What can you say about Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho that hasn’t already been said by hundreds…thousands of reviewers?
In his book, The Moment of Psycho: How Alfred Hitchcock Taught America to Love Murder, David Thompson sees the two halves of the film very differently.
Make no mistake, even if the murder occurred halfway through the film, there was a balance in Psycho that required another hour of screen time, an hour that is as fabricated and spurious as the first hour is solid and resonant. –David Thompson
Hmmm. I’ve always been a fan of both halves of the film, but Thompson has made me think.
I’ve seen the film at least 10 times. What makes me come back to it? Hitchcock’s direction? The original camerawork? The famous score? Anthony Perkins? Janet Leigh? The gothic horror? That darn shower?
No, for me I think it’s the misdirection. Hitchcock leads you to believe it’s a movie about one thing and changes gears in a shocking way that shows you it’s really about another.
So what about this misdirection is so appealing?
My theory is that part of me still thinks (not hopes mind you, but thinks) the film is going to be about what it originally sets out to be. This is essentially playing a trick on myself. Like going on a roller coaster repeatedly. You know it’s not going to end with it crashing, but part of you convinces yourself that it still might.
But what would happen in this alternate movie? The first part of Psycho could stay the same, with two exceptions. The wonderful, dramatic Bernard Hermann score would have to go. It could be replaced by heavenly strings and the occasional ahhh’s of an unseen angelic choir. And the movie couldn’t be called Psycho. Of course it couldn’t.
It would be called instead…
Miss Crane’s Private Trap
Let us compare the first four scenes of Psycho and Miss Crane’s Private Trap since they are the same:
Scene One: A Dingy Hotel-Phoenix, Arizona. December 11…2:43 p. m. to be exact.
Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) and her boyfriend Sam Loomis (John Gavin) are putting on clothes and talking in a hotel room after what we presume was a sexual encounter. They act like they are having an affair, but Sam isn’t married, just poor. He has an ex-wife that he pays alimony to and debts incurred from his late father. He lives in the back of his father’s old hardware store in Fairvale. The couple considers breaking up, but decide to work things out despite their financial difficulties. Marion is wearing a white bra and slip in this scene. The bra and slip are not important plot points, just thought I’d mention them.
Scene Two: The Office-Marion is a secretary in a loan office. A client named Mr. Cassidy, a rich oil lease man, has $40,000 cash that he wants her boss to hold for him over the weekend. The boss (Mr. Lowery) is nervous and tells Marion to deposit the money in the bank. Marion decides to go home with a headache, but says she will go to the bank first. At Marion’s apartment, we see a packed bag and the envelope with the $40,000 still in her possession. Marion is wearing a black bra and slip in this scene. The bra and slip are not important plot points; just thought I’d mention them.
Scene Three: The Road-Marion hits the road with the money. Mr. Lowery sees her while he’s crossing the street. She drives and drives far out of town toward Fairvale, where Sam lives. She falls asleep on the side of the rode and a policeman comes to check on her. She acts nervous and guilty before he lets her go on her way. She goes to a used car lot and encounters prolific character actor John Anderson (232 IMDB credits) as California Charlie. She trades in her car and sets back out on the road underneath the suspicious glares of the police officer and California Charlie.
Scene Four: A Dingy Motel-Almost to Fairvale, she encounters bad weather and pulls off the interstate and comes to an out-of-the-way motel, the Bates Motel.
After she pulls in she sees the shadow of an old woman pacing in the window of the big house on the hill, before a tall, gangly, feminine but not bad looking gent named Norman Bates comes down to greet her.
“12 rooms, 12 vacancies” he says.
He checks her into a room. She says she might go to the diner down the road, before deciding not to. Norman invites her to have dinner with him.
“I don’t set a fancy table, but the kitchen’s awful homey! (Norman laughs awkwardly)”
Eating in Norman’s house on the hill is out of the question when his mother yells at him when he goes to prepare supper.
“No, I won’t have you bringing strange young girls in for supper! By candlelight I suppose, in the cheap, erotic fashion of young men with cheap, erotic minds…go tell her she’ll not be appeasing her ugly appetite with my food or my son.”
“Mother isn’t herself today.” Norman says when he returns to her in one of the greatest screen lines in context ever…in Psycho. Of course, In Miss Crane’s Private Trap, it’s just a line.
Norman apologizes for his mother’s faraway outburst after bringing the food down to his office parlor where he basically watches her eat.
Marion talks about her “own private island” (I hear the heavenly choir in the background)
She finds out Norman likes taxidermy (Check it out Marion, a man with a constructive hobby!)
They are getting along well until Marion asks him if he ever considered putting his mother away and Norman gets very agitated.
“People always mean well! They cluck their thick tongues, and shake their heads and suggest, oh, so very delicately!”
But he admits “Of course, I've suggested it myself.”
Norman goes on:
“We’re all in our private traps, clamped in them and none of us can ever get out. We scratch and claw, but only at the air, only at each other and for all of it, we never budge an inch” (Cue heaveanly choir)
Marion returns the thought:
“I stepped into a private trap back there and I’d like to go back and try to pull myself out of it.” (There’s the heavenly…well, you get the picture)
Norman bids Marion goodnight and says he will fix her breakfast in the morning.
After he leaves, she gets ready to take a shower. In Psycho, this is where the film about Marion Crane becomes a film about Norman Bates.
But here is what happens in Miss Crane’s Private Trap:
Marion is beat (as in tired, of course). She decides to not take a shower. She sleeps well and rises early the next day. Norman is already up and serves her breakfast for two: Omelets and Orange Juice. He has someone with him…his mother.
I’m picturing Bette Davis a la Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. No, that’s too creepy. Let's instead cast a pre-Hazel Shirley Booth as Norman's mother.
Mrs. Bates gives Marion the once over, but is still skeptical of her. She does seem to feel sorry her tirade.
Mrs. Bates: “I’m sorry I said that about erotic boys with erotic fantasies.” She stops, but Norman prods her to continue, “And I’m sorry for saying you were trying to appease your ugly appetite with my food or my son. Is that good enough Norman?” Norman smiles smugly, but Mrs. Bates still seems unsure about Marion as she heads back up to the house on the hill. After Norman and Marion have breakfast, Marion leaves. Norman smiles and waves goodbye to her as Shirley Booth scoffs as Marion smiles at Norman and waves back on her way to Arizona.
Back in Phoenix, Marion knows there will be problems. She gives the money back to Cassidy and he doesn’t press charges. Unfortunately, Lowery feels he can no longer trust her and fires her. She’s also short the $700 she paid for the car.
When she finally hears from Sam (We have to keep John Gavin in the film since he’s in the first scene) he is happy that she is safe and unharmed, but upset about her theft. He has a confession to make. He’s going back to his ex-wife.
“Beats paying alimony,” he rationalizes.
“And do I really want to be mixed up with a dame that would steal $40,000?” he goes on to her inevitable tears.
We’d have to have Marion’s sister Lila in the film since she is mentioned early on, but cute little Vera Miles won’t do for Miss Crane’s Private Trap. No, this Lila would have to play a frumpier second banana to Marion.
She’d say things like, “I told you that rattlesnake Sam Loomis wasn’t any good, you just had to give him enough time to shed his skin.”
And when Lila meets Norman she’d have to say something like, “Honey, if you don’t want him leave him for me, we can always lock his mother in the basement!” (This line would have no hidden meaning here, as this is a different movie, remember). Barbara Bel Geddes just played a similar role for Hitchcock in Vertigo. She could be the new Lila. Tart tongued but not too threatening.
Speaking of Norman, against his mother’s wishes, he goes looking for Marion in Phoenix. Marion is still heartbroken over Sam, but Lila talks him into seeing Norman when he finds her. He even brings her an omelet and a glass of orange juice to relive their morning together. She and Norman have lunch, go to the theater, go shopping together…yadda yadda yadda…they develop feelings for each other and eventually fall in love.
There also has to be the obligatory scene where Marion wins over Mrs. Bates. Lets see…Marion could save her life? Maybe. But the real icebreaker is when Marion comes up with some ideas about ways to make the motel profitable and, as luck would have it, the highway is currently being restructured to pass right by the Bates Motel! Business booms. We see a flash of the motel's many customers, including Mr. Cassidy, Mr. Lowery, California Charlie and even the suspicious cop. Mrs. Bates, Norman and Marion seem to be on their way to becoming a happy family.
Meanwhile, things don’t work out for Sam Loomis and his ex-wife. He returns to try to reclaim Marion, but of course she rejects him. And this scenario must end with Sam getting punched in the stomach by Norman’s mother, who tells him to “take his cheap, erotic mind out of Dodge!”
Marion and Norman laugh as mother dusts off her hands as Sam doubles over and Lila cries when she looks at the happy couple.
I see a final shot in the same Phoenix hotel where Sam and Marion were in the first scene. Only now, we have Norman and Marion slipping away from the shower where we see matching towels that say “Mr. Bates” and “Mrs. Bates.”
Maybe we could have some happily swaying stuffed birds thrown in for the final fade out. Then we hear those damn strings and pesky heavenly voices again over the closing credits.
I admit Miss Crane’s Private Trap leaves me kind of cold.
In the second half of Psycho, by contrast, Marion does take a shower…and the rest is movie history.