Had a conversation recently with a fellow who is mad on science fiction movies. He was telling me that he’d just seen the Keanu Reeves’ starrer The Day the Earth Stood Still. When I suggested he check out the original, he told me he wouldn’t watch it because it was black and white.
I was dismayed. I tried to articulate how much he was robbing himself of some of the best movies ever made by sticking to that edict. I mentioned Citizen Kane, Casablanca, a slew of others, but to no avail. He would not budge.
Having just watched the 50th Anniversary Edition of Psycho, I am kicking myself—I should have mentioned this one straight off the bat.
One of Hitchcock’s most revered classics has just hit the latest home video format, and let me tell ya, if you are like my chum and have some aversion to black and white pictures, this is the one to change your mind.
Believe it or not, Psycho was not well received critically back in 1960. Oh, there were lines around the block, and the film made Paramount and Mr. Hitchcock a bucket load of dough, but the film was accused of everything, from being a moral blemish to a low budget hatch job. But very quickly, in time to be nominated for four Academy Awards no less, critics began to see what the audience—and Hitchcock—did all along.
This genius story, adapted (loosely; very loosely from the Robert Bloch novel of the same name) by Joseph Stefano, follows a beautiful young secretary (Janet Leigh) disillusioned with her life as ‘the other woman’ and her menial job. When an opportune moment to embezzle forty grand presents itself, our secretary begins her journey to destruction. In the middle of nowhere, she happens upon an all but deserted motel, run by a quirky young man with some serious mother issues. Things, as they say, do not turn out so well for our heroine.
This is an incredibly brave story structure to undertake, especially when you consider the time in which it was made. Not only are you getting some very untested subject matters for the day, depicted in disturbing honesty and brutality, but the film takes the unprecedented step of changing character point of views half way through the picture. This is the granddaddy of all murder mysteries that hope to pull the rug right out from under you, and so few have come close to the effect of this film’s double twist. Just when you think you’ve got things figured, Hitchcock completely spins your world not once, but twice. It has never been accomplished like this again, and I doubt it ever will.
Cheap as this production was (the savvy Hitchcock owed Paramount one more movie, so he used his TV show crew to cut major production costs) this film looks anything but cheap. The infamous shower scene has lost none of its effect, nor has Hitchcock’s mastery of tension building. You are never at ease in this film, not from the first shot to the last—that is something the new folk in horror may wish to study more on, instead of relying on a loud jump sound to frighten.
Everything about this movie is first rate, from the writing to the cast to the masterful score by Bernard Herrmann. Anthony Perkins was once asked, after being typecast, if he regretted playing Norman Bates; he succinctly replied “No.” Watch him for one minute and you’ll see why. No actor in the world would leave this earth regretting a performance like that. Janet Leigh was an inspired choice and the reason twist number one succeeds as well as it does. You do not expect her character’s fate. For those of you who have yet to see it, I envy you.
I am going to seek out my buddy, and may tie him to the chair. For those, like my buddy, who may forego a movie based on the lack of colour, I implore you to reconsider. Those who entertain you today owe this film and the man who made it an enormous debt. In this age of digital restoration and high definition, I would dare to suggest this is the best the film has ever looked—and it almost looks like black and white perfection to me.
Available on Blu-ray - October 19, 2010
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; English: DTS 2.0; French: DTS 2.0
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)
The only thing this edition is missing is a commentary by Hitchcock in the afterlife. What a shame the man never lived to see his film like this. You get exhaustive documentaries on the making of the movie and the man himself, Hitchcock; featurettes on the digital restoration of the film, the shower scene, and Saul Bass’s amazing storyboards. You get a commentary by the author of ‘Alfred Hitchcock and the making of Psycho’ and a few other tid-bits. One of my favourites is an episode of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV show.
This is, without exaggeration, one of the most impressive black and white restorations I have seen to date—not quite on par with Warner’s Casablanca, but not far off. For those who are wondering why the hell to watch a penguin coloured movie in high def, this disc will answer it. The fine detail is extraordinary, with its layer of grain intact. Contrast is a thing of beauty and heightens the effect of the movie like never before. They could improve the occasional evidence of aliasing (fancy hi-def talk for distortion) in busy patterns, but it never distracted this viewer too often.
The new DTS HD 5.1 Master Track is a thing of beauty. They have not gone overboard, trying to make the film a contemporary, and have heightened the effect of Herrmann’s brilliant score. Dialogue is crisp and there is no discernable evidence of ye old film hissing distortion. There is also a DTS 2.0 track that replicates the original mono track, for purists.
- The Making of 'Psycho' (SD; 1:34:12)
- 'Psycho' Sound (HD; 9:58)
- In the Master's Shadow: Hitchcock's Legacy (SD; 25:58)
- Hitchcock/Truffaut (Audio; 15:20)
- Newsreel Footage: The Release of 'Psycho' (SD; 7:45)
- The Shower Scene (SD; 2:30)
- The Shower Scene: Storyboards by Saul Bass (SD; 4:10)
- 'Psycho' Archives (SD; 7:48), a collection of publicity stills
- Posters and 'Psycho' Ads (SD; 3:00)
- Lobby Cards (SD; 1:30)
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