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Popcorn & Prejudice: A Movie Blog

Seattle Times writer Moira Macdonald muses on moviegoing. Email Moira: mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

October 22, 2009 at 9:22 AM

Scary Movie Week continues: A look at “Psycho”

Wow . . . lots of great suggestions yesterday and the day before, and I’m sure all of this has nothing to do with the fact that I couldn’t sleep a wink last night. Or maybe it was that snake on the cover of the Times the other day. (To the person who wondered about the French film “With a Friend Like Harry” — yes, it’s very good and very creepy, with Sergi Lopez as a, well, snakelike “friend” who’s clearly too good to be true.)
So yesterday, I was talking to a friend who had never seen “Psycho,” and trying to urge him to watch it for his Halloween scary-movie-night ritual. Not sure if I convinced him, but it’s always fun to think about Hitchcock’s classic. I found a Hitchcock wiki today that had the transcript for a documentary about the making of the film (available on some editions of the DVD) and it was full of interesting tidbits.
On how the plot was kept secret:

Joseph Stefano (screenwriter): Hitch’s feeling about the movie was that it had to be kept secret. That the fun of it, the magic of it would exist in your not knowing the truth about the story. Up until the last moment, you had to believe that the mother was alive. Therefore, he didn’t want me to discuss the script with anybody. Didn’t want anybody talking about it. I don’t think many people knew what we were doing really. My friends knew I was working on a movie with Hitchcock, but they didn’t know what it was. Had no visitors on the set. It was a very closed shop, and that was the way he wanted it.
And he decided that if he spread some rumors about casting the mother in the movie, this would simply solidify it, certainly amongst the Hollywood people. They were the ones he was most worried about… because if they knew what the story was about, then the public would find out. So he did get word around that he was looking for someone to play Anthony Perkins’ mother, and the agents piled on with their suggestions. So it was a hoax that worked to the benefit of the picture and to the benefit of the audience who would ultimately be seeing it.

On Janet Leigh’s body double for (part of) the shower scene:

Hilton Green (assistant director): We were one of the first to ever work with a nude photo double. That was all a secret, hush-hush thing. There were signs on the door, and we never allowed a visitor in.
Joseph Stefano (screenwriter): Hitchcock wanted a nude model because he felt that a person who was naked professionally would be easier to deal with than an actress who had no experience being naked in front of hundreds of people. And he brought in a nude model, a very nice young lady. It was quite charming to see the two of them standing there talking. Hitchcock here and the naked girl there.

On those creepy stabbing sounds:

Janet Leigh: The sound that they used for the stabbing… He had the propman bring different melons, and, you know, he would stab the melons. Mr. Hitchcock wasn’t looking, but he knew what each one was, and he said, “The casaba.”

On the decision to allow no one into the theater after “Psycho” had begun:

Peggy Robertson (assistant to Hitchcock): In New York, some journalists thought, we’ll show this is just a publicity stunt. So they got hold of a woman who was pregnant and coached her what to say to the manager with her so-called husband. He went in and said, “Look, my wife is pregnant, you can see, but she wants to see Psycho. Let us in, now that the picture’s started. Please, sir.” So the manager said, “I’m very happy for you that she’s pregnant, sir, but we can’t allow her in the theater. She’s perfectly welcome to sit in my office until the next program starts, but you can’t come in in the middle of the program.” And that was true. They carried it out. Of course, you had long lines photographed by people, people waiting to get in, which was very good.

And here, just for fun, is the delicious “Psycho” trailer, with Hitch himself giving a tour of the Bates Motel. Watching Hitchcock’s hands alone is almost as much fun as the movie.

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