A Phoenix secretary embezzles $40,000 from her employer's client, goes on the run and checks into a remote motel run by a young man under the domination of his mother.


Peter Bogdanovich: Do you really consider Psycho an essentially humorous film?  

Alfred Hitchcock: Well, when I say humorous, I mean it's my humor that enabled me to tackle the outrageousness of it. If I were telling the same story seriously, I'd tell a case history and never treat it in terms of mystery or suspense. It would simply be what the psychiatrist relates at the end. 

Bogdanovich: In Psycho, aren't you really directing the audience more than the actors?  

Hitchcock: Yes. It's using pure cinema to cause the audience to emote. It was done by visual means designed in every possible way for an audience. That's why the murder in the bathroom is so violent, because as the film proceeds, there is less violence. But that scene was in the minds of the audience so strongly that one didn't have to do much more. I think that in Psycho there is no identification with the characters. There wasn't time to develop them and there was no need to. The audience goes through the paroxysms in the film without consciousness of Vera Miles or John Gavin. They're just characters that lead the audience through the final part of the picture. I wasn't interested in them. And you know, nobody ever mentions that they were ever in the film. It's rather sad for them. Can you imagine how the people in the front office would have cast the picture? They'd say, "Well, she gets killed off in the first reel, let's put anybody in there, and give Janet Leigh the second part with the love interest." Of course, this is idiot thinking. The whole point is to kill off the star, that is what makes it so unexpected. This was the basic reason for making the audience see it from the beginning. If they came in half-way through the picture, they would say, "When's Janet Leigh coming on?" You can't have blurred thinking in suspense.”

Peter Bogdanovich and Alfred Hitchcock in conversation1


Psycho contains two narratives, slipping one under the other, one into the other. This relationship must be conceptualized in order to penetrate to a structural perversion to which Hitchcock opened the way by deciding to "kill the star in the first third of the film." There is, first of all, the story of Marion. The opening scene in the hotel room calls attention to the problematic: marriage; the ensuing theft produces its dramatic effect. This is a weakened version both of Strangers on a Train (as regards marriage, Marion and Sam occupying the place of Guy Haines and Ann Morton, with the third person being a first wife, not yet divorced in Strangers, already divorced in Psycho) and of Marnie (as regards the theft). The story could have various outcomes along its own axis: one of these, the meeting between Marion and Norman, has the ambiguous function of ending the story in order to transform it. The second story, that of Norman, might thus be said to begin when Marion arrives at the motel and to continue, slightly altered (because of the persistent pressure of the first story), to the end of the film. Such, indeed, was the case in the novel by Robert Bloch used as a pretext for the film: Hitchcock immediately broke up the overly simple structure of the book, and later justified this in a singularly underdetermined way.”

In fact, the first part of the story was a red herring. That was deliberate, you see, to detract the viewer's attention in order to heighten the murder. We purposely made that beginning on the long side, with the bit about the theft and her escape, in order to get the audience absorbed with the question of whether she would or would not be caught. Even that business about the forty thousand dollars was milked to the very end so that the public might wonder what's going to happen to the money..
The more we go into the details of the girl's journey, the more the audience becomes absorbed in her flight. That's why so much is made of the motorcycle cop and the change of cars. When Anthony Perkins tells the girl of his life in the motel, and they exchange views, you still play upon the girl's problem. It seems as if she's decided to go back to Phoenix and give the money back, and it's possible that the public anticipates by thinking, "Ah, this young man is influencing her to change her mind." You turn the viewer in one direction and then in another; you keep him as far as possible from what's actually going to happen.

Raymond Bellour2

  • 1Peter Bogdanovich, Alfred Hitchcock, The Cinema of Alfred Hitchcock. (New York: The Museum of Modern Art Film Library, 1963).
  • 2Raymond Bellour, "Psychosis, Neurosis, Perversion," A Hitchcock Reader. (Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 250-263. Edited by Marshall Deutelbaum and Leland Poague.


François Truffaut: De moord op Janet Leigh is ook heel goed gedaan.

Alfred Hitchcock: Het heeft ons zeven dagen gekost om die scène op te nemen, en er waren zeventig camerastanden nodig voor vijfenveertig seconden film. We hadden speciaal voor deze scène een torso laten maken, met bloed dat zogenaamd onder het mes vandaan spoot, maar die heb ik niet gebruikt. In plaats daarvan gebruikte ik een levend meisje, een naaktmodel, als stand-in voor Janet Leigh. We lieten van Janet Leigh alleen handen en hoofd zien. De rest was van de stand-in. Natuurlijk raakte het mes het lichaam nooit, dat alles gebeurde in de montage. Je ziet nergens een verboden deel van het vrouwelijke lichaam want sommige stukjes draaien we in slow-motion, om geen borsten in beeld te krijgen. Die langzame shots werden later niet toch versneld, want eenmaal ingevoegd in de montage gaven ze de indruk van een normale snelheid.

Truffaut: Het is een ongemeen gewelddadige scène.

Hitchcock: Het is de gewelddadigste van de hele film. Naarmate hij vordert is er steeds minder geweld omdat de herinnering aan die beginmoord stand houdt tot aan de meer spannende passages die later komen.”

François Truffaut en Alfred Hitchcock in gesprek1

  • 1François Truffaut, Alfred Hitchcock, Hitchcock/Truffaut (Amsterdam: International Theatre Bookshop, 1988), 235-240. Vertaald door Loes Goedbloed.
UPDATED ON 27.12.2023
IMDB: tt0054215