The Secrecy of Psycho

The Secrecy of Psycho

When it was released in 1960, Psycho was one
of the most controversial films of the day, thanks in part to the surprising (for the
time) depictions of violence and sexuality it contained. In an effort to keep spoilers to a minimum
and thus ensure audiences were as surprised as possible by the film’s more shocking twists
and scenes, Hitchcock went to some rather extreme lengths to keep the film’s basic plot
a secret. For starters, one of the first things Hitchcock
did after reading the original 1959 novel the film was based on- Psycho, by Robert Bloch-
and deciding that he just had to adapt it to film, was charge his assistant with purchasing
as many copies of the book as possible to keep it out of public hands. Exactly how many copies Hitchcock managed
to get his hands on isn’t known, but it is generally thought that he came reasonably
close to purchasing every copy on the shelves at the time. This must have been nice for Bloch, at least
financially, who not only got a little over $9,000 (about $71,000 today) for the movie
rights to the novel, but a nice payout for all the extra copies Hitchcock purchased. Although Hitchcock was positively enamoured
by the novel’s twists and shocking content (which was partly inspired by the killings
of Ed Gein, who also inspired the Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies) Paramount Pictures weren’t. They particularly didn’t like the fact that
Hitchcock’s contract with them only guaranteed he’d do one other film for them. They did not want it to be Pyscho. To try and dissuade Hitchcock from pursuing
the film any further, executives more or less attempted to halt production at every turn,
which only strengthened the director’s resolve. For example, the studio refused to give Hitchcock
his usual budget, offering him just shy of a million dollars instead of the $3 million
and change they’d given him for his previous film, North by Northwest. Rather than scrap the project, as they hoped,
a defiant Hitchcock decided instead to simply film the movie using a television crew mostly
borrowed from his show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and shoot the entire thing in black and white. Hitchcock also managed to secure the film’s
main two actors, Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins, for a fraction of their usual fees saving
tens of thousands of dollars. He also, as a demonstration of his faith in
the project, turned down his normal pay and instead very wisely opted for a percentage
of the film’s ultimate returns, reportedly at a whopping 60%. In a further attempt to get him to scrap the
project in favour of something they deemed better to complete his contract with them,
Paramount Pictures told Hitchcock their sound stages and other such needed equipment were
completely booked, even though they weren’t. Again, Hitchcock was undeterred and moved
production over to Universal Studios. On that note, Paramount’s unwillingness to
commit to the film inadvertently led to their rivals, Universal Studios, making a decent
bit of money. You see, after filming wrapped, Universal
got to keep the Bates Motel set, which became a big draw for fans taking a tour of the studio
lot. In any event, ultimately Paramount gave in
and green-lighted the project, though at this stage not nearly as involved in it as they’d
normally have been. This proved to be a boon to Hitchcock as he
was free from executive meddling. It also allowed him to film on what was essentially
a closed set, helping to insure that no details of the plot leaked. To further make sure of this, Hitchcock made
every member of the cast and crew promise that they wouldn’t talk about the film, its
plot, or twists- rumor has it by making each and every one of them say in front of him
“I promise I shall not divulge the plot of Psycho”. Even after the film was finished, Hitchcock
barred both Leigh and Perkins from giving any interviews concerning it, instead choosing
to promote the film almost entirely by himself. To avoid giving away any potential details
about the plot, Hitchcock promotional efforts focused wholly on alluding to the film’s shocking
twists and content, without giving away any details. For instance, he sent a guide to theatres
instructing them what to do in the event someone had a heart attack while watching the film. This is something Hitchcock would later double
down on at initial screenings by hiring “nurses” to stand around theatre lobbies. Hitchcock also took out a number ads in the
lead up to the film’s release that merely featured an image of himself pointing sternly
at his watch with a statement that said nobody who turned up to the film late would be permitted
to see that showing of it. Other ads, and even a clip at the end of the
film, featured an image of Hitchcock encouraging those who watched it not to spoil the film
for others saying things like,”After you see Psycho, don’t give away the ending, it’s the
only one we have.” and “If you can’t keep a secret, please stay away from people after
you see Psycho.” The final means with which the plot could
potentially be spoiled early was with movie critics. As such, Hitchcock didn’t allow critics to
see an advanced copy, suggesting instead that they watch it on release day like everybody
else. Annoyed critics generally responded by savaging
the film and, as Hitchcock had suspected they would, giving away plot points he’d tried
so hard to protect in their rushed, release day reviews. For example, in their 1960 review of the film,
Variety mentioned that the film contained several “graphically-depicted knife murders”. After the film was a smashing success with
the public, many of the critics who’d initially called the film a schlock, bravely changed
their opinion and began referring to it as a masterpiece of cinema. Paramount similarly forgot all about how they’d
initially tried to can the film before production began and heroically tried to ride Hitchcock’s
coattails after the film proved to be one of the most profitable they’d ever produced
up to that point, grossing about $32 million (about $252 million today) in its initial
run off the ultra-tight budget they’d given Hitchcock. Bonus Fact:
• When it was released, Psycho was somewhat controversial for containing a number of things
that weren’t deemed “acceptable” by the notably prudish standards of the day, including a
shot of an unwed man and woman in bed together, a shot of an uncovered female bottom (which
belonged to Janet Leigh’s body double and was censored in some versions) and perhaps
most hilarious, an image of a toilet being flushed. In fact, Psycho is thought to be the first
movie where a toilet is shown being flushed. The momentous flushing took place just before
Janet Leigh’s character takes a shower and subsequently gets stabbed to death. Another controversy was over Janet Leigh’s
breasts. Although there’s never actually any frontal
nudity present in the film, when censors first viewed a cut of the film, an argument broke
out about whether it was possible to see Janet Leigh’s breast during the shower scene. Hitchcock told the censors he’d edit the scene. A few days later, he sent the exact same cut
to censors , but this time they didn’t complain.

42 thoughts on “The Secrecy of Psycho

  1. And oh my God the number of times Janet Lee gets stabbed on screen. . .

    Zero times; her being actually stabbed is never shown.

  2. Ok I have one after watch a period drama.
    They talk about 10 pounds (money for context) sterling. With a heavy emphasis on the sterling part. Are there other 10 pound money that requires sterling added to clear up confusing from ie 10 pounds copper…?

  3. All those things that Hitchcock did to try and prevent spoilers could have really backfired because those things are important to publicizing the film (or at least they are today). But it didn't stop the film from becoming an all-time classic and a cultural icon. I knew all about the shower scene and a couple other twists long before I even saw the movie for the first time about 10 years ago or so. Also, I hope anyone who is a fan of the movie, or really anyone who is a fan of great television checks out the TV show Bate's Motel. If you don't know, its a prequel tv show about the lead character of the movie Psycho and his mother. It is a really excellent dramatic and thrilling show!!!

  4. That was some cool information. I heard of some but I didn't know it went that deep. LOL. Now "The Birds" that was some messed up stuff Hitchcock did make it more "real". I know to this day I won't watch it and me side-eyeing any flock of birds. LOL

  5. Let us not forget that Janet Leigh embezzled money from her boss in 1960's Phoenix, Arizona. She did it to get out of the heat. You get some great vintage shots of old time, downtown Phoenix. 90% of it is gone.

  6. I like that y'all are flexible with the length of videos. When a topic needs 20 minutes to explain, you make the video that long. When it only needs a couple minutes, you don't needlessly stretch it out to 10 minutes.

  7. Hitchcock buys every copy of the book on the shelves
    The publishers:
    "Man, this book is selling like hotcakes! We need to print way more and get them on the shelves asap!"

  8. I'm a huge fan of Simon from his Biographics channel here on YouTube. Plus I love seminal classic horror films (hence the name). Oh this shall be a treat 😉

  9. How times change in Hollywood. These days, pretty much the whole plot is general knowledge before they even start shooting, and then when the movie comes out, it's not worth watching.

  10. So in addition to going down in history as the incompetent schmuck pains in the ass that they already were for getting in the way of a master like Hitchcock who clearly knows what to shoot and how, Paramount executives also had to pay up… let's see, times six, carry the 1, math math… $19,200,000 dollars (in 1960) to him instead of his usual salary. It's amazing how these studio exec guys historically keep their jobs while being the most incompetent fuckwits of any trade or industry in the world.

  11. Nurses ? Heart attacks ? For this lame old piece of pap.
    Just imagine how a 1960's cinema goer would react to a SAW movie.

  12. Cinemassacre has a great video on the history of the bates motel and psycho house. It has been demolished, rebuilt, moved, altered, etc.

  13. Leave it to Hitchcock to make sh** happen the way he wants it to happen! He would have done well as a mob boss back in the day, lol!

  14. Hitchcock was a genius and an auteur but he was also a total creep. Read:

  15. Please do a video on Thug Behram. All the videos I have found feature narrators with Hindi accents so thick that you can't make out they're saying.

  16. Yeah I remember watching this late at night on the Late Late Show on TV during the summer between 3rd and 4th grade.  All alone, in the dark in the living room.And the first time I ever rented a motel room as an adult, I blocked the door to the room with the tiny table and 2 chairs that were in the room and placed the hand towels on the floor jamming the bathroom door shut, before taking a shower.Obviously, that film had no affect on me at all!   🙂

  17. I prefer several other Hitchcock films over Psycho. Anthony Perkins is just fine but I prefer watching and even rewatching him in Orson Welles’ take on Kafka’s “The Trial”. Perkins as the cross dressing psychopath in “Psycho” bordered on the comedic although there are several commendable scenes. I am not afraid of screen violence yet I am not crazy about the much drooled upon shower stab, stab and stab some more scene, Hershey’s Syrup or no. And the initial setup of Janet Leigh’s motivation for theft seemed long for all it explained. Hitchcock movies I prefer and still watch include: Vertigo, North by Northwest, Secret Agent and Strangers on a Train. Also, I was somewhat surprised that the connection with the French film “Diabolique” was not mentioned in this video. IMDB has details for those interested.

  18. All those first print copies Hitchcock bought up: did he destroy them, or reserve them until after the movie, then release them for sale (even if in used book stores). It would seem a shame to lose first-runs on a memorable work.

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