Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho (1990/2013 reissue) Stephen Rebello
Soft Skull Press
Trade paperback, 288 pages
Originally published in 1990 (reissued to coincide with the release of the 2013 film Hitchcock), Rebello’s treatment of the making of Psycho (1960) succeeds in delivering an amazing amount of the behind-the-scenes stories of the film, but offers only a glimpse into the mind of Hitchcock himself. Of course to expect a complete account of Hitchcock in a 288-page book primarily devoted to one work would be foolhardy. Even if we had an Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of __________ book for every movie the director made, I’m still not sure we would really know the man. But perhaps the best way to know the director is to examine him through the films he made, and on that basis alone, Rebello’s work is essential reading.
I must confess to not having seen Psycho until I was in college, over 20 years after its initial release. Even after two decades, the film was still discussed in hushed tones and wisps of secrecy. When I finally did see it, I was astounded, despite the fact that my movie consumption at the time consisted of many horror/slasher films such as Friday the 13th, Terror Train, Happy Birthday to Me, Prom Night and others. It was clear there was an awful lot going on with Psycho, far more than any of the above films even attempted.
The reasons Psycho rose above those films (and continues to eclipse similar ones) are only part of Rebello’s story. Before Psycho, Hitchcock had just come off the successful North by Northwest (1959), but the two films before that (The Wrong Man (1957), Vertigo (1958)) had not done well at the box office. It was a dark time for Hitchcock and things were looking bleak until he discovered a little novel by Robert Bloch called Psycho (1959).
I won’t give away too much about how and why the film was made the way it was, but there’s a reason Psycho was filmed in black-and-white, a reason Hitchcock used (mostly) a television crew rather than a film crew, a reason he shrank away from hiring big-name stars like James Stewart and Cary Grant, and a reason the film shocked audiences.
Rebello provides many quotes from cast (particularly Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins) and crew, as well as from Hitchcock himself. Everything is discussed and examined, from Janet Leigh’s thoughts on nudity to Bernard Herrmann’s infamous score, to the controversy over who really directed the famous shower scene and how it worked. The strategies for the promotion of the film could’ve taken up an entire book and Rebello shows us how Hitchcock’s concepts of showmanship marketing still influence how we see movies today.
For all this, Hitchcock the man remains an enigma. The more we know about him, the more we want to know. Perhaps we learn a little more with the examination of each film, and if so, we need more books devoted to more of Hitchcock’s films. Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho opens that door of insight into the director a bit wider here, but just as soon as we catch a glimpse of the man with the most recognizable profile in movie history, he’s somehow managed to slip around the corner, elusive as water flowing down a shower drain.