the latter. A good two years rolled by and, on stumbling again upon Psycho, I’m glad to say I didn’t commit the same mistake twice. I watched it- glued to the screen, transfixed on the edge of my sofa- and my first thought on finishing it : this is actually better than American Psycho. It’s a stirring, polished, way ahead-of-the-game film and I’ve been pestering people to get hold of it and watch it ever since. And I’m anything but on the nagging side. People with a good nose for great movies must’ve already seen/watched this one and in this day and age filled to the brim with flicks that are all about special effects, shootouts and explosions, some black-and-white oldie is a breath of fresh air.

Based on Robert Bloch’s 1959 eponymous novel and shot on a rather low budget, the movie not only punched above its weight and exceeded all expectations, but came to be regarded as Hitchcock’s magnum opus and one of the best (if not the best) movies of all time.

The movie is atypical in that the protagonist dies early on in the story, leaving us nothing but bewildered; obviously, she’s still the one tying the story together though.

The soundtrack is nothing but spellbinding and instrumental in building up tension and conveying the uncertain and fits the air of mystery and anxiety like a glove. If you ask me, it could pass as classical music.

Finally, at the risk of sounding like a darn broken record- don’t shrink back because the movie is black and white. It is, if anything, a perk: it adds to the intrinsic character of the movie- mystery, uncertainty, bleakness and what have you. To tell you the truth, I reckon a color facade would’ve gone no better with this film.

Verdict: 10/10. An unquestionable tour de force, a cinematography landmark, a haunting work that is or ought to be at the top of each and every cinephile’s list.

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