Sunday, May 8, 2016

Don't Make a Scene: Psycho (1960)

For Mother's Day (of course)

The Story: Alfred Hitchcock knew what scared you, because the same things scared him. You can tick off the fears that re-occur again and again in his films. False Arrest. Accusation. Police. Heights. National Monuments (tall ones). Confinement. Suspicion. Madness. Death.


Stifling mothers, specifically.

They show up in movie after movie, whether for terror or comic relief, and the two combine in Hitchcock's Psycho. Like the shark in Jaws, we don't see Norman's oppressive mother for the longest time, and when we do, it's a jolt. A big one. Even during the respite of a casual dinner for a client, he can never get away from her. She comes up in conversation like a dark shadow that crosses Norman Bates' face in Anthony Perkin's mercurial performance...a performance that colored the rest of his career—he never again played a callow youth, but forevermore the vibrating neurotic, trying to maintain control.

But whether they're funny like Marion Lorne in Strangers on a Train or Jessie Royce Landis in North by Northwest and To Catch a Thief, or they're harpies like Leopoldine Konstantin in Notorious or Louise Latham in Marnie, the Hitchcock mom's are all ultimately dark figures who can cut you off at the knees...or just cut you off. A lot of them have knives...the better to emasculate or kill. They are a common theme in the closetful of phobias that make up the cinemanic world of Alfred Hitchcock.

Happy Mother's Day.

The Set-Up: Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) has just nicked money from her work-place and is on the run. Now, scared and exhausted and unable to negotiate the highway during a driving rainstorm she seeks shelter at the semi-sequestered Bates Motel, run by Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) and his Mother (Virginia Gregg), an invalid. Marion signs the guest register under an assumed name, and the solicitous Norman asks if she'd like dinner. That provokes an argument between Mother and Son, the shouting overheard by Marion causing a little embarrassment that serves as the first course of dinner. Wonder what's for dessert?


Marion sees Norman come out the front door. She takes a pair of shoes from the bag and puts them on, then goes out the door and waits on the porch. Norman comes around the corner, carrying a tray.
MARION: I've caused you some trouble.
NORMAN: No. Uh--Mother-- m-my mother, uh--what is the phrase?--she isn't quite herself today.
MARION: (indicating the tray) You shouldn't have bothered. I really don't have that much of an appetite.
NORMAN: (pause) Oh, I'm sorry. I wish you could apologize for other people.
MARION: Don't worry about it. But as long as you've fixed the supper, we may as well eat it. (She stands by the open door of her cabin, but Norman hesitates.)
NORMAN: It--it might be uh, nicer--and warmer--in the office. (He goes into his office, smiling, looking for her to follow. Marion smiles to herself, then closes her door and follows him.)
MARION: (inside) Well, it stopped raining.
NORMAN: (tray still in hand) Eating in an office is just--just too officious. I-I have the parlor back here.
MARION: All right.
She follows him to a comfortable room--cozy except for a couple of huge stuffed birds perched ominously above the sitting area.
NORMAN: Sit down. (He sets the tray before her. They both sit.)
MARION: Thank you. You're very kind.
NORMAN: It's all for you. I'm not hungry. Go ahead.
NORMAN: (delightedly watching her eat) You--you eat like a bird.
MARION: (nodding to the stuffed birds) You'd know, of course.
NORMAN: No, not really. Anyway, I hear the expression 'eats like a bird'--is really a fals- fals- falsity. Because birds really eat a tremendous lot.
NORMAN: But I don't really know anything about birds. My hobby is stuffing things--
NORMAN: --you know--taxidermy.
NORMAN: And I guess I'd just rather stuff birds because I hate the look of beasts when they're stuffed--
NORMAN: --you know, foxes and chimps.
NORMAN: Some people even stuff dogs and cats--but, oh, I can't do that.
NORMAN: I think only birds look well stuffed because--well, because they're kind of passive to begin with.
MARION: It's a strange hobby. Curious.
NORMAN: Uncommon, too.
MARION: Oh, I imagine so.
NORMAN: And it's not as expensive as you'd think. It's cheap really. You know--needles and thread, sawdust. The chemicals are the only thing that cost anything.
MARION: A man should have a hobby.
NORMAN: (sitting back) Well, it's--it's more than a hobby. A hobby's supposed to pass the time--not fill it.
MARION: Is your time so empty?
NORMAN: No, uh--well, I run the office, and uh, tend the cabins and grounds, and--and do little errands for my mother--the ones she allows I might be capable of doing.
MARION: Do you go out with friends?
NORMAN: (pause) Well, uh--a boy's best friend is his mother.
(Marion tries not to react.)
NORMAN: You've never had an empty moment...
NORMAN: your entire life, have you?
MARION: Only my share.
NORMAN: Where are you...
NORMAN: ...going? (when Marion doesn't answer right away...)
NORMAN: I didn't mean to pry.
MARION: Um--I'm looking for a private island.
NORMAN: (leaning forward) What are you running away from?
MARION: (taken aback) W-why do you ask that?
NORMAN: (shaking his head, relaxing back into his chair) No. People never run away...
NORMAN: ...from anything.
NORMAN: The rain didn't last long,
NORMAN: ...did it? You know what I think?
NORMAN: I think that we're all in our private traps--
NORMAN: --clamped in them. And none of us can ever get out.
NORMAN: We--we scratch and claw, but only at the air--only at each other. And for all of it...
NORMAN: ...we never budge an inch.
MARION: Sometimes we deliberately step into those traps.
NORMAN: I was born in mine. I don't mind it anymore.
MARION: Oh, but you should.
MARION: You should mind it.
NORMAN: Oh, I do (laughs) but I say I don't.
MARION: You know, if anyone ever talked to me the way I heard--
MARION: --the way she spoke to you--
NORMAN: Sometimes--when she talks to me like that--I feel I'd like to go up there--and curse her--and-and-and leave her forever!
NORMAN: Or at least defy her.
NORMAN: But I know I can't. She's ill.
MARION: She sounded strong.
NORMAN: No, I mean...
NORMAN: --ill.
NORMAN: She had to raise me all by herself, after my father died. I was only five and it must've been quite a strain for her.
NORMAN: I mean, she didn't have to go to work or anything like that. He left her a little money.
NORMAN: Anyway, a few years ago Mother met this man...
NORMAN: ...and he talked her into building this motel.
NORMAN: He could've talked her into anything. And when he died too, it was just too great a shock for her. And--and the way he died--
NORMAN: (laughs) I guess it's nothing to talk about...
NORMAN: ...while you're eating. (Marion breaks her enthrallment, looks at the food in her hand and smiles.)
NORMAN: Anyway, it was just too great a loss for her. She had nothing left.
MARION: Except you.
NORMAN: Well, a son is a poor substitute for a lover.
MARION: Why don't you go away?
NORMAN: To a private island, like you?
MARION: No, not like me.
NORMAN: I couldn't do that. Who'd look after her?
NORMAN: She'd be alone up there.
NORMAN: The fire would go out. It'd be cold and damp like a grave. If you love someone...
NORMAN: don't do that to them even if you hate them.
NORMAN: You understand that I don't hate her--I hate what she's become. I hate the illness.
MARION: Wouldn't it be better--if you put her--someplace--?
NORMAN: (Norman's demeanor darkens. He leans forward.) You mean an institution? A madhouse!
NORMAN: People always call a madhouse 'someplace,' don't they. 'Put her in--someplace.'
MARION: I-I'm sorry. I didn't mean it to sound uncaring.
NORMAN: What do you know about caring?
NORMAN: Have you ever seen the inside of one of those places?
NORMAN: The laughing and the tears--and the cruel eyes studying you. My mother there!
NORMAN: But she's harmless! Wh-- she's as harmless as one of those stuffed birds!
MARION: I am sorry. I only felt--it seems she's hurting you.
MARION: I meant well. (Marion is more than a little spooked by his personality transformation.)

NORMAN: People always mean well! They cluck their thick tongues and shake their heads and suggest, oh so very delicately--!
NORMAN:(He sits back. The storm is over. Gently:) Of course, I've suggested it myself. But I hate to even think about it. She needs me.
NORMAN: It-it's not as if she were a--a maniac--a raving thing. She just goes a little mad sometimes.
NORMAN: We all go a little mad sometimes.
NORMAN: Haven't you?
MARION: (her concern relaxed) Yes. Sometimes just one time can be enough. Thank you.
NORMAN: 'Thank you, Norman.'
MARION: Norman.
NORMAN: Oh, you're not--you're not going back to your room already?
MARION: I'm very tired. And I have a long drive tomorrow--all the way back to Phoenix.
NORMAN: Really?
MARION: I stepped into a private trap back there and I'd like to go back and try to pull myself out of it...
MARION: ...before it's too late for me too. (She stands to go.)

NORMAN: Are you sure you wouldn't like to stay just a little while longer?
NORMAN: Just for talk?
MARION: Oh, I'd like to, but--
NORMAN: (He raises his hand, smiles and nods understandingly.) All right. (He stands to see her out.) Well, uh, I'll see you in the morning. I'll bring you some breakfast, all right?
NORMAN: What time?
MARION: (discouragingly) Very early--dawn.
NORMAN: All right, Miss uh--
MARION: Crane.
NORMAN: Crane. That's it.
MARION: Good night. (She leaves.)
Norman goes out to the guest register on the office counter. He takes a piece of candy from his pocket and eats it.
He slides the book around to face him and reads her signature: 'Marie Samuels.'
He smiles, then goes back into the parlor.
He walks over to the far wall and stands very still, listening. A stuffed pheasant sits in front of him.
The owl, wings spread for take off, hovers above his head. The lamp lights the owl and Norman's face from below.
He lifts a framed picture off the wall, revealing a section of wallboard torn away and a peephole drilled through the wall of the adjoining room. He peers closely into the hole, which provides a view of Marion's bathroom, where she is disrobing.


Words by Joseph Stefano

Pictures by John L. Russell and Alfred Hitchcock

Psycho is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Universal Home Video.

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