Filmsite Movie Review 100 Greatest Films
Psycho (1960)
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Plot Synopsis (continued)

Walking back into the shadowy dark parlor and shutting the door behind him, motel manager Norman listens at the wall for sounds in the adjoining Cabin Room 1. Then, he removes one of the nude paintings from a hook [a replica of Susanna and the Elders - in which a nude is assaulted by two male satyrs], revealing a jagged hole chipped out of the wall with a bright peephole in its center [a symbol of feminine sexuality].

When he leans down to peer at Marion through the hole, his eye, in profile view, is illuminated by the light from her bedroom. The camera angle shifts and from Norman's point of view, he sees her undress down to her black brassiere and slip in front of her open bathroom door [a subjective camera placement implicates the audience in his peeping voyeurism].

A gigantic closeup of his large unblinking, profiled eye fills the screen - at precisely the same instant that he is lustfully watching Marion remove her undergarments and become naked. The camera cuts back to Marion as she covers her nude self with a robe and walks out of his/our view. An aroused Norman nervously replaces the picture, glances up to the house (in profile) with his jaw slightly twitching, and then resolvedly walks out. At the door to the office, he again glares up toward the house (in profile) and then begins bounding up the steps to his hillside home. Inside the house, he pauses at the carved staircase, places his hand on the banister post - and then with his hands in his pockets, retreats to the kitchen and sits hunched over the table at an odd angle. He twirls the cover on the sugar bowl. [The schizophrenic camera - or his Mother - voyeuristically watches him - and he appears to sense and realize it.]

In her motel room, Marion begins to reconsider her larcenous crime - she considers repenting and redeeming herself by returning the money. She sits at the room's desk with her First Security Bank of Phoenix bank book (with a balance of $824.12) and a scratch book of paper. She figures out how much she will have left after repaying the $700 she spent on her used getaway car (a paltry $124.12). Then she tears out the piece of paper from the scratch book and rips it up into small pieces. [At this point, it is left unclear whether she has decided to repent (and become clean and innocent again), or whether she changes her mind.]

To hide all evidence, she decides not to use the wastebasket and flushes the shreds down the toilet in the gleaming white bathroom - the noisy flush is emphasized as she watches the pieces circle around the bowl. [This was a convention-breaking taboo - to show a toilet and flush in a mainstream American film. This drain and 'flushing' imagery foreshadows the one of her own blood circling down the shower drain following her death.] She closes the lid on the toilet bowl, shuts the bathroom door, removes the robe from her naked back, drapes the robe over the toilet, steps naked into the bathtub (the camera displays her bare legs), pulls across the translucent shower curtain and prepares to take a shower before retiring - a final soul-cleansing act.

[In the next scene, the classic, brutal shower murder scene, an unexplainable, unpremeditated, and irrational murder, the major star of the film - Marion - is shockingly stabbed to death after the first 47 minutes of the film's start. It is the most famous murder scene ever filmed and one of the most jarring. It took a full week to complete, using fast-cut editing of 78 pieces of film, 70 camera setups, and a naked stand-in model (Marli Renfro) in a 45-second impressionistic montage sequence, and inter-cutting slow-motion and regular speed footage. The audience's imagination fills in the illusion of complete nudity and fourteen violent stabbings. Actually, she never really appears nude (although the audience is teased) and there is only implied violence - at no time does the knife ever penetrate deeply into her body. In only one split instant, the knife tip touches her waist just below her belly button. Chocolate syrup was used as 'movie blood', and a casaba melon was chosen for the sound of the flesh-slashing knife. -- Play clip (excerpt): Psycho]

The infamous scene begins peacefully enough, although the sound effects are exaggerated. She opens up a bar of motel soap, and turns on the overhead shower water - from a prominent shower head nozzle (diagonally placed in the upper left) that sends arched needles of spray over her like rain water. There in the vulnerable privacy of her bathroom, she begins to bathe, visibly enjoying the luxurious and therapeutic feel of the cleansing warm water on her skin. Marion is relieved as the water washes away her guilt and brings energizing, reborn life back into her. Large closeups of the shower head, that resembles a large eye, are shot from her point-of-view - they reveal that the water bursts from its head and pours down on her - and the audience. She soaps her neck and arms while smiling in her own private world (or "private island") - oblivious for the moment to the problems surrounding her life.

With her back to the shower curtain, the bathroom door opens and a shadowy, grey tall figure enters the bathroom. Just as the shower curtain completely fills the screen - with the camera positioned just inside the tub, the silhouetted, opaque-outlined figure whips aside (or tears open) the curtain barrier. The outline of the figure's dark face, the whites of its eyes, and tight hair bun are all that is visible - 'she' wields a menacing, phallic-like butcher knife high in the air - at first, it appears to be stab, stab, stabbing us - the victimized viewer! The piercing, shrieking, and screaming of the violin strings of Bernard Herrmann's shrill music play a large part in creating sheer terror during the horrific scene - they start 'screaming' before Marion's own shrieks. [The sound track resembles the discordant sounds of a carnivorous bird-like creature 'scratching and clawing' at its prey.] Marion turns, screams (her wide-open, contorted mouth in gigantic close-up), and vainly resists as she shields her breasts, while the large knife repeatedly rises and falls in a machine-like fashion.

The murderer appears to stab and penetrate into her naked stomach, shattering her sense of security and salvation. The savage killing is kinetically viewed from many angles and views. She is standing in water mixed with ejaculatory spurts of blood dripping down her legs from various gashes - symbolic of a deadly and violent rape. She turns and falls against the bathtub tiles, her hand 'clawing and grasping' the back shower wall for the last shred of her own life as the murderer (resembling a grey-haired woman wearing an old-fashioned dress) quickly turns and leaves. With an unbloodied face and neck/shoulder area, she leans into the wall and slides, slides, and slides down the wet wall while looking outward with a fixed stare - the camera follows her slow descent.

In a closeup, Marion outstretches her hand (toward the viewer), clutches onto the shower curtain and yanks it down from its hooks (one by one) upon herself as she collapses over the edge of the bathtub - her face pitches forward and is awkwardly pressed to the white bathroom floor in front of the toilet. She lies bleeding on the cold, naked floor, with the shower nozzle still spraying her body with water [the soundtrack resembles soft rainfall].

The camera slowly tracks the blood and water that flows and swirls together counter-clockwise down into the deep blackness of the bathtub drain - Marion's life, or diluted blood, has literally gone down the drain. The drain dissolves into a memorable closeup - a perfect match-cut camera technique - of Marion's dead-still, iris-contracted [a dead person's iris is not contracted but dilated], fish-like right eye with one tear drop (or drop of water). The camera pulls back up from the lifeless, staring eye (freeze-framed and frozen at the start of the pull back), spiraling in an opposite clockwise direction - signifying release from the drain. [The association of the eye within the bottomless darkness of the drain is deliberate, as is the contrast between Norman's 'peeping tom' eye and Marion's dead eye. Her eye is slightly angled upward toward where Norman was positioned.]

On the soundtrack gushing shower water is still heard. The camera pans from Marion's face past the toilet and into the bedroom for a zoom close-up of Marion's folded-up newspaper on the nightstand. The bedstand also supports an empty ashtray and erect lampstand with a circular base. The camera continues to pan over along the flowery wall-papered wall to the open window where the house is visible. From there, Norman's voice is heard crying:

Mother! Oh, God! Mother! Blood! Blood! -- Play clip (excerpt): Psycho

[From a common-sense point-of-view, how could Norman have known?]

Norman scrambles down the hill to the scene of the crime in Cabin one, accompanied by the shrill music once again. At the bathroom door after viewing the curtain-less shower and the dead body, he turns away and cups his hand to his mouth, revulsed and nauseated by the horrific scene and possibly stifling a scream - and 'knocking off a bird' picture from the wall [Norman has literally knocked off a 'bird'].

He regains his composure, closes the open window, sits shaking in a chair, and then closes the cabin's door - camera angles often include the newspaper. He turns out the light, leaves the room, pauses outside, enters his motel office, and then shuts off the lights after closing the door behind him. [Hitchcock lingers on a view of the closed and darkened motel office door from the outside - note that the shadow of the roof overhang on the door's window forms the deathly silhouette of a guillotine blade-wedge!]

Dutifully, he re-appears from the office, carrying a mop and pail to methodically clean-up following the murder. [The audience is left with sympathetically identifying with the devoted, dutiful, automaton son who is once again cleaning up the mess and covering up for his misguided, insane mother's behavior. Clearly, the murder is not motivated by a lust for money.] He enters the bathroom, turns off the shower water, and then spreads out the shower curtain on the floor of the bedroom. He drags Marion's limp/nude corpse to the curtain and afterwards shows off his 'dirty' hands to the camera on this "dirty night." [Subjectively, his hands are really the audience's hands.] He washes his hands in the sink - blood and water again swirl down the drain. He rinses the sink clean of blood and then obsessively swabs and wipes up every trace of the bloody murder in the bathroom with the mop, after which he dries everything with a towel. He drops his towel and mop into the empty bucket at the conclusion of the laborious, ritualistic process.

Norman tiptoe-edges around her body as he goes outside to back Marion's car (and trunk) closer to the room's door. Then, he wraps her up in the plastic curtain [rolling and bundling her up like the money in the newspaper in the make-shift shroud], carries her over the door's threshold (!) and onto the porch, and places the corpse in the trunk of her car. He straightens up the bird picture that had fallen to the floor, packs up her few belongings, and also tosses them in the car. The final lingering trace of Marion and another crime - her folded newspaper concealing the money - is the last thing found in the room. Without looking inside, he non-chalantly tosses it into the car trunk and slams it shut. He drives off - a camera closeup of the car's rear end reveals its license plate - NFB 418 [signifying 'Norman F Bates' - the F represents Francis, a reference to St. Francis, patron saint of birds] and drives to a nearby, bordering swamp-hole filled with quicksand.

He gets out and pushes the light-toned car into the dark thick morass of waters to submerge the evidence, watching nervously and nibbling as it slowly gurgles lower and lower into the muck. He cups his hands in front of his chin, fearful that it won't sink entirely. The car sinks only part way in - and then halts. Norman, looking remarkably like a scared bird, darts his head around anxiously. Then he grins approvingly when it is finally swallowed up - again down a drain of sorts - by the blackness. He is relieved that the evidence is covered up. [Audience identification shares Norman's relief.] The scene fades to black.

[A week later, on Saturday, December 19]

On his own hardware store letterhead, Sam handwrites a letter to Marion:


Dearest right-as-always Marion:
I'm sitting in this tiny back room which isn't big enough for both of us, and suddenly it looks big enough for both of us. So what if we're poor and cramped and miserable, at least we'll be happy.
If you haven't come to your senses, and still...

The camera pans from Sam seated in the cramped back room at the desk out into the wide-open space of the hardware store, where scythes, rakes and other tools hang overhead. A clerk is assisting an elderly customer who complains about poor-quality insecticides that do not specify if death is painless for the crawling victims ("Death should always be painless") - she decides on buying an effective brand called SPOT. [The famous last line of the film is recalled: "Why, she wouldn't even harm a fly!"]:

So far of those I've used, I haven't had much luck with any of them. Well, let's see what they say about this one. They tell you what it's ingredients are, and how it's guaranteed to exterminate every insect in the world, but they do not tell you whether or not it's painless. And I say, insect or man, death should always be painless.

A blonde woman enters the store's front door, asking for Sam and introducing herself as "Marion's sister" Lila (Vera Miles) - she is strikingly similar in appearance. She is concerned that Marion has disappeared and hasn't been heard of for a week: "She left home on Friday. I was in Tucson over the weekend. And I haven't heard from her since, not even a phone call." She suspects that Sam has something to do with Marion's strange disappearance:

Look, if you two are in this thing together, I don't care, it's none of my business, but I want to talk to Marion and I want her to tell me it's none of my business and then I'll go...

While she blames him for Marion's troubling disappearance, a private detective and investigator enters the store. Milton Arb- O - gast (Martin Balsam), hired by Marion's employer, has been following Lila and watching them from outside the store's door. He suggests that they "all talk about Marion." His interest in the case is that he has been commissioned to search for and recover the missing funds: "$40,000...your girlfriend stole $40,000." Lila explains to Sam what Arbogast is referring to: "She was supposed to bank it on Friday for her boss and she didn't, and no one has seen her since." Arbogast is sure that the money makes Marion very conspicuous: "Someone has seen her. Someone always sees a girl with $40,000." Lila reassures Sam that: "they don't want to prosecute. They just want the money back." Sam disavows any knowledge of Marion's whereabouts, and Lila explains that she is there on a hunch: "All I want to do is see Marion before she gets in this too deeply." Arbogast maintains that Marion was seen leaving Phoenix in her own car by her employer, and suspects she is somewhere closeby. He infers that "boyfriend" Sam may have conspired with Marion to rob her employer:

You know, we're always quickest to doubt people who have a reputation for being honest. I think she's here, Miss Crane. Where there's a boyfriend...Well, she's not back there with the nuts and bolts but she's here in this town somewhere. I'll find her.

[A Few Hours? of Investigation that same Saturday]

In a montage of short scenes, Arbogast questions and canvasses a series of hotel, motel and boarding house managers over an indeterminate period of time, and eventually pulls up to the Bates Motel - a place Arbogast believes is "hiding from the world" because its neon sign is off, according to Norman: "It just doesn't seem like any use any more, you know?" Norman is on the porch, nibbling on candy from a bag. He announces the familiar: "twelve cabins, twelve vacancies." Although the motel hasn't had visitors, Norman explains how it's "linen day...I hate the smell of dampness, don't you? It's such a, I don't know, creepy smell."

After being invited into the motel office, the detective explains he is looking for a "missing person": "I've been trying to trace a girl that's been missing for oh, about a week now, from Phoenix. It's a private matter. The family wants to forgive her. She's not in any trouble." The fast-talking, slick, probing and smug Arbogast (with the back of his figure reflected in the office's mirror) shows Norman her picture, and asks the ironic question [suggesting Norman's ultimate fate]: "Would you mind looking at the picture before committing yourself?" Norman replies: "Commit myself? You sure talk like a policeman."

I don't even much bother with, uh, guests registering anymore. You know, one by one, you drop the formalities. I shouldn't even bother changing the sheets but old habits die hard.

Because Norman appears to be uncomfortably evasive, inconsistent, self-incriminating and halting in his replies and insists no one stayed in the motel for a couple of weeks - but then contradicts himself - Arbogast asks to see the register to discover if Marion Crane used an alias. (Norman chews nervously on candy, almost bird-like. From a low camera angle, his adam's apple moves up and down his giraffe-like throat while awkwardly stretching to look at the register.) Arbogast proves that Marion stayed at the motel by matching her signature to the "Marie Samuels" signature in the book - after Norman denied that he had any recent guests.

Norman: Is that her?
Arbogast: Yeah, I think so. Marie (Marion) Samuels (her boyfriend's name is Sam)

In their famous interrogation scene, the dialogue is overlapped to make Arbogast's skillful questioning even more intimidating. Norman becomes defensive when he realizes he is trapped and intruded upon - he starts to nervously stutter and stammer more profusely. Norman finally changes his story for the detective - he remembers Marion as an overnight guest at the motel (with a late arrival and early departure), and her dinner of a sandwich in the parlor:

Arbogast: Was she is disguise, by any chance? Do you want to check the picture again?
Norman: Look, I-I wasn't lying to you, mister.
Arbogast: Oh, I know that, I know you wouldn't lie.
Norman: You know, it's tough keeping track of the time around here...Oh yeah. Well, it, it was raining, and um, her hair was all wet. I'll tell ya, it's not really a very good picture of her either...Well, um, she arrived rather late one night and she went straight to sleep and uh, left early the next morning...Oh, very early...the, um, the, the, the, next morning. Sunday...
Arbogast: I see. Did anyone meet her here?...Did she arrive with anyone?...Did she make any phone calls or...locally?...Did you spend the night with her?...Well then, how would you know that she didn't make any phone calls?...
Norman: Uh, well she was very tired, and uh, see, now I'm starting to, uhm, remember it. I'm making a mental picture of it in my mind...she was, she was sitting back there, no, no, she was standing back there with a sandwich in her hand and she said, uh, she had to go to sleep early, because she had a long dr-drive, uh, ahead of her...back where she came from...yes, back in my, uh, in my parlor there, uh, she was very hungry, and I made her a sandwich. And then she said, uh, that she was tired and she, uh, uhm, had to go right to bed.

Norman tries to excuse himself by claiming he has work to be done, but Arbogast believes Norman is hiding something:

...if it doesn't gel, it isn't aspic, and this ain't geling. It's not coming together, something's missing.

Norman suggests that Arbogast follow him and join him while he changes the beds - Arbogast observes Norman stop, pause, and then bypass the first cabin room. Looking up at the Victorian house on the hill behind the motel, Arbogast becomes even more curious when he spots a figure in the window - he suspects that Marion might be using Norman to "gallantly" hide her - in exchange for sex, and that Marion may have 'met' Norman's mother:

Arbogast: Is anyone at home?
Norman: No.
Arbogast: Who is? There's somebody sitting up in the window.
Norman: No, no, no there isn't.
Arbogast: Oh sure, go ahead, take a look.
Norman (stumbling terribly on the words): Oh, oh, that, that must be my mother. She's, she's uh, an inv-invalid. Uh, it's, ah, practically like living alone.
Arbogast: Oh, I see. Well, now if this, uh girl, Marion Crane were here, you wouldn't be hiding her, would ya?
Norman: No.
Arbogast: Not even if she paid you well?
Norman: No, ha, ha.
Arbogast: (in a provoking tone) Let's just say for the uh, just for the sake of argument that she wanted you to, uh, gallantly protect her. You'd know that you were being used. You wouldn't be made a fool of, would ya?
Norman (angrily): But, I'm, I'm not a fool. And I'm not capable of being fooled. Not even by a woman.
Arbogast: Well, this is not a slur on your manhood. I'm sorry...
Norman: Let's put it this way. She might have fooled me, but she didn't fool my mother.
Arbogast: Oh, then your mother met her. Could I, could I talk to your mother?
Norman: No, as I told you, she's, she's confined.
Arbogast: Yes, well, just for a few minutes, that's all. There might be some hint that you missed out on. You know, sick old women are usually pretty sharp...

To refuse the detective's request for an interview with his mother and to dismiss him, Norman insists abruptly that Arbogast leave. As Norman watches Arbogast drive off, Norman's face is cut in half by light and darkness. Arbogast drives to a nearby telephone booth by the road and closes himself within the bird-caged-like booth. He telephones Sam Loomis and asks to speak to Lila. He confirms that Sam was innocent of Marion's whereabouts by summarizing what he found at the old Bates Motel - Marion was a guest there the previous Saturday night and probably stayed in cabin number one - and the boyish manager knows more than he is telling:

I'll just have to pick up the pieces from here. Well, I'll tell ya, I don't feel entirely satisfied.

He then explains how he plans to return to the motel immediately to try to talk to the manager's mother. Arbogast expects to report back to them in about an hour.

Back at the motel, Norman leaves the office and walks down the long L-shaped porch walkway in front of the rooms - the motel is dominated by the house on the hill. He disappears into the shadows as Arbogast's car drives up one more time. The detective calls out "Bates?" [baits?] and then snoops in the empty motel office and the parlor, noticing the birds adorning the walls and an empty safe. He leaves the office and ascends the hill to the old, dark house.

He quietly enters the front door, deferentially removes his hat, and then stands for a moment in the foyer before beginning to climb up the long steep staircase to the second floor. With Hitchcock's trademark tracking shots, the camera follows his footsteps from behind and then shifts to a backwards tracking, high-angled shot of him as he ascends the stairs. At the top landing, a crack of light appears on the floor through the slowly opening door of a bedroom. As he reaches the top step, the camera shifts to an overhead shot and the shrill, screeching music commences to preface the fearfully-exciting sequence.

In one of the most horrific murder scenes in film history, Arbogast is frighteningly attacked at the top of the stairs, in a bird's eye-view overhead shot, by a knife-wielding "old lady" emerging from the bedroom off to the right. He is slashed to death across the forehead and left cheek. Blood spurts as he stumbles, then loses his balance with his arms flailing outwards, and falls backwards down the entire flight of stairs to the oriental rug-covered floor. The woman pursues after him and flings herself on top of him - the gigantic butcher knife goes up into the air for another series of slashing blows before the scene fades to black.

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