Alfred Hitchcock was indeed the Master of Suspense.
But he was also an arrogant filmmaker who desperately needed some collaboration and editing but refused the help.
“Psycho” is captivating at times and inexplicable and dumb at others.
[Warning: this review is going to be full of spoilers, from start to finish. However, “Psycho” came out when Babe Ruth still held the single season home run record, so I feel like I’ve given you adequate time to see it].
The first half does contain scenes of extraordinary suspense. Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) spontaneously stole $40,000 and we are anxiously rooting for her to get away with it.
The scene where Marion is skipping town with the cash and happens to see her boss in the crosswalk is gripping. Suddenly, the poor woman knows that she is probably not going to get away with the crime. She is haunted by voices in her head of the people in her office slowly piecing together the fact that she stole the money. Bravo, Mr. Hitchcock.
Having the leading lady murdered half-way through the film was an exciting idea. This was no cowardly JJ Abrams fake-out where the character isn’t really dead. Marion was the focus of every single scene for an hour. Then, shockingly, she is just a bloody corpse that Norman Bates quietly cleans up. Pretty darn sick and innovative. Bravo, Mr. Hitchcock.
However, there is a reason why other filmmakers don’t kill off their lead halfway through the movie. After Marion is killed, “Psycho” loses focus and loses steam.
Who are we supposed to care about now? Norman? The private investigator? Marion’s sister? I certainly didn’t feel for any of them. Hitchcock robbed his own movie of drama.
There is one big narrative problem even before Marion dies: the strange case of the disappearing cop.
Early on, a police officer recognizes that Marion is hiding a crime from him. And he rightly follows his hunch. The fear is gripping Marion so she goes to a used car dealership to switch out her car in an attempt to evade the clever cop.
As the trembling thief makes the car-swap, the police officer parks right across the street and stands there watching the whole suspicious transaction. Even though the car-swap gambit has been foiled, Marion still goes through with it and gets another car.
And then, just as we expect him to make an arrest, the cop disappears from the narrative forever. So what was the point of the car dealership scene? Or the cop character?
The biggest problem with “Psycho,” however, is the anti-climactic ending.
Can you imagine if the film concluded with the big reveal that Norman Bates is the true killer and he has been keeping his mother’s corpse around the house for years? That’s chilling.
Instead, we are introduced to a boring government psychologist, who dryly gives his analysis of why Norman Bates wanted to pretend to be his mother. This ending is so very bad. The only thing shocking about it is that no one from the studio demanded that Alfred Hitchcock do better.
“Psycho” has some cool moments. All Hitchcock movies do. But ultimately it is an unfocused, unsatisfying thriller. Master of suspense? Sure. Master of great filmmaking? Hardly.