Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Psycho Turns 50

Psycho turns 50 today.
It's strange how one of Alfred Hitchcock's least expensive movies has so infiltrated mainstream culture.
I remember as a teen of 14 going up to Toronto's Hollywood theater to catch an early screening.
The film wasn't "Restricted" but I did have to wait around a bit because stragglers were not allowed in until the next complete performance.
Did I understand how revolutionary the black and white suspenser really was?
No, but neither did most mainstream critics. In fact many of Hitch's biggest boosters like C.A. Lejeune positively loathed it.
I vividly remember the shower sequence. And the bizarre explanation at the end by the psychiatrist to explain Norman Bates' peculiar personality.
And in later years I became friends with its great star, Janet Leigh, who got bumped off about a third of the way into the movie.
We talked at length on four separate occasions, the first time was at her L.A. home and the last was crouching behind a gigantic tombstone in St. John's (Norway) cemetery in Toronto's East End.
And here's what she told me:
JB: Were you aware how important the film would become to your career?
JL: I've made three great movies : Touch Of Evil, The Manchurian Candidate and Psycho. But people only want to talk about Psycho, it's crazy.
JB: How did Hitchcock get you?
JL: He offered me the part after I came to his office and I talked to him about it. I said I got killed off early so why did he want me, it was a supporting thing which I didn't do. And Hitch said audiences would be so shocked they would be expecting Marion to return at some time, they just couldn't accept her death.
JB: Describe how the famous shower scene was filmed.
JL: To get just 45 seconds of pure cinema took seven shooting days. Every frame was story boarded by Hitch. We shot exactly as it ran. I had pasties and a G-string on but the pasties washed off in the warm water. We kept on shooting. You never see the knife touch her. You hear it --that was Hitch stabbing a watermelon. And the mother character silhouetted in the dark wasn't Tony Perkins but a stunt double. Tony was in New York working on a Broadway play that day.
JB: How quickly was Psycho shot?
JL: Very quickly on sets at Universal with Hitch's TV crew who were used to working very fast. Everything was backlot --the house facade and the motel are still standing, part of the Universal set tour.
JB: Any other memories?
JL: When I wrote my book I asked Vera Miles for memories and she never responded. We played sisters in it. She was Hitch's choice for the lead in Vertigo until she got pregnant. This was the last under her contract to him. Hitch told me he chose John Gavin as my boyfriend because he so resembled Tony. Hitch was making a comment that under normal circumstances Norman Bates could have enjoyed a normal life and even fallen for a girl like Marion.
JB: But you got an Oscar nomination.
JL As best supporting actress but I lost to Shirley Jones. Hitch got a nomination but Psycho was ignored as best picture and Tony was completely shut out. The Hollywood elite were simply put off by the whole thing. But successive revivals really ruined Tony's career as a leading man, he could only do horror films by the end of the decade while Psycho made me big again. I got The Manchurian Candidate because of it.
JB: But you never again worked with Hitchcock.
JL: He told me on the last day of shooting we could never work together again. I think he was sad about that. That movie follows me everywhere. As I checked into the Toronto hotel the desk clerk said "You see. I'm giving you a room without a shower." So I'm like part of modern culture in a very strange way.
JB: How did he feel about it?
JL: He never made another slasher film. He started that whole genre and it quickly became very sick. I can't stand any of those things and neither could Hitch. It just got out of control and he was upset about that.

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