His Dark Materials

Psycho: adapted by Joseph Stefano from the novel by Robert Bloch; directed by Alfred Hitchcock; starring Anthony Perkins (Norman Bates), Janet Leigh (Marion Crane), Vera Miles (Lila Crane), John Gavin (Sam Loomis), and Martin Balsam (Arboghast) (1960): Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece still shines undiminished, a sinister puzzle-box. Taken from an already strong source (Robert Bloch’s novel of the same name), Psycho improved upon it by making hotel-owner and mother-aficianado Norman Bates thin and sympathetic.

It’s the movie’s generation of sympathy for Norman I’ll deal with here. Anthony Perkins should have won some sort of acting Oscar for this performance. Jittery, occasionally creepy, put-upon, repressed: and a lot of other emotions, all of them pitch perfect.

Camerawork amplifies the greatness of the performance, again and again staging Norman Bates in an inferior position to other male characters. One great blink-and-miss-it moment shows Perkins flinching almost unnoticeably as Martin Balsam’s private detective deliberately leans into Norman’s envelope of private space. The camerawork runs parallel to similar set-ups involving Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane, her space invaded by lecherous oil-men and looming, sun-glass-obscured cops. Crane and Bates are twins in many ways, light and dark.

Oh, and it’s the first American movie to show the inside of the bowl while a toilet flushes. Really, how much more do you want? A nearly subliminal use of a skull superimposed on a major character’s head? One of the most distinctive scores of all time? Highly recommended.

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