The art of suspense
K. S. RAJGOPAL
‘Psycho,' the Hitchcock masterpiece made in 1960, is gripping even today.
Janet Leigh in ‘Psycho.'
A steamy bedroom scene on a hot summer's day in Phoenix, Arizona, ends with the lovers — Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) and Sam Loomis (John Gavin) — parting after a discussion on why they cannot marry for the moment. The opening sequence belies the chilling twists that follow in ‘Psycho' (1960), which is from the stable of the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock.
Sam is recently divorced and has to pay a hefty alimony, and his business in California is not doing well. Marion's office job is no big deal either. Marion arrives at her office and has to tackle a boisterous, drunken client , who flirts with her. Before leaving, he puts 40,000 dollars in cash on her desk meant for her boss.
The boss asks Marion to deposit the money in his bank account. Feigning a headache, she leaves the office with the cash. Her intention is to steal it so that Sam and she can marry. Soon, she heads for California and Sam in her car.
Driving out of Phoenix with the money, she is nervous and spends the night in her car parked by the highway. An overly suspicious policeman who wakes her up the next morning, adds to her fears. After lying her way past the cop, she trades her car for a used one by paying $700.
At his best
As the lady drives on, bright sunshine gives way to dark looming clouds in the evening, and the pelting cold rain forces her to halt at a seedy looking roadside motel. The bright neon sign says Bates Motel.
From this pivotal point, Hitchcock is at his best. He uses a clever play of light, shadow and ghostly silhouettes to create an impending sinister atmosphere, which is enhanced by the black and white film.
The motel keeper, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), is a slim, fidgety young man. His big house near the motel is perched on a hillock. Marion overhears a female voice arguing with Bates. He tells her that it is his mother. Then he engages in light banter with Marion before she retires for the night.
Before getting into bed she takes a shower. As the camera watches her - so does the audience, which leaves them unprepared for what happens next. A sudden shadow through the shower curtain… her shocked face and a stunned audience watch as a knife stabs her repeatedly. The abrupt violence is terrifying. The shower water running into the bathtub drain is now discoloured… and that is how Bates finds her. Hitchcock's masterly touch has made this shower scene famous.
Hitchcock's on-the-edge thriller packs in the terror and shock as the mystery of the murders unravel. He manages to jolt the audience with the unexpected denouement. The portrayal of split-personality - one of the many kinds of schizophrenia – is both frightening and engrossing. It is a remarkable exploration of a diseased and demented mind that takes on a dead mother's domineering personality in times of emotional turmoil.
‘Psycho' is Hitchcock's landmark film, which sensationalised mental illness like never before with brilliant screenplay (by Joseph Stephano), lighting effects and terrific music by Bernard Herrmann. It is based on the novel by Robert Bloch.
The film was shot at a cost of $800,000 and went on to gross more than $40 millions. The Tamil ‘Sigappu Rojakkal' (‘Red Roses') starring Kamal Hassan seems to have been inspired by this masterpiece.
Watch the film on Makkal TV on Sunday at 3 p.m.
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