Plot: What’s it about?
At this point, Alfred Hitchcock was at a transitional phase. After creatively mixing a solid script into a classic movie, Hitch decided to try a little something smaller. A lesser budget, a lesser crew, and the work. Alfred had gotten hold of a book about a killer and noticed that at the same time the smaller budget movies were making money and he felt maybe he should do one himself and do one of the best. He certainly got that chance with a few stipulations, and one of the very first films “reviewed after the film’s release”. It’s a tale of theft, a motel, people and a Psycho.
The setting is Phoenix, Arizona. The day and date is Friday, December 11 and the time is 2:43 PM. Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) likes to have fun on her breaks especially in the company of a man. After her break, she returns to the bank and the head man gives her a nice piece of money to hang onto to for a real estate deal. Instead, she decides to take the money for herself and go on a trip on the road away from everything. Little does she realizes what pitfalls she leads to on this road with the few stops she makes and with the non stop risk she takes.
To describe the rest of the movie would be an injustice to any viewer who has never seen the picture. This is a great Hitchcock movie in every sense. Once the viewer thinks they have it all figured out, along comes a curve. The film offers it’s sense of tension thanks to the wonderful screenplay by Joseph Stefano that let out sentences few and far between and give a nice balance for the cast. The other heightened tension is the great string filled score of Bernard Herrmann giving memorable musical touches to almost every scene in the film.
From many films in color, Hitchcock’s choice of black and white is a great one. Orson Welles once said “Black and white is an actor’s friend…” and nothing can be truer than the performances in this film. Janet Leigh is Marion Crane, a girl who likes her man and doesn’t mind a little excitement on the run. Anthony Perkins is at his best as Norman Bates, a young motel man who has a nice demeanor but has a bit of a complex that holds him back.
The rest of the cast fares very well as they arrive little by little, like the sentences in the screenplay. (This would be a different matter 37 years later)
This is a thriller with slight tension, a steady pace and a nice package all wrapped within a little less than two hours. Psycho shows, like the best directors, that a film that can do so much with so little can be a great representation of the best work and Hitchcock certainly represents it well.
Video: How does it look?
Universal gives the “Collector’s Edition” treatment to Psycho with a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and the results are better than what the local channels provided before 1986 but in terms of overall picture quality there is a speck or two every five minutes but nothing too distracting. The look of the print is clear and everything can be made out in the darker scenes and in the light, and the remastering certainly shows it. Unfortunately, the specks can show a bit more than they should and it provides for a good transfer but not a great one. This might be intentional being that the film used a television crew and a cheaper film. It doesn’t take away from the quality of the film, just the overall look.
Audio: How does it sound?
The Dolby Digital Mono track gives great room without much muteness for the dialogue to shine and the score to roar and even though the film was made in 1960, the dialogue may be lower and the score may boom at the appropriate times, but they all balance out nicely throughout the channels with the majority of the audio activity coming from the center channels. Despite the limitation of it’s source materials, they certainly don’t show and it makes for a very good audio track. This disc also has a French Mono track along with English and Spanish subtitles.
Supplements: What are the extras?
If it’s one thing most of the Universal Collector’s Editions have, it’s a nice amount of extras and Psycho certainly provides the goods as a holdover from the previous Laserdisc release nicely brought over to DVD.
Starting off is Laurent Bouzereau’s ninety minute documentary, The Making of Psycho going through all aspects of the development of this film as well as Hitchcock’s approaches as well as reactions from surviving cast and crew (circa 1997). It is once again a well made documentary covering all aspects of the picture and a great addition to this DVD complete with scene selection and an overall nice assemblage of everything.
Next up, there are production notes and some cast and crew biographies along with the film’s theatrical trailer. That is only page 1 of the menus which have great excerpt’s from Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho score.
After that, there are five re-release trailers, and a newsreel narrated by Hitchcock about the release of the picture.
Then there is the memorable “Shower Scene” which is with music than shown without the music.
Then the “Psycho” Archives menu has a great intro with the shooting photos as you enter. This has a production photographs gallery and away from that menu choice there are two other galleries with publicity shots and behind-the-scenes photographs which are nicely arranged.
Then there is a storyboarded version of the “Shower Scene” seen through the creative eye of title designer Saul Bass as well as Lobby Card and Poster and Ad Galleries.
With all of that assembled and one hell of a trip of a movie, Psycho delivers the goods in more ways than one both as a classic feature film and as a solid Collector’s Edition DVD. As a side note, I always preferred the original cover more so than the Hitchcock Collection cover so if you can find the original with the Psycho house and the Bates silhouette, it makes for a better representation of the DVD as well.