Thursday, October 28, 2010

DVD Review: Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho: 50th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray)

Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho: 50th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray)

(Released: October 19, 2010 by Universal Studios Home Entertainment)

Another Looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia – Just in time for Halloween!

Okay, let’s “peel back the curtain”(…somebody hadda say it!) and look at Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho: 50th Anniversary Edition.

Stripped (….I guess somebody hadda say THAT, too!) to its basics, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) could be viewed as the story of the WORST “first date” on record. When Marion Crane met Norman Bates.

I’ll not spoil the picture for anyone who has not yet managed to see it. Though at least SOME spoiler hints in the body of this review will be impossible to completely avoid.

Let’s just say that, if you are seeing Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho for the FIRST TIME, you must see it via this spectacular Blu-ray edition. …Oh, and if you are seeing Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho for the HUNDREDTH TIME, you must see it via this spectacular Blu-ray edition. We clear on this? Good!

So, please indulge me, as I “shower” this DVD set with praise. (…Yeah, somebody hadda also say THAT!)

As is our custom in these reviews, we’ll break it into CONS and PROS.
If there are any CONS to this set, I can’t find ‘em! I sent Detective Arbogast out to look for some… but he seems to be …er, “overdue” in reporting back. Hope nothing unfortunate has happened to the poor chap!
I could go on… and on…

The Film: Hitchcock, Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, and a spooky old house and motel. …Who needs more?!

In this Blu-ray presentation, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho has never looked better! There is a newly mixed sound track for this presentation as well. My audio setup is not the most sophisticated, and so I probably cannot fully appreciate this, but even I can notice sounds and effects emanating from different points – or “moving across the screen”.

Cast:Janet Leigh as “Marion Crane”.
Anthony Perkins as “Norman Bates”.
Vera Miles as “Lila Crane”.
John Gavin as “Sam Loomis”.
Martin Balsam as “Detective Arbogast”.
Patricia Hitchcock (Alfred’s daughter) as “Caroline” (Marion’s co-worker).
Mort Mills as “The Highway Patrolman”.
Simon Oakland as “The Psychiatrist”.

Oddly, though it is regarded as Janet Leigh’s film, she… um, “checks out of the Bates Motel” at 49:00 of this 1:49:58 film. So, this film continues for an HOUR after her death, with Anthony Perkins assuming primary focus.
The DVD:
Menus are very attractive, are easy to navigate, and display over portions of the Bernard Herrmann score for Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.

Universal’s Blu-ray product links to the Internet and displays TEXT PROMOS for various Universal media product in the upper right corner of the screen. The information is for currently on-sale DVDs, currently playing theatrical features, etc.

You have the OPTION to explore any of these promos further via video “commercials” …IF YOU WANT TO! Unlike the “Robo-Promos” (which play automatically at the start of a DVD) that I so detest on Warner DVD sets. Universal is to be commended for this approach.
And, the ultimate “PRO” for “Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho: 50th Anniversary Edition” (Blu-ray)…

The Extra Features:

Full-Length Commentary on Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho by film journalist and author of the book “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho” (1990) Stephen Rebello (1:49:58). Rebello offers an amazing commentary, filled with facts and valuable information. Here’s just a sampling:

Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho was made for $800,000, primarily by the television production crew for Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The first half hour of the film (where Janet Leigh drives “on the run” and encounters Mort Mills’ Highway Patrolman) is very similar to the Season Two Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode “One More Mile to Go”, where David Wayne has stashed the body of his murdered wife in his car trunk – and is hounded by a motorcycle cop. The TV episode was ALSO directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

I went back to watch this and, sure enough, the similarities are very much apparent.

This also taps into Alfred Hitchcock’s general “uneasy feeling” about police.

Like the director himself, Alfred Hitchcock’s OWN AUTOMOBILE also played a cameo in the film, driving (not once but TWICE) past the Highway Patrolman.

There was a big “to-do” over the TOILET in Room One of the Bates Hotel (and the unthinkable FLUSHING of same to get rid of evidence) as seen in the film. This was believed to be the first toilet seen in cinema. Certainly, the first flush!

The MONEY, stolen by Marion, was set up to be the focus of the film, but was nothing more than the “MacGuffin”, as Psycho shifts its focus halfway through to the Bates Motel murders and they mystery of the killer.

Alfred Hitchcock, himself, held the knife in the “shower scene”, to get the exact placement he wanted.

Anthony Perkins was performing in a play at the time the “shower scene” was filmed, and a stuntwoman played “Mrs. Bates”.

Alfred Hitchcock wanted the “shower scene” to have NO MUSIC. Composer Bernard Herrmann disagreed, and wrote perhaps the MOST MEMORABLE MUSIC CUE in all of cinema. Can’t you just here those “rough, high strings” now?

Rebello tells of theatre audience reaction: Screams, “Don’t go in there!”, etc. When Norman was cleaning-up the bathroom, after “Mother’s” bloody murder of Marion, an older lady was heard to remark (…with the greatest of unintended irony!) “What a GOOD BOY he is!”

Vera Miles (Lila) was under contract to Hitchcock (and fell out of favor with the director – but got the part anyway), and was in “Revenge” – the first episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Rebello elaborates on the untitled and unadorned BOOK that Lila finds while snooping in suspected murderer Norman’s room. Such books with no markings were usually Victorian Era pornography!

Simon Oakland’s film-ending exposition, as a psychiatrist, was tacked-on to explain or “ground” the film, and get it by the censors of the day. Weird occurrences would follow Simon Oakland from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho to Kolchak the Night Stalker!

Documentary: “The Making of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho” (1997. Length: 1:34:12) A fine “Making Of” piece, detailing all aspects of the production. Contributors include, Janet Leigh, screenwriter Joseph Stefano (whose career later stretched through THE OUTER LIMITS and even into STAR TREK THE NEXT GENERATION), Patricia Hitchcock (who restates that her father was “petrified of police”), author and director Clive Barker, Psycho’s Assistant Director Hilton A. Green, Rita Riggs (Wardrobe), Paul Hirsch (Music Editor), and Peggy Robertson “Personal Assistant to Mr. Hitchcock” – who calls him “Hitchy”!

(DIGRESSION: How great a SIMPSONS joke would “The Hitchy and Scratchy Show” be!)
Additional tidbits include:

To misdirect the media from the actual ending of the film, Hitchcock let it be known that he was conducting a search to cast “Mrs. Bates”.

A music cue from Psycho was used in STAR WARS! (…and even tells us where!)

Ms. Hitchcock quoting her father: “I cannot make this picture in COLOR, because it would be TOO GORY!”

Documentary: “In the Master’s Shadow: Hitchcock’s Legacy” (25:58) How Hitchcock influenced so much that followed. (…like THAT’S news!) Participants include directors Martin Scorsese, William Friedkin, John Carpenter, Eli Roth, Guillermo Del Toro, Hitchcock biographer Donald Spoto, David Sterritt author of “The Films of Alfred Hitchcock”, and many others.

Roth describes “The Birds” being on TV, when he was young, as “an event”. I remember it that way too, on NBC SATURDAY NIGHT AT THE MOVIES, about 1969.

Scorsese, amazingly, describes the fight between “Jake LaMotta” and “Sugar Ray Robinson” in his “Raging Bull” (also shot in black and white) as being based “shot-by-shot” on the shower scene! Where the “[boxing] glove corresponds to the knife!” And the two are overlaid to PROVE IT! How ‘bout that!

Hitchcock/Truffaut: (1962 Audio Only) A fifteen minute interview by Francois Truffaut of Hitchcock. Informative, but annoying – in that both parties require the services of a translator to be understood by the other, and the translator is present (and actively working) throughout the proceedings.

Theatrical Trailer: Alfred Hitchcock takes us on a “light and cheery” tour of the Bates Motel and family house, with upbeat fifties stock music to set the mood! He even introduces “The Toilet”! Be afraid

Re-release Trailers: Several trailers to promote the theatrical re-release of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, emphasizing those particular scenes you would not see on TV. There is some stock footage and recorded verbiage by Hitchcock, with most of the “announcing” load carried by noted television voice Marvin Miller.

I’d wager they were referring to the knife penetrating Marion’s flesh at 47:57, and the glimpse of breast at 47:58 - 47:59. Though, these days, you’d probably see that too.

Newsreel: Footage of the New York opening of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, narrated by (guess who?) Marvin Miller. This feature emphasizes Hitchcock’s policy of “No Admittance once the film has begun”, and is highlighted by the sight of a near-life-size cardboard standee of Alfred Hitchcock, backed in most major venues, by an actual Pinkerton uniformed officer.

The “Alfred Hitch-Cardboard” holds a sign that says the following (Read aloud in the newsreel by the ubiquitous Marvin Miller): “We won’t allow you – to CHEAT YOURSELF! You must see PSYCHO from beginning to end to enjoy it fully.

Therefore, do not expect to be admitted into the theatre after the start of each performance of the feature.”

We say no one – and we MEAN no one – not even the manager’s brother, the President of the United States, or the Queen of England (God bless her!)
How do you not LOVE THAT!

Additional Extras: Photos. Storyboards. Posters, Advertising and Publicity Materials and more. Also a newly produced feature on the remastering of the sound that runs 9:58.

How can you go wrong! It LOOKS great and SOUNDS great! For the first time, I heard Norman (when he is disarmed by Sam at the climax) say “I’M NORMA BATES!” Really, I’ve never heard that “actually spoken” on any of my TV viewings. Yes, there was something there, muffled by the soundtrack – but NOW you can HEAR IT!
The film is magnificent and the extras give more than you could ever hope for. As many of today’s DVD sets seem to “go cheaper” in that regard, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho: 50th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray) stands as a prime example of how great such a package can be!

Get a copy and enjoy -- Halloween or anytime! Tell ‘em Detective Arbogast and I sent you!

Um… Where IS Arbogast, anyway?


Chris Barat said...


Actually, I've heard that King Vidor's film THE CROWD (1928) was the first movie to show a toilet on-screen. That was one of the reasons why L.B. Mayer predicted that Vidor's highly symbolic exploration of the life of a typical "everyman" would get great reviews -- and fail at the box office. Which it did.


Joe Torcivia said...


Ah, but did it show the toilet FLUSH?!

Happy Halloween!


Joe Torcivia said...

Oh, and Chris…

In the 1928 film you cite… Even if there WAS a toilet, and even if it DID flush…

Did anyone HEAR it flush? :-)

Joe (…imagining a TITLE CARD, with the word “FLUSH!”)

Chris Barat said...


Haven't seen the scene in question, so I can't be sure, but I think it was just a camera shot of a toilet. In 1928, that sight was apparently not for the squeamish movie-goer, flush sound or no flush sound.