Did you know that Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 masterpiece PSYCHO is technically a Christmas film?
The opening title card tells us the date is Friday, December The Eleventh, Two Forty Three PM. So the entire movie takes course over the middle week of the holiday season! If anything, it’s just another reason to revisit PSYCHO today. But here are a few fun tid-bits about that opening scene, which hopefully all you diehard PSYCHO-phants already know!
– From the audio commentary track, author Stephen Rebello explains that the opening shot was originally intended to be the longest dolly shot ever attempted at the time, even rivaling the opening one from Orson Wells’ 1958 classic TOUCH OF EVIL – A 4-mile-long continuous shot – but at that time, helicopter shots were rather complicated, so although there are cuts and it wasn’t exactly what Hitchcock had planned, it’s still an impressive way to open the movie.
– From Rebello’s book ALFRED HITCHCOCK AND THE MAKING OF PSYCHO, set designer Robert Clatworthy explains why the movie opens in December. When Hitchcock looked over the second unit footage intended to be used as plate shots, he noticed Christmas decorations hanging in the streets, something that even I, having seen the movie a hundred times have never spotted before. The director was always adamant about not letting the audience outsmart him, so he added the date at the opening to explain those barely noticeable street decorations.
– Hitchcock was frustrated that the chemistry between actors John Gavin and Janet Leigh wasn’t working, and he tended to blame it on Gavin, so he pulled Leigh aside and said to the seasoned actress, “I fear I’m not getting the passion I want in this scene. So can you… do… something.” He was slyly instructing her to take the lead.
– You’ll notice that in this opening sequence, Marion Crane wears a white bra signifying her innocence before her crime. Once she steals the money, we later see her in a black bra.
– There were of course issues with censors regarding the sexual nature of this opening scene. Hitchcock offered to reshoot the scene with someone from the board present on set to make sure he didn’t cross the line with what is considered acceptable. And although the reshoot was scheduled, the censor never showed up and it was never reshot. A recreation of this humorous story is depicted in the 2012 movie HITCHCOCK.
– The first scene that screenwriter Joseph Stefano was asked to pen was this opening motel scene between Marion and Sam Loomis, which was turned in on a weekend. That next Monday, when asked for his thoughts, Hitchcock replied “Alma loved it,” referencing of course, his wife and collaborator, which was considered a tremendous compliment coming from the master.
Let’s watch that opening scene below. And if you own the Blu-Ray or DVD of PSYCHO, break it out and celebrate the anniversary of the date the movie starts on!