Thursday, May 17, 2012

For the Love of Hitchcock :: Trailer Park :: We All Go a Little Crazy Sometimes. Some of Us Just a Little Bit More Than Others...

When a lovelorn secretary makes the mistake of embezzling $40,000 from her employer and hits the open road to help jump-start a new life with her cash-strapped and alimony-ized beau, her guilty conscience soon gets the better of her. Too bad mother nature had to kick up that storm, then. And even worse: her choice of accommodations to escape the same; an off, off road motel where, well ... Why hear it from me when you can hear what happens next from the man himself:

Video courtesy of RandyX27.

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"I aim to provide the public with beneficial shocks. Civilization has become so protective that we're no longer able to get our goosebumps instinctively. The only way to remove the numbness and revive our moral equilibrium is to use artificial means to bring about the shock. The best way to achieve that, it seems to me, is through a movie."

-- Alfred Hitchcock
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As the legend goes, the main reason Psycho even got made was to test a theory. Seems Hitchcock was intrigued at all the money the cheaper, black and white B-pictures were making in the late 1950's and wondered how much money they'd make if they shot an A-Picture in the same, no-frills style. (One also has to wonder if the director was also intrigued by what these smaller independents could get away with onscreen without all the big studio interference.)

Thus, putting this theory to the test, using the crew from his TV show, and an adapted screenplay by future famed Outer Limits scribe Joseph Stefano, Hitchcock's experiment was shot under the strictest security as not to spoil any of the surprises the director had planned for the audience. And when those shocks were punctuated by Bernard Hermann's buzz-sawing, all string-instrumental score, the audience never knew what hit them, proving that a boy's best friend is most definitely not his mother in some cases and made plenty a'viewer think twice before registering at any off the road motels or closing their shower curtains.

For the record, the nude model who doubled for Janet Leigh, in all those different cuts, covered in Bosco's Milk Amplifier (chocolate syrup), for the notoriously immortal shower-sequence was Marli Renfro, who appeared on the cover of Playboy in September, 1960, only three months after the film premiered -- appropriately enough, photographed taking a shower.

Also of note, the voice of Mother Bates was provided by an uncredited Virginia Gregg, a prolific TV actress and one of Jack Webb's favorite fill-ins.

Eroded over time and diluted by thousands of imitators (-- and most of them pretty damned awful), the film still packs a hefty punch -- especially if you don't look at it as a horror movie, as most misidentify it to be, but as the blackest of black comedies as it was originally intended. A theory, I think, is proven out by that fantastic trailer above. All told, I think authors Robert Harris and Michael Lansky said it best:
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"With Psycho Hitchcock directs the audience more than the actors. Shot for shot, cut for cut, the director knows he was using pure cinema to arouse audience emotions...The film is a flimsy vehicle on which Hitchcock can play with our emotions and miscalculated expectations."

The Films of Alfred Hitchcock
(Citadel Press)
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This post is part of the For the Love of Film Blogathon, a new age telethon to raise funds for The National Film Preservation Foundation to help bring The White Shadow (a/k/a White Shadows), an early silent film that a certain master of suspense did just about everything for except direct — assistant director, screenwriter, film editor, production designer, art director, and set decorator, to the streaming masses and help defray the costs of adding a new musical soundtrack.

There’s no donation too small, folks. So please, click on the link above, wherever you see it this week and give what you can. Thanks. For more information, check out the group’s Facebook page. Big thanks, as always, to Ferdy on Film, The Self-Styled Siren and This Island Rod for throwing such a wide net for contributors. Until next time, then, I bid you all a good ev-ah-ning.

I’m participating. Are you?

Psycho (1960) Shamley Productions :: Paramount Pictures / P: Alfred Hitchcock / D: Alfred Hitchcock / W: Joseph Stefano, Robert Bloch (novel) / C: John L. Russell / E: George Tomasini / M: Bernard Hermann / S: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam


Stacia said...

You have been posting like a deranged madman genius. Love it.

The first time I saw Psycho was for my 14th or 13th birthday party, a slumber party where we rented a big suitcase of a VCR and two movies, Psycho and Witness. My friends were nonplussed with Psycho and insisted on watching Witness over and over again. I remember being confused and telling my mom "Psycho was kind of funny in spots." She thought I was nuts. If only you had been around to tell her it was intended to a point as a black comedy...

Tinky said...

Nice details--and great trailer. The music during most of it is delightfully incongruous. Thanks!

W.B. Kelso said...

Stacia: During the courting process, the first movie my father took my mother to see Psycho. The second movie they went and saw was a roadshow of The Blob. And the third, he also took to be his wife and mother in law to be to the Drive-In for a re-release of The Ten Commandments.

Psycho is just one of the movies if you take a big step back and look at it again, you'll find yourself laughing. You might feel a little guilty about it, but, eh.

Tinky: You're welcome. Thanks for commenting. One more to go!

Unknown said...

Ran across this post while I was researching info about Marli Renfro. I was curious how she got picked for the part, if anyone knows.

W.B. Kelso said...

Alas, what you read is all I got. But we will open it up to the room and hopefully someone will pop by and enlighten us all.

Stacia said...

Anita: An essay by Scott Essman claims Marli was suggested to the producers by one of the men who photographed her, who thought that she would be a good body double for Leigh. She had to interview with both Leigh and Hitch before being chosen. I hope this link works:

Leigh of course said that the only reason a nude model was hired was as a publicity ploy by Hitch, who wanted to suggest that there would be nudity in the film without actually HAVING nudity in the film.

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