THE WRONG MAN (1956): “My son, I beg you to pray”

THE WRONG MAN (1956) – Warner Brothers – Rating:  ★★★1/2

Black and White – 105 minutes – 1.85:1 aspect ratio

Principal cast:  Henry Fonda (Christopher Emmanuel “Manny” Balestrero), Vera Miles (Rose Balestrero),  Anthony Quayle (Frank O’Connor), Harold J. Stone (Jack Lee), Charles Cooper (Detective Matthews), Nehemiah Persoff (Gene Conforti).

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Screenplay by Maxwell Anderson and Angus MacPhail

Cinematography by Robert Burks

Edited by George Tomasini

Music by Bernard Herrmann

A promotional photo for the film, clearly inspired by a shot from Hitchcock’s 1934 The Man Who Knew Too Much.

In the mid 1950’s Alfred Hitchcock was a creative juggernaut, with more ideas for movies than there was time to make them.  Upon completion of The Man Who Knew Too Much in 1956, he had another four potential projects lined up.  Two of them, Vertigo and North by Northwestwere nothing more than ideas at this point, and not ready to begin production.  Another, Flamingo Feather,  never got past the pre-production phase.  And the last was The Wrong Man.  

Warner Brothers already owned the rights to this story, based on a case of mistaken identity involving a New York musician named Manny Balestrero.   Hitchcock had his sights on this movie for a couple of reasons;  in the first place, the subject matter was right up his alley, with themes that he had explored multiple times.  He also still owed Warner Brothers a movie from his previous tenure at that studio, which ended in early 1954.  How badly did Hitchcock want to make this movie?  When Warners vacillated on whether to give him the property to direct, he offered to wave his fee, which was virtually unheard of for an A-list director.

Source material:   Manny Balestrero’s story was originally publicized in a 1953 Life magazine article titled “A Case of Identity”, by Herbert Brean.   This article details how musician Manny Balestrero went to the office of a life insurance company to see about borrowing on his wife’s policy.  While there, he was mistakenly identified as a man who had robbed the same office twice previously.  He was arrested, booked, and appeared in court.  His first trial ended in a mistrial, and while he was waiting to be retried the actual robber was caught and confessed.  So Manny’s name was cleared, but at the expense of his wife Rose’s mental health.  She suffered a breakdown, and spent time in a mental health facility.   Maxwell Anderson adapted the Life magazine story into a film treatment, and Anderson wrote the screenplay with Angus MacPhail.  The screenplay stays very true to the facts of the original case.

Hitchcock and Italian neorealism?   Alfred Hitchcock frequently screened movies at his home, and one of the movies he watched in the early 50’s was Vittorio De Sica’s The Bicycle Thief.   Although Hitchcock was somewhat disparaging of the Italian neorealism movement in general, he was quite fond of The Bicycle Thief.  He once described it in an interview as the perfect double chase – physical and psychological.   No wonder he liked it; that sounds like a description of several of Hitchcock’s own movies.   The difference is that Hitchcock’s other “wrong man” movies, (e.g. The 39 Steps, Saboteur, North by Northwestfeatured dashing leading men, caught in international intrigue, chasing and being chased from one exciting locale to the next.   In The Wrong Man Hitchcock is definitely taking a cue from The Bicycle Thief.  His protagonist is a member of the working class, struggling to support his family;  the setting ranges from the average (New York apartment flats) to the sordid (liquor stores and prison cells).  Hitchcock went so far as to shoot as many scenes as possible on location, in the actual places where the events occurred.   He even used some of the original participants as supporting characters.


Hitchcock and Catholicism:    This movie, along with Hitchcock’s 1952 film I Confess, contain overt religious symbolism.  It is no accident that these two movies are also very similar in tone.  They both lack the trademark moments of dark humor that appear even in Hitchcock’s most sinister films.  I refer to them as Hitchcock’s Catholic double feature.  Alfred Hitchcock was raised in a Catholic household, and attended St. Ignatius College in London.  But his Catholicism didn’t end in childhood.  He was married in Brompton Oratory, also known as the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  Even when he was at the peak of his popularity, in the 1950’s and 60’s, he would often travel from his Bel Air home to Sunday mass at the Church of the Good Shepherd.   Is it possible that Alfred Hitchcock did not want a vein of humor in these movies because he felt it would be sacrilegious?  Certainly the religious overtones in The Wrong Man are not accidental.

We first see Henry Fonda’s rosary when he is being booked in the police station, and all the items in his pockets are confiscated.  It is seen in a long shot, and would be of no consequence, except the booking officer tells him that he may keep it.   We next see the rosary when Fonda’s character is seated in the courtroom.  He is holding it in his hands, under the table, and the cross visibly hangs down.  This shot is a little closer.  The final time we see the rosary, it is a cut to a close up ( the picture seen above.)  The implication here is that the rosary, or more specifically what the rosary symbolizes, is taking a more prominent role.

When Henry Fonda is released from jail, and his mother is attempting to provide solace, her advice is to pray.  And he does so at the kitchen table with his mother.  This is a very moving scene, unlike anything Hitchcock has ever shown before.


Shortly after, Fonda’s character moves into his room, where he will pray even more.    This time he is praying directly to an iconograhic painting of Jesus, (which very much resembles the one that hung on my grandmother’s wall, and the walls of many other Catholic homes).


It is at this moment that the “miracle” occurs.  While Henry Fonda is praying, his lips silently moving, Hitchcock employs one his most masterful shots.   Two images are superimposed, one over the other.  The first is Henry Fonda, praying in close up.  The other is a man walking on a city street.  That man walks until his head is perfectly superimposed over the head of Henry Fonda, and we realize this other man is the real robber.



Hitchcock then cuts to the robber, who is captured in an attempted robbery.  That capture is portrayed exactly how it happened in reality.   The fact that he is captured at the precise moment that Manny is praying is not intended as a mere coincidence or cinematic flourish; I believe this is a deus ex machina, and Fonda’s faith is instrumental in his receiving justice.  While Hitchcock was reticent to discuss his faith in interviews  I think this movie says quite a bit.

Hitchcock and the subjective:   Just as he did so effectively in Rear Window, Hitchcock employs a lot of subjective camera work in this movie.  But unlike the thrilling things that James Stewart was watching, in this movie Fonda is looking at detectives, jury members, and the bars of a cell.  The viewer feels the oppressive nature of every aspect of Manny’s ordeal, from first being picked up for questioning, to being put in a cell.  The scenes in the prison cell are shot masterfully, with some unique camera movements showing the confining space, and how Fonda is reacting to it.   The idea of the innocent man falsely accused may have been Hitchcock’s favorite theme, and it is portrayed in the most realistic way in this movie.

Performances:  Henry Fonda is perfectly cast as the titular wrong man.   Fonda had the “everyman” quality that this role required, leaving the audience to believe in and empathize with the character’s travails.  Anthony Quayle is solid as always in the role of Manny’s lawyer.  The real standout performance in this movie, however, belongs to Vera Miles.  Vera aptly captures the fragile emotional state of Manny’s wife, Rose.  Her collapse, and committal to a mental hospital, are very touching scenes, some of the most touching in the entire Hitchcock catalog.  One of Hitchcock’s favorite themes is the idea of guilt, and guilt transference.  Rose feels guilty in many ways for Manny’s ordeal,  and it is her inability to deal with this guilt which causes her mental instability.  Vera Miles could not have done a better job portraying this on screen.


Recurring players:  Vera Miles would later appear in Psycho.  Doreen Lang, one of the insurance company women who mistakenly identify Manny as the robber, would have a couple of nice small roles in North by Northwest (Cary Grant’s secretary in the opening scenes) and The Birds (hysterical woman in diner).  Henry Beckman also appears in Marnie.  Paul Bryar also had uncredited cameos in Notorious and Vertigo.  Alexander Lockwood was also in Saboteur, North by Northwestand Family Plot.  Clarence Straight also had an uncredited cameo in Spellbound.

Where’s Hitch?   Alfred Hitchcock initially shot one of his typical cameos for this movie.  In the scene where Henry Fonda’s Manny is sipping coffee in a cafe, Hitch was visible in the background.  However, Hitchcock felt that his visibility in the movie would destroy the documentary feel of the subject matter.  So he cut that shot out, and replaced it with an introduction to the movie.  As the film begins, Hitchcock appears on a movie soundstage, in silhouette, and sets up the story for the audience.



What Hitch said:  When speaking with Truffaut, Hitchcock said that The Wrong Man “suffers from a lack of humor.”  When Truffaut asked Hitch if he was satisfied with the film, he replied “that faithfulness to the original story resulted in some deficiencies in the film’s construction.  The first weakness was the long interruption in the man’s story in order to show how the wife was gradually losing her mind.  By the time we got to the trial, it had become anticlimactic.  Then, the trial ended abruptly, as it did in real life.  It’s possible I was too concerned with veracity to take sufficient dramatic license.”  Finally, Hitch said “Well, let’s file The Wrong Man among the indifferent Hitchcocks.”

Definitive edition:  Warner Bros. finally released this on blu-ray in 2016, as part of their Archive Collection.    The film looks better than ever.   Included with the movie are a 20-minute documentary, and the original theatrical trailer.






PSYCHO II, PSYCHO III, PSYCHO IV: The legacy of Psycho

psycho2When one thinks of Alfred Hitchcock one does not think of sequels.  And while he never directed any sequels himself, his 1960 release Psycho has generated quite a legacy on film, television and in print.  There are three feature-length sequels, all with Anthony Perkins reprising his role as Norman Bates.  There are two television shows, one that never made it past the pilot episode, and one that has just concluded its first successful season.  Robert Bloch also wrote two sequels to his original novel, something he arguably would not have done had the movie not been such a success.  There is an excellent non-fiction book by Stephen Rebello about the making of the original film.  There is a movie based loosely on Rebello’s book.  And there is also a remake directed by Gus Van Sant.   (I should note that Alfred Hitchcock had nothing to do with any of these projects; they all were released after his death in 1980).


Psycho II (1983) – Universal – Rating: ★★1/2

 Color – 113 minutes – 1.85:1 aspect ratio

Directed by Richard Franklin

Principal cast:  Anthony Perkins (Norman Bates), Vera Miles (Lila Loomis), Meg Tilly (Mary Samuels), Robert Loggia (Dr. Bill Raymond), Dennis Franz (Warren Toomey).

Written by Tom Holland

Music by Jerry Goldsmith

 First off, let’s acknowledge that Psycho did not need a sequel.  But the horror genre was experiencing a massive popularity burst in the early 80’s, thanks in large part to movies like Halloween and Friday the 13th.  And Universal Pictures owned the rights to the original movie, which meant they could use its characters, or even steal scenes from it.  They also still had the Psycho house standing on their backlot.  (The motel building had been torn down, and had to be rebuilt.)  And the most important piece of the puzzle:  Anthony Perkins, who somewhat reluctantly agreed to reprise his role as Norman Bates.

This movie is in trouble from the very first moment.  It begins with the shower scene from the original Psycho, but in edited form!  How can you edit one of the most iconic scenes in movie history?  Either let it play out,  or don’t use it at all.  The set-up for the film is actually quite good, and the tagline on the movie poster sums it up as well as anybody could:  “It’s 22 years later, and Norman Bates is coming home.”   Norman is released from the mental facility where he has spent over two decades, and returns to his childhood home to find the Bates Motel being run by an obnoxious sleazebag played by Dennis Franz (this is before Franz made the switch from obnoxious sleazebags to endearing sleazebags.)  Within five seconds of meeting Franz’s character we know he is going to die, and this points to the movie’s biggest problem; there is just no subtlety to be found, either in plot or dialogue.

Anthony Perkins and Vera Miles are both very believable in the roles they had initiated over 20 years earlier.  It’s quite plausible that Lila Loomis would have married Sam after the death of Marion.  It’s also believable that Lila would hate Norman Bates, and do anything to get him locked up for good.  It is a bit of a stretch, however, to believe that she would use her daughter as a pawn in a potentially deadly game.  Robert Loggia is very solid in the role of Robert Loggia.  (That is not meant as a slight; he is a good character actor, who helps keep this movie from going completely off the rails.)  Meg Tilly is, well, annoying at best.  Rumor has it that Anthony Perkins did not get along with her, and asked for her to be replaced at some point during filming.  Honestly though, you could put any other actress in that role and it would not have been enough to save the rest of the movie.

Jerry Goldsmith wrote a beautiful score;  too bad it sounds like the score of an entirely different film.  Of course, what does one do when scoring a sequel, when the original film has one of the most iconic scores in movie history?  He could either follow in Bernard Herrmann’s footsteps, or go another direction entirely.  Goldsmith chose the latter, and it just doesn’t quite suit the material.

So, people are stabbed to death, Norman questions his sanity, and let’s not forget about the surpsise ending.  There is an absolutely ludicrous plot twist that seems to undermine the logic of the original movie.  I can’t really fault the director Richard Franklin, who was a student of Hitchcock, no less, but a stronger script may have helped this be something more than what it is.   The movie is not a total loss;  there are some fine moments, and Anthony Perkins is great.

Definitive edition:  Shout Factory released a blu ray edition in 2013.  First of all, the sound and picture quality are very good.  Included with the film are an electronic press kit, which has audio and video issues and repeats itself.  For all that, it does have some good interview clips.  Also included is an audio commentary with screenwriter Tom Holland, and audio promotional clips, as well as a photo gallery and trailers.


 PSYCHO III (1986) – Universal – Rating:  ★★★

Color – 92 minutes – 1.85:1 aspect ratio

Directed by Anthony Perkins

Principal cast:  Anthony Perkins (Norman Bates), Diana Scarwid (Maureen Coyle), Jeff Fahey (Duane Duke), Roberta Maxwell (Tracy Venable), Hugh Gillin (Sheriff John Hunt).

Written by Charles Edward Pogue

Music by Carter Burwell

The third chapter in the Psycho series is somewhat better than its predecessor,  but is still miles away from being a truly good film.   Norman is back to his crazy ways, having installed Mother 2.0 in the bed where he kept the first model.  Norman has a love interest again, this time a nun who has been kicked out of her convent.  She caused a mother superior to fall to her death, in a scene that deliberately (and quite effectively) evokes Hitchcock’s Vertigo.  She ends up at the Bates Motel, along with Jeff Fahey’s character Duane, a drifter looking to make a score, and make it with every woman who crosses his path.   Hugh Gillin reprises his role from the last installment as Sheriff Hunt, a man who sympathizes with Norman Bates and wishes everyone would just leave him alone.

So, this being a Psycho movie, you can be assured that people will die violent deaths, and Norman will wage his mental battle with Mother.  And that is what really drives this movie, and makes it worth watching.  Anthony Perkins still makes Norman Bates a sympathetic character.  We watch him perform acts of evil, and yet still root for him to somehow overcome in this struggle with his dead mother, who is the real source of evil.

Anthony Perkins directed this movie, and did an admirable job, considering it was the first (and only) time he sat in the director’s chair in his career.   He overcame his initial nervousness about directing, and won over everyone on the set.  Several cast and crew members remarked that Perkins was a pleasure to work with as a director.

Psycho III throws in a plot twist at the end, regarding Norman’s family tree, that seemingly attempts to untwist the twist at the end of Psycho II.  Once again, ludicrous!  But if you’re watching this movie, you’re not doing so for plot points.  You’re doing it because you just can’t get enough Norman Bates.

This movie also features one of Carter Burwell’s early film scores, and it really plays well.  Burwell made a modern (for the time) score, eschewing strings altogether, and that turned out to be a great decision.

Definitive edition:  Once again, Shout Factory’s 2013 blu ray release has good sound and picture quality, and a handful of extra features.  Included is a commentary track with the screenwriter, and several interesting featurettes, as well as a photo gallery and trailers.


Psycho IV: The Beginning  (1990)- Universal – Rating: ★★1/2

Color – 96 minutes – 1.78:1 aspect ratio

Directed by Mick Garris

Principal cast:  Anthony Perkins (Norman Bates), Henry Thomas (Young Norman Bates), Olivia Hussey (Norma Bates), C.C.H. Pounder (Fran Ambrose).

Written by Joseph Stefano

Music by Graeme Revell

When a horror movie franchise reaches part 4, you know its time for the inevitable flashback motif to show up, if it hasn’t already.  And so a good part of this film is the older Norman Bates recounting his teenage years.  For the first time we see Norma Bates in the flesh, and we see how Norman became who he became.  This movie was written by Joseph Stefano, who wrote the screenplay for Hitchcock’s original 1960 Psycho.  Stefano does a pretty decent job; I would say the screenplay is definitely better than the last two movies in the series.  Some have said that it is highly improbable Norman Bates would have been released from the insane asylum a second time, and that is certainly true.  But Joseph Stefano wrote this as a follow-up to his original movie, more-or-less ignoring the existence of Parts II and III altogether.  If you take that into consideration, the plot of this film makes a little more sense, although its probably a little too late to introduce sense into this movie franchise, considering how senseless the last two screenplays were.

Anthony Perkins initially expressed interest in directing this installment as well, but Universal nixed that idea, based on the poor box office of the Perkins-directed part III.  As it turns out, the potential box office of part IV was not a factor, because it was never released in theaters, but instead went straight to video, premiering exclusively on the Showtime cable TV network in 1990.

The set-up here is pretty good.  Norman Bates calls in to a radio talk show hosted by Fran Ambrose.  Fran is played quite convincingly by C.C.H. Pounder.  Norman admits that he has killed, and says he is going to kill again.  While on the phone with Fran, Norman talks about his childhood, and we get to see several flashback sequences showing Norman in his teenage years.  The young Norman is played well by Henry Thomas of ET fame.  He does not try to copy Anthony Perkins’ mannerisms in any way, which was a good decision.  And young Norman’s mother is played in creepily good fashion by Olivia Hussey.

Norman’s present-day situation, and the reason that he feels he may have to kill again, is both surprising and disturbing.  And the film’s resolution seems to imply that the Bates family saga has finally come to a conclusion.  This movie is better than the cable TV movie-of-the-week status to which it was relegated.  It is interesting to observe the ease with which Anthony Perkins now slips in the skin of Norman Bates.  And while the quality of the movies definitely declined, Perkins’ performance is a marvel; he stayed true to the character, and made his atrocities believable from first to last.  (When Psycho IV was being filmed, Anthony Perkins had already been diagnosed as HIV positive, and was receiving treatment during filming.  This was one of the last projects he completed before his death.)


Definitive edition:  Shout Factory released this on blu ray in 2013, with a nice looking print of the film.   The behind the scenes featurettes on this one are not very engaging.  One time is enough, if that.  The commentary track however, with director Mick Garris, and actors Henry Thomas and Olivia Hussey, is quite engaging.

PSYCHO (1960): “Mother, uh, what is the phrase? She isn’t quite herself today.”


PSYCHO (1960) – Paramount – Rating:  ★★★★½

 B&W – 109 minutes – 1.85:1 aspect ratio

Principal cast:  Anthony Perkins (Norman Bates), Janet Leigh (Marion Crane), John Gavin (Sam Loomis), Vera Miles (Lila Crane), Martin Balsam (Milton Arbogast), Patricia Hitchcock (Caroline).

Produced by Alfred Hitchcock

Screenplay by Joseph Stefano, based on the novel by Robert Bloch.

Director of Photography:  John L. Russell

Edited by George Tomasini

Music by Bernard Herrmann

Titles designed by Saul Bass

Note:  Because of the significance of this film in Hitchcock’s catalog, I will divide my analysis into two parts.  The first is a general overview;  the second will be a more detailed look at several key scenes in the movie, as well as overall techniques employed by Hitchcock.  Also, in past Hitchcock movie entries I  have tried to walk a fine line between review and analysis.  Going forward I will focus on analysis, and presume that my audience has already seen the movie.

Everybody knows Psycho.   It is part of a select group of films (e.g. CasablancaThe Wizard of Oz) that are part of the the movie-going collective consciousness, to the extent that even those who haven’t seen it almost feel as if they have.   Elements of the movie have been referenced, alluded to, copied, and parodied hundreds of times in popular culture.  But Alfred Hitchcock certainly did not set out to make a groundbreaking movie.  Psycho was intended to be an “experiment” of sorts, one that proved to be a massive success for all involved.

Source material:  The movie is based upon the 1959  novel of the same name by Robert Bloch.    Bloch’s novel is a well-paced, fast-moving thriller that most fans of the movie would likely enjoy.   The plot structure of the movie follows the book to such a degree that the book almost reads as a movie treatment.   The most significant change made by Hitchcock and screenwriter Joseph Stefano relates to character, not plot.  In the novel, Norman Bates is described as an overweight, middle-aged, pathetic looking man.  Bates’ physical description makes him a repulsive character from the first page.  For the movie, Hitchcock and Stefano made the wonderful decision that Norman Bates should be younger, more attractive, and likable.  Hitchcock loved to create a sympathetic antagonist, and perhaps there is no greater example  in his entire canon than that of Norman Bates.  He may be one of the most sympathetic “bad guys” in all of cinema.  Of course one could make the argument that Norman isn’t the villain at all;  rather his mother is the true antagonist, and Norman just another one of her victims.

The “experimental” film:  The word “experimental” could apply to a handful of Hitchcock’s films:  certainly The Wrong Man, Ropeand Lifeboat at the very least could be classified as such.  But Psycho was an experiment of a different nature, by Hitchcock’s own admission.


He had just released North by Northwest in 1959.  That film was a breathtaking spectacle for the eyes, large in scope, shot in Technicolor and VistaVistion.  Why follow that up with a small scale, black and white film that has very little dialogue and takes place primarily in small cluttered rooms?  It is often said that Hitchcock had to make Psycho in black and white because the censors wouldn’t have allowed him to show blood in color, to the extent that he wanted to show it.   That certainly was a consideration, but Alfred Hitchcock also chose to shoot in black and white (and Psycho was his last non-color film) because he used his television crew to film it.  Alfred Hitchcock had the notion that he could use the technical crew from his very popular “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” TV show to shoot a feature film, and that they could do it in less time and with less money.  This was of some significance to Hitchcock because he was also the film’s producer.  Keeping costs down meant more money in his pocket.  And Psycho went on to become one of the most profitable film’s of Hitchcock’s entire career.  His “experiment” paid off in spades. 

Themes and motifs:  All of the major themes of Hitchcock’s career can be found in Psychomaking it a very representative work for that reason.  The concept of guilt is very significant.  Marion Crane is hounded by guilt almost from the moment she decides to flee with the money.  It is only after talking to Norman Bates at the motel that she has a change of heart, and makes her plan to return the money.  What a sad irony that Norman helps her come to this realization, only to kill her moments later.  Norman’s guilt is of a much more profound and complex nature.  He is portrayed as a victim, as much as anyone in this film, and yet he is most certainly a killer.  Another major theme is the relationship between men and women.  Hitchcock often portrays relationships with much more realism than was common at the time.  His films show that sacrifices have to be made for relationships to succeed.   Marion Crane is ready to make any sacrifice to be with Sam, but his pride gets in the way.  When he remarks sardonically that she can lick the stamps when he writes his alimony checks, the love and devotion in Marion’s voice when she replies “I’ll lick the stamps” is heartbreaking.  One could argue that Sam could have prevented the tragedy to come if he had merely put aside his pride and agreed to let Marion live with him.

psycho3To say that the “mother” motif shows up in this film is a major understatement.  Mothers in Hitchcock’s films are often domineering and belittling of their adult male children, nowhere more so than here.  Even from the grave, Mrs. Bates’ domination of her son is total.  Hitchcock’s fear of the police is on display here as well.  Hitchcock often portrayed law enforcement as inept, bumbling fools.  Here however, the highway patrolman is played with a sense of menace, and it works very well.   Some Hitchcock scholars have pointed out the many staircases that figure in his movies, and there is one that features very prominently here.

It is interesting that Hitchcock’s follow-up to this movie would be The Birds, because birds are all over in this movie.  Norman’s parlor is full of his stuffed birds.  He comments that Marion eats like a bird.  Marion’s room at the motel has pictures of birds on the wall.  Marion’s last name is Crane, a type of bird, and she is coming from Phoenix, named after the mythological bird.

Performance:  The two standout performances here belong to Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh.  Janet’s character undergoes a lot of different emotions in her shortened screen time, and she also has several scenes where she is alone on screen, and must convey her feelings with no dialogue.  She does a fantastic job of playing it low key.  And Perkins portrayal of Norman Bates is one of the best acting performances in any Hitchcock film.  Veteran character actor Martin Balsam is solid as always, in his portrayal of Arbogast.   The one performance that doesn’t quite work is that of John Gavin, playing Sam Loomis.  There is no real chemistry between Gavin and Janet Leigh in their opening scene, and he comes off as somewhat wooden.  Vera Miles, who plays Marion’s sister Lila, also gives a somewhat detached performance.  Miles is good, but somehow off-putting.

Promotion:  For Psycho  Alfred Hitchcock employed what may be the most ingenious marketing campaign in the history of motion pictures.  It all grew out of his concern that word of mouth would kill the movie’s surprises, and hurt its box office chances.  His first decision was not to have any advance screenings, either for critics or for a test audience.  He then made the decision that nobody should be allowed to enter the theater once the movie had started.  He actually made this a condition for theaters who wished to show the movie.  Movie theaters were sent a ton of promotional materials from Paramount explaining the policy of no late admissions, including signs, life-size cardboard figures of Alfred Hitchcock, and vinyl albums with repeating messages recorded by Hitchcock.  Here, you can listen to one of these promotional messages in its entirety.

Delivered with Hitchcock’s usual dry humor, the dialogue was written by James Allerdice, who also wrote most of Hitchcock’s dialogue for the Alfred Hitchcock Presents television show.  Another of the recorded messages  urged moviegoers not to give away the movie’s secrets to their friends.

Some theaters even hired security guards to man the lobbies, preventing late entries into the theater.  Hitchcock even went so far as to tell theater owners how to show the movie.  He suggested that the house lights should remain off for 30 seconds after the end credits finished.  Hitchcock suggested that this would imprint the movie’s images into the viewers minds.  He then suggested a very low light, ideally green, while moviegoers exited the theaters.   The campaign was a huge, unparalleled success, with massive lines queued up outside theaters all over the country.  Alfred Hitchcock also created one of the most unique and impressive theatrical trailers for this movie.  Rather than showing clips from the movie, the trailer features Alfred Hitchcock giving a “tour” of the Psycho movie set.  This highly entertaining trailer runs over 6 minutes in length, and can be seen in its entirety on the Universal blu-ray or DVD.

Recurring players:  Vera Miles appeared in the film The Wrong Man.


   Mort Mills, who plays the highway patrolman so well, would later appear in Torn Curtain.  Frank Albertson also had an uncredited part in the remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much.  Sam Flint had a small role in Strangers on a Train.  Virginia Gregg had an uncredited role in Notorious.  And Hitchcock’s daughter Patricia can also be seen in Stage Fright and Strangers on a Train.

Where’s Hitch:  Alfred Hitchcock’s cameo comes very early in the film.  At about the 7:00 mark, he can be seen standing outside the office where Marion works, wearing a cowboy hat.

psycho cameo.jpg

Academy Awards:  Psycho received four nominations:  Alfred Hitchcock for best director, Janet Leigh for best supporting actress, John L. Russell for best black-and-white cinematography, and Joesph Hurley, Robert Clatworthy and George Milo for best art decoration/set decoration black-and-white.  Psycho did not win in any of these categories.

What Hitch said:  He told Truffaut that his main satisfaction with Psycho was that “the film had an effect on the audiences, and I consider that very important.  I don’t care about the subject matter; I don’t care about the acting…I feel it’s tremendously satisfying for us to be able to use the cinematic art to achieve something of a mass emotion.  And with Psycho we most definitely achieved this…the audiences…were aroused by pure film.”

Definitive edition:  Universal’s excellent 2010 blu ray release has a treasure trove of extra features:  a commentary track by Stephen Rebello, author of “Alfred Hitchcock and The Making of Psycho“; a feature-length documentary; a 10 minute segment on the new 5.1 sound mix; a 26 minute documentary featuring Martin Scorsese, Willliam Freidkin, Guillermo del Toro, John Carpenter, and many other filmmakers lavishing praise on Hitchcock; a 15 minute Hitchcock/Truffaut audio interview clip;  an 8 minute vintage newsreel; the shower scene with and without music; Saul Bass’ storyboards for the shower sequence; posters, ads and lobby cards; production and behind-the-scene photos; original theatrical trailer and 5 short re-release trailers.

Below you can watch one of the best scenes from the movie:  Arbogast questioning Norman Bates about Marion.  Here are two character actors at the absolute peak of their craft, and they are a joy to watch. When the two actors completed the first take on this sequence, the crew erupted into applause!  It was Anthony Perkins idea to chew on the candy corns, as was the stutter that creeps into his speech as Arbogast presses him.  Notice the shot, early in the sequence, when Perkins leans in to look at the signature.  The camera is underneath him, looking up at his chin.  Perkins leans in, keeping his face in frame, then stands up, and the camera follows him, all in one smooth take.   (Note:  Universal Pictures owns all rights to this movie.  If you haven’t seen it, please purchase or rent it!)