For a movie to become a classic, it has to survive a gauntlet of slings and arrows hurled by both critics and audiences. It's a rare film that comes through the other side completely unscathed, and those that achieve "classic"status are even more difficult to find. Believe it or not, even the original STAR WARS was not universally beloved. If you're in the mood to have your feelings hurt, take a look at what writers like Michael Moorcock, Harlan Ellison and Frank Herbert had to say about it upon its release in 1977.
This week's artifact is a newspaper review of Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO from 1960. I'm not sharing this because it's an example of especially good writing, but because it's interesting to me to see how people were discussing PSYCHO before it became a such a cultural landmark. Today, the movie's major plot points are a part of our popular culture ... even people who haven't seen PSYCHO can give you a pretty good summary of the movie. Back in 1960, though, the film was still fully loaded with plot twists that needed to be experienced by audiences, but otherwise weren't discussed in polite company.
Hitchcock Has Shocker in "Psycho”
The Cedar Rapids Gazette, Aug. 25, 1960
By Nadlne Subotnik
The cherubic gentleman who has specialized in suspense has the shocker to end them all in "Psycho".
This is not only suspense but plain horror — a film in which Mr. H. has pulled out all stops, fair or unfair, to reduce the public to a pulp.
It's a picture that has stirred up many arguments for and against — and this reviewer hereby lines herself up with the dissenters
There is no question that the film achieves the Hitchcock objectives — to build and maintain spine-tingling intensity.
But the show is psycho in the extreme. "Sick" states the case more succinctly.
It takes the basis (sic) ingredient of the mystery film — couple of murders — and tosses in knives, blood, skeleton and the close-ups of same that have stood Hitchcock in good stead through many a film.
All this it wraps up with a lot of psychiatric mumbo-jumbo. There may be a smattering of scientific truth in all this —probably there is — but it's pretty much lost in the screams and shuffle.
Without fear of spoiling your enjoyment (to use the word loosely) of "Psycho", this much can be told:
A girl (Janet Leigh) who s not exactly as good as she might be — and to whom we are introduced in a shoddy room in half-slip — runs away with somebody else's fortune.
She runs only as far as a motel that is practically vacant. Unfortunately, the owner is still on scene — a seemingly quiet and bashful young fellow (Anthony Perkins).
The place looks like a haunted house. Events that happen there pile shudder on shudder.
The man in the girl's life (John Gavin) comes searching. So does her sister (Vera Miles).
Everyone should have run in the opposite direction.
The gimmick or gimmicks in the film are being carefully guarded. No one is being admitted while the picture is in progress, which is undoubtedly good box-office bait but, in light of all that happens afterward, is also reasonable.
You'd never understand it unless you saw it from the first. And should you see it? I wrap it up by saying you'd best be a grown-up and well-adjusted person if you do—better adjusted, I might add, than this particular viewer!