Happy 50th, Psycho. You're Not the Best Hitchcock Film. Love, Movieline

Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock's final black-and-white film and his most hailed overall, turns 50 today. God love the spooky thing! It's stark, slick, and full of chilling nuances that came to define highbrow horror cinema, but the abject popularity of Psycho always had more to do with its explosive release in 1960 than its place in the Hitchcock canon. Filmgoers were famously shocked by the the early death of the marquee star, not to mention the revelation of Norman Bates's true character at the movie's climax, but while those qualities are fun, they don't make for Hitchcock's greatest film. In fact, when you break down most of Psycho's best assets, you realize that other Hitch movies did them better, smarter, and cooler. Join us as we hack at Psycho and defend the Master of Suspense's other works for all eternity.

Creepy Villain

From Psycho: Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins)

Bested By: Shadow of a Doubt's Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten)

Oedipal, cross-dressing murderers don't come up in the movies every day, to be sure -- our dimpled motel clerk will always own that cachet. Still, Norman Bates is just too creepy the minute we meet him, too obviously a cloistered weirdo with antisocial tendencies. Hitchcock's best villain will always be Shadow of a Doubt's Uncle Charlie, the beloved uncle of Teresa Wright's young Charlie. His jovial demeanor and winsome facade mask his villainy in a way that feels truer to life. Even at the end of his career, Hitchcock considered Shadow of a Doubt his favorite movie -- with police-evading Uncle Charlie cementing the preference.

Nervy Hitchcock Blonde

From Psycho: Marion Crane (Janet Leigh)

Bested by: Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelly) from Rear Window

In the half hour or so that Psycho's viewership enjoys Marion Crane, she's an unflinching secretary making off with stolen money. She's bad, she knows it, and she's being set up for fatal comeuppance in a scandalously vulnerable state. We find more surprising (and less moralized) brass in Rear Window's Lisa Fremont, thanks to Grace Kelly's finest performance. While Marion Crane's trickster ways are used to offset Norman's innocence, Lisa Fremont is a society girl who discovers her scheming instincts in one inspired scene. As she searches in the garden outside the apartment of L.B. Jeffries (James Stewart) for clues to a neighbor's disappearance, Lisa hastily decides to climb into the suspected murderer's home, making her an active part of Jeff's voyeuristic fixation. Lisa's choice to be watched, captivating, and brazen is so self-motivated and cool, not to mention sexual; in that moment, she proved how commanding her subversive smarts could be. She invented Madonna.


Gripping Death Scene

From Psycho: Shower scene

Bested by: Frenzy's first strangulation

I could've thrown in Dial M for Murder's 3D scissor bonanza too, but Frenzy's Boston Strangler death scenes are so fraught with tension that you don't breathe for the minutes they go on. Psycho's infamous shower spectacle is aided by a great score and dozens of camera angles, but it hasn't aged as well -- the slow-moving knife looks downright campy. Frenzy introduces a murderer in the form of a character we already know, and he's a freakishly verbal rapist to boot. Most chilling of all? There's no music during this scene. This is far more sophisticated than the untimely visit from the taxidermist's mother.

Sinister Residence

From Psycho: The Bates Motel

Bested by: Manderley from Rebecca

Speaking of camp, Rebecca is practically begging for midnight showings at arthouses. (Maxim de Winter's sneer? Mrs. Danvers's predatory homosexuality? Joan Fontaine's constant bleats?) The grandeur and caricatures of Rebecca's key residence, an overgrown manse called Manderley, comprise an eerie tableau of unrest and secrecy, and while the Bates Motel makes an attractive theme park spectacle, is it anything more than the creepy house on the hill? Even though one of its tenants is mother's petrified corpse, I'd say no. Manderley is the real estate manifestation of Shadow of a Doubt's Uncle Charlie -- we don't truly understand its terror until we're already in its thrall. Look out for the ship's tackle, Joan!


From Psycho: Bernard Herrmann's staccato violin masterpiece

Bested by: N/A

Fine, I won't argue for The Man Who Knew Too Much's Oscar-winning "Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)" to be contrarian. You win this time, Bernie.

Overall Film

Psycho: Wonderful! A stunning classic!

Bested by: Notorious, Rear Window, Vertigo, North by Northwest

In order: Notorious is one of the first films ever to perfect intrigue; Rear Window takes a simple voyeuristic conceit and elevates it to high art (while still giving us the funniest one-liners in Hitch history), Vertigo is a Mobius strip of confusion and desire, and North by Northwest is the best caper of the 1950s. Psycho is... a really good time and worth two big scares. And the final scene with Anthony Perkins in the asylum is exceptional. You win too, Tony.


  • Christopher Rosen says:

    I'll make an argument for the North by Northwest score. Or at least the main titles. That singular piece might be Herrmann's best because not only of its perfect grandeur, but because it was the forebearer of every John Williams/Steven Spielberg score -- ever. It doesn't get much better.
    And not that we care, but for my money, North by Northwest is Hitch's best, followed every so closely by Grace, Jimmy and Rear Window.

  • CiscoMan says:

    In addition to North by Northwest's main titles, the train conversation piece is wonderful.
    Also, my personal Hitch fave, Notorious, has the best ending of any of his films.

  • thighmaster says:

    PSYCHO is his best. there's no argument. although STRANGERS ON A TRAIN is my favorite

  • NP says:

    But wouldn't you say that more often Lisa is Jeffries' physical body while his is incapacitated? I may not be remembering so well because I haven't watched _Rear Window_ in years. I'll concede that she discovers something about herself by taking matters into her own hands, but I remember a lot of her doing what she's told to do, a lot of looking toward Jeffries' window to make sure she's on the right track, doing the right thing, the thing(s) that Jeffries wants her to do but cannot do himself. I guess I have to rent it now!

  • "The cities are full of women, middle-aged widows, husbands, dead, husbands who've spent their lives making fortunes, working and working. And then they die and leave their money to their wives, their silly wives. And what do the wives do, these useless women? You see them in the hotels, the best hotels, every day by the thousands, drinking the money, eating the money, losing the money at bridge, playing all day and all night, smelling of money, proud of their jewelry but of nothing else, horrible, faded, fat, greedy women... Are they human or are they fat, wheezing animals, hmm? And what happens to animals when they get too fat and too old?"
    Uncle Charlie FTW.

  • SunnydaZe says:

    And what happens to Smurfs when they get too fat and too old?
    Gargamel eats them.

  • Louis Virtel says:

    Yes! And the moment I'm speaking about is the time she self-actualizes.

  • Louis Virtel says:

    You mean, besides the arguments presented? And other arguments not mentioned? There are arguments!

  • DarkKnightShyamalan says:

    I agree with much of this. Psycho hasn't aged nearly as well as most of Hitchcock's films. The floating-heads car reverie has been spoofed so many times it's hard to take seriously, and the lengthy psychobabble denouement is a low point in cinema history.
    But Rebecca, Rear Window, Shadow of a Doubt, Strangers on a Train -- masterpieces.
    And North by Northwest is just plain the best movie of all time.

  • Dimo says:

    North By Northwest is such a masterpiece, they should add Hitchcock's profile to Mount Rushmore.

  • Emotionally Retarded says:

    I was never a great fan of Psycho, and much as I love North by Northwest, I think it's a little too long (as is Rebecca). I'll take Notorious, Strangers on a Train, Shadow of a Doubt. But Janet Leigh in Psycho is my favorite of the Hitchcock blondes; she brings a warmth to the early scenes that the movie really needs, and it's probably her best performance. Grace Kelly's line readings in Rear Window are too arch.

  • SaltySue says:

    I really didn't care for Grace Kelly in Rear Window in fact Rear Window is one of my least favorite Hitchcock films. I much prefer Janet Leigh in Psycho. You also seem to have forgotten that the part of Marion is small, and she is only in the the first 1/4 of the film. The part of Lisa is a much larger and Grace only (dimly) shines in one scene.
    I might even say Rear Window is the Hitchcock film that hasn't aged well the most. The connection to the plot and characters is lost over the generations. In the 1950s, during the Red Scare it was considered patriotic to spy on your neighbors, nowadays you'll be thrown in jail for that. However, just because a film has not aged well doesn't mean it's not enjoyable to watch.
    The reason Psycho is still the go to guy for Hitchcock films is because it was daring for it's time. One could argue that the Exorcist hasn't aged well either in terms of what horror films are allowed to get away with these days but it is still regarded as one of, if not the best horror film because of how daring it was for 1970s film, in fact it ushered in many of the modern day horror films just as Psycho did with psychological thrillers.
    Jaws may not be Spielberg's greatest film but no one can deny the impact it had film and the same can be said for Psycho. That is why they are positioned so highly. Hitchcock's other films didn't have such impact, however great they may be, and most of them are great.

  • Emotionally Retarded says:

    "Hitchcock's other films didn't have such impact?" Wow, I would say The 39 Steps has been copied again and again -- even by Hitchcock himself in North by Northwest. And that's just one example. The Lady Vanishes, Shadow of a Doubt, Strangers on a Train, The Lodger, even The Birds influenced a number of filmmakers. And The Exorcist is regarded as the best horror film by whom? No one I know.

  • elsie says:

    I vote for Vertigo as having the best score in a Hitchcock film, hands down. If you don't believe me, watch the scene again where Jimmy Stewart first trails Kim Novak into the museum and finds her looking at the painting. That score plays as much part in the film as any character.

  • saltySue says:

    Of course Hitchcocks films have inspired other filmmakers, most classic films usually inspire future filmmakers, and several of his films have classic scenes. However, none of his other films are iconic in the way Psycho is. Film buffs and non-film buffs all know that Bernard Hermann score and shower scene. That is almost undebateable.
    I've seen The Exorcist as #1 on a few "greatest horror films" list, so that where I draw my conclusion.

  • Nice choice of words. Let's see what happens.

  • I will be back for the next installment although ome of these comments are killing me.