Psycho (1960)

"AAAAAAH!" I'm paraphrasing, of course.

“A boy’s best friend is his mother.”

Quite a departure from the types of movies I usually review, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is one of my top five favorite films and (in my humble opinion) undeniably the best horror/thriller ever made.

What makes this film so incredible is that it completely shattered the tradition of the typical thriller. It starkly and chillingly portrays insanity; which, at the time of its release, was not something ordinarily done. Yet again, Hitchcock relies on suspense, not gore, to shock the audience. He intelligently sets up relationships, motivations, situations…and then demolishes it all. It is a brilliant and utterly original film.

Psycho was released in 1960, eight years before the end of the Hays Code (or the Motion Picture Production Code). For those of you who don’t know, the Code basically established what could and couldn’t be portrayed in American films. I’m not going to list every do and don’t; I’ll just give the three main principles:

1. No picture shall be produced that will lower the moral standards of those who see it. Hence the sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil or sin.

2. Correct standards of life, subject only to the requirements of drama and entertainment, shall be presented.

3. Law, natural or human, shall not be ridiculed, nor shall sympathy be created for its violation.

As you can see, these were pretty strict rules. That’s not to say they weren’t good ones; only about one-tenth of the films that are released nowadays would pass the Code. The code was abandoned in ’68, in favor of the new MPAA ratings system (Psycho was re-rated M in 1968, and re-re-rated R in 1984).

Hitchcock filmed the movie in black and white, because, in color, “it would have been too gory”. There were a few shots that were left on the cutting room floor, as well as some lines that were found offensive. It’s really quite an event that this movie passed the Code. It’s not horrible, and quite tame when compared to any horror film made after Night of the Living Dead (1968), which is often credited as the main reason for the MPAA ratings system. Still, though, for audiences in 1960, it was shocking.

The ending, which I will not reveal here, gets me every time. I’ve probably seen this movie six times, but the end always gives me chills.

This is probably Hitchcock’s most intense, frightening film, and his first American film to be labeled a “horror” instead of just a “thriller”. It’s unlike any of his previous films, yet it keeps that wonderful Hitchcockian flavor. The first half-hour of the film is more of a thriller, or a drama. Nothing particularly exciting or frightening happens. That’s not to say it’s not interesting; I was enthralled from the minute the opening credits began. As Hitch himself said, “There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.” Don’t be put off by the somewhat slow-moving beginning. Promise?

One last thing. The score for Psycho is one of the greatest ever written. Of course, everyone knows about the screeching violins during the infamous “shower scene”, but the entire film is full of masterful music by Bernard Herrmann. The opening credits begin with the pounding, pulsing, deep strings, which are soon joined by terrifying strings of a much higher pitch. It’s enough to put you on edge before even a second of film has been shown.

Watch it with the lights out. Turn the volume up. It’s awesome.


Arizona officeworker Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) cannot marry her lover, Sam Loomis (John Gavin), because most of his money goes towards alimony. She is exasperated with having to meet Sam during her lunch breaks. After one such meeting, Marion returns to her workplace, where her employer asks her to deposit $40,000 cash in a local bank. Desperate, angry, and impulsive, she leaves town with the money and heads toward California, determined to make a new life with Sam.

Night falls, and so does rain. This causes Marion to drive off the main highway, and to happen upon the vacant Bates Motel. She stops there for the night, where she is met by the shy and peculiar Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). Marion discovers that poor Norman is dominated by his mother, and she agrees to eat dinner with him in the motel’s office. After dinner, she returns to her room, where she reaches a decision. She undresses and steps into the shower.


Directed by Alfred Hitchcock;

Written by Robert Bloch (novel upon which it was based), Joseph Stefano (screenplay);

Starring Janet Leigh as Marion Crane, Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates, John Gavin as Sam Loomis, Vera Miles as Lila Crane, and Martin Balsam as Detective Milton Arbogast;

Produced by Alfred Hitchcock;

Music by Bernard Herrmann.


Martha Hyer, Eva Marie Saint, Piper Laurie, Hope Lange, Shirley Jones, and Lana Turner were all considered for the role of Marion Crane.

Alfred Hitchcock bought the rights to the novel for just $9,000. He then bought as many copies of the book as he could, to keep the ending a secret.

During filming, Psycho was referred to as “Production 9401” or “Wimpy”. The latter name came from the second-unit cameraman, Rex Wimpy, who appeared on clapboards and production sheets, and some on-the-set stills for Psycho.

This is the last film Hitchcock did for Paramount. By the time filming started, Hitchcock had already moved his offices to Universal, and the film was shot on the Universal backlot. Universal owns the rights today, though the Paramount logo still appears on the film.

Vera Miles wore a wig for this film, because she had shaved her head for her role in 5 Branded Women (1960).

Psycho is the first American film to show a toilet flushing on-screen.

Anthony Perkins was paid $40,000 for his role. Hee hee.

Psycho is ranked #1 on AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Thrills list.

The shower scene has over 90 splices in it. Hitchcock spent nearly a week shooting this scene, making sure no nudity was shown and that the knife never actually penetrated the skin.

The score is played entirely by stringed instruments.

As part of publicity campaign prior to release of the film, Alfred Hitchcock said: “It has been rumored that ‘Psycho’ is so terrifying that it will scare some people speechless. Some of my men hopefully sent their wives to a screening. The women emerged badly shaken but still vigorously vocal.”

Hitchcock thought it would be amusing if theaters would prohibit patrons from entering the film late. Surprisingly, theater managers went along with this, and it proved to be an extremely successful marketing gimmick. At one point, a man and his quite pregnant wife were deliberately sent to test the theater managers’ strictness. The man and his wife not admitted. Hee hee.

(When you watch, try to spot Hitch’s cameo! I’ll give you a hint: it’s near the beginning of the film.)



Sullivan’s Travels (1941)

The willing vagabond.

“There’s a lot to be said for making people laugh. Did you know that that’s all some people have?”

Recently, I’ve found myself unwittingly watching ’50s movies. All. The. Time. Not to say that there’s anything wrong with ’50s cinema; some of my all-time favorite films were made during that glorious decade. However, I chose to explore the true “Golden Age” of Hollywood, and found that my ’40s binge was more rewarding than I could’ve hoped.

During this spree, I came across some of the finest films ever made and added several to my already lengthy favorites list. However, perhaps the greatest of all the 1940s films I watched was Preston Sturges’ masterful Sullivan’s Travels. I think the reason behind its obscurity nowadays is that it is somewhat overshadowed by films such as Citizen Kane, The Maltese Falcon, How Green Was My Valley, and Suspicion, all of which were also released in ’41. Still, for any fan of comedy, of superb acting and direction, or of stories that will leave you feeling happier, Sullivan’s Travels is a must-see.

I sat down to watch this film with, I must admit, fairly low expectations. Once it started, however, I staggered back in awe. Seriously, this is a great film.

(Dear reader, I realize that I say that quite a bit. So far, I’ve only reviewed my favorite films, and I’ve said roughly the same thing about each one: “This is a good movie!” Don’t worry; at some point, I will review some movies I hate. Won’t that be fun?)

Joel McCrea (one of my favorite actors), who has exhibited his enormous talent in nearly 100 films (spanning from the ’20s to the ’70s!), shows his comic adeptness AND his dramatic abilities in Sullivan’s Travels. He is an instantly likable fellow, and does not have too little or too much emotion. I first became cognizant of his skill when I watched Hitchcock’s early spy thriller, Foreign Correspondent (1940), in which he gives a (surprise!) great performance. And I’m not the only one who likes him; he has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Veronica Lake… *wolf whistle* I mean, what can I say about her that you can’t figure out for yourself? She’s gorgeous! (And, apparently, rather short. She measured 4′ 11 1/2″, whilst Joel McCrea was a “towering” 6′ 3″. It’s been said that, in some scenes, Lake had to be placed atop a box so their heads could be seen in the same shot.) I expected her to be aloof and seemingly unattainable, but in this film she was actually quite vulnerable, sincere, and, of course, unbelievably beautiful. Her presence is yet another compliment to an already fantastic film.

And I can’t sanely review this film without saying something about its writer/director, Preston Sturges. Sturges was the undisputed king of screwball comedy during the ’30s and ’40s (giving us films such as The Lady Eve, Miracle at Morgan’s Creek, The Great McGinty, and Hail the Conquering Hero, whose sly banter and clever storylines constantly challenged the Puritanical Hays Code). He was also THE FIRST prominent screenwriter to direct his own script.

One reason this satire of Hollywood is SO wonderful is the sincerity with which the story is told. I don’t mean it’s sappy. But it’s not just a continuous laugh-fest or a box-o’-Kleenex movie. It’s a brilliant, unpredictable mixture of both. For a comedy, it’s very moving; for a drama, it’s hilarious. I guarantee you’ll be satisfied, or your money back.

But wait, there’s more!


Tired of making fluffy, forgettable comedies, Hollywood director John L. Sullivan (McCrea) wants to put all his creative effort into a serious, socially responsible drama called “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” His producers point out that Sullivan knows absolutely nothing about poverty or suffering. Thus, Sullivan decides to put himself in a vagabond’s shoes (literally). However, his experiment hardly goes as planned, and he soon comes across a downtrodden aspiring actress, who longs to join him on his journey. And when the experiment seems to be nearly done, a series of events places Sullivan in a tighter spot than he had ever imagined.


Directed by Preston Sturges;

Written by Preston Sturges;

Starring Joel McCrea as John L. Sullivan and Veronica Lake as The Girl (with a Sturges regular, William Demarest, as Mr. Jones);

Produced by Paul Jones (associate producer), Buddy G. DeSylva (executive producer, uncredited), and Preston Sturges (producer, uncredited);

Costumes by Edith Head;

Music by Charles Bradshaw and Leo Shuken.


Filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen borrowed the title of John L. Sullivan’s fictional project for their 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou?

The author of the fake book, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, was an amalgamation of the names of Upton Sinclair, Sinclair Lewis, and John Steinbeck.

Preston Sturges supposedly got the idea for the movie from stories of John Garfield living the life of a hobo, riding freight trains and hitchhiking his way cross-country, for a short period in the 1930s.

Veronica Lake was pregnant during filming.

NAACP Secretary Walter White wrote a letter to Preston Sturges congratulating him for his “dignified and decent treatment of Negroes in this [the church] scene.”

Preston Sturges had originally intended to use a clip from a Charles Chaplin film for the church sequence, but Chaplin wouldn’t give permission. In an earlier scene, Joel McCrea does parody the Little Tramp character. The cartoon eventually used was Walt Disney’s Playful Pluto (1934).


Some Like It Hot (1959)

There's only so much I'd do for comedy...

“Well, nobody’s perfect!”

It takes a certain amount of bravery to be an actor. Since the recent decline of the world of cinema, that statement doesn’t have as much truth as it once did. However, this week I’m recommending a film with two of the bravest actors I’ve ever seen.

Although director/cowriter Billy Wilder had considered such comedy legends as Bob Hope, Danny Kaye, and Jerry Lewis, he finally settled on the pairing of Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. This, as is evidenced by the film’s legendary status, was ultimately a good choice.

Most of the time, people do not voluntarily ask me questions concerning classic film. This is because they are aware of the onslaught of useless information which will inevitably follow such a question. However, I’m going to make a hypothetical scenario here: If someone were to ask me what the definition of screwball comedy is, I’d reply quite simply, “Look no further than Some Like It Hot.”

And, similarly, I’ll say to you, “If you’re in the mood for a good laugh, a movie with no deep probing into the mysteries of the afterlife, no overt political themes, no animated animal sidekicks, and certainly no metaphorical chess games with the grim reaper, this is the movie for you.”

Many reviews of this film sound as though they were written by psychiatrists. Don’t be put off by these ambiguous reviews. Listen to good ol’ Uncle Luke. I won’t try to say that Curtis and Lemmon dressed as women because they had a bad home life. I’ll simply say that they dressed up as women because it’s funny. I don’t mean to rant, but I hate it when reviewers make a plain-and-simple screwball comedy sound like a philosophical exploration of id and psyche. Give. Me. A. Break.

*sigh* Sorry.

Anyway, it’s a hilarious, ahead-of-its-time comedy masterpiece. Bon appetit!


After accidentally witnessing the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, struggling musicians Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon) find themselves on the run. In a last-minute attempt to escape from Chicago, Joe and Jerry don feminine getups and join a Florida-bound all-girl jazz band. Once at the hotel, Joe falls for fellow band member Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe), and he tries to maintain a double-life: the fictional millionaire beau of Sugar’s dreams, and Josephine, Sugar’s female friend. Meanwhile, Jerry (“Daphne”) has a rich suitor (Joe E. Brown) who won’t take “No” for an answer.

Then, of course, the Chicago mob arrives at the hotel.


Directed by Billy Wilder;

Written by Robert Thoeren (story on which it was based), Michael Logan (story on which it was based), Billy Wilder (screenplay), I.A.L. Diamond (screenplay);

Starring Tony Curtis as Joe – “Josephine”, Jack Lemmon as Jerry – “Daphne”, Marilyn Monroe as Sugar Kane Kowalczyk, Joe E. Brown as Osgood Fielding III, George Raft as Spats Colombo, and Pat O’Brien as Detective Mulligan;

Produced by Billy Wilder (producer), I.A.L. Diamond (associate producer), and Doane Harrison (associate producer);

Music by Adolph Deutsch.


Bob Hope, Danny Kaye, Jerry Lewis, and Frank Sinatra were considered for the roles of Joe and Jerry.

It took 47 takes for Marilyn Monroe to get the line, “It’s me, Sugar,” right. After the 30th take, Wilder wrote the line on a blackboard. Another line, “Where’s the bourbon?”, required 59 takes. (I respect Billy Wilder for his patience. Personally, I would’ve killed someone by then.)

A preview audience laughed so hard in the scene where Jack Lemmon announces his engagement that a lot of the dialogue was missed. It had to be re-shot with pauses (and the maraca gimmick) added.

There’s been plenty of talk about Monroe’s behavior. Billy Wilder even said, “We were in mid-flight, and there was a nut on the plane,” when referring to Monroe. Indeed, Wilder publicly blasted Monroe for her behavior, and she was not invited to the wrap party.

Anthony Perkins (best known for the character Norman Bates in Hitchcock’s Psycho) auditioned for the role of Jerry.

Upon its original release, Kansas banned the film from being shown in the state, explaining that cross-dressing was “too disturbing for Kansans”.

In Russia, the film is titled “Only Girls Are Allowed In Jazz”. Hmm…

This, like most films by ’59 (for instance, Ben-Hur, Rio Bravo, and Sleeping Beauty) were filmed in color. However, Wilder filmed Some Like It Hot in black & white because Curtis’ and Lemmon’s makeup gave their faces a greenish tinge.

Some Like It Hot was voted #1 on the American Film Institute’s List of 100 Funniest Movies, and #14 on their List of 100 Greatest Movies.


Road to Rio (1947)

Scat Sweeney and Hot Lips Barton. AWESOME names.

“Who wants to work? We’re musicians!”

In the days of olde, men were men and comedians were funny. And no comedian was funnier than Bob Hope. He was also one of the most accomplished people I’ve ever seen. Listen to this: he was awarded honorary knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II in 1998, he hosted the Academy Awards 18 times, he received 58 honorary degrees, it is said that he’s donated an estimated $1 billion to charity, and acted in more than 50 films. And I’m not nearly finished yet.

Believe it or not, America’s favorite comedian was born in Great Britain. He was born in 1903, and he jokes, “I left England at the age of four when I found out I couldn’t be king.”

Hope, like almost all legendary comedians, got his start in vaudeville. He then got a big break on Broadway in 1933, which led him to one of the most legendary entertainment careers of all time, a career that would last more than 60 years.


It may seem odd to you that I’m starting with the fifth in the series of Road to… films. Get over it. My ways are mysterious.

No, I’m kidding. I’m starting with Rio because it’s always been one of my favorite comedies. The dialogue (especially the ad-libbed ribbing between Hope and Bing Crosby) is fast-paced and clever. The plot’s hectic, wildly unrealistic, and ultimately unexplained. It’s great fun.

The Road to… series was the most popular series of its time. It consists of seven films, all starring Hope and Crosby. They are, in chronological order: Road to Singapore (1940), Road to Zanzibar (1941), Road to Morocco (1942), Road to Utopia (1946), Road to Rio (1947), Road to Bali (1952), and Road to Hong Kong (1962).

This film is a perfect example of clever comedy without the use of sexual references or crass humor of any kind. This is real comedy. Hope you like it! *guffaws*


After accidentally burning down a circus, inept vaudevillians Scat Sweeney (Crosby) and Hot Lips Barton (Hope) stow away on a Brazil-bound ocean liner. Aboard the ship, they prevent a woman, Lucia (Lamour), from committing suicide. They soon become aware of Lucia’s sinister hypnotist guardian, who plans on using her dastardly powers to force her niece to marry a greedy fortune hunter. Scat and Hot Lips must use the mysterious “papers” to stop the wedding!


Directed by Norman Z. McLeod;

Written by Edmund Beloin (story and screenplay) and Jack Rose (story and screenplay);

Starring Bob Hope as Hot Lips Barton, Bing Crosby as Scat Sweeney, Dorothy Lamour as Lucia Maria de Andrade, and The Wiere Brothers as Three Musicians;

Produced by Daniel Dare.


At 100 minutes, Rio is the longest of the Road to… films.

In the end scene, leading the calvary, Bob Hope’s long-time radio partner Jerry Colonna appears.

Road to Rio contains the last on-screen singing performance of the Andrews Sisters.

Disembarking from the ship, Scat tells sinister Catherine Vail (Gale Sondegaard), “I’ll listen for you on Inner Sanctum”. Radio’s “Inner Sanctum Mysteries” debuted in 1941 and featured gruesome stories and spine-chilling characters.

Hiding in the lifeboat, Bob Hope is polishing his trumpet and says “You happy little Grable fodder”. Heartthrob Betty Grable married trumpeter Harry James in 1943.


Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

Jefferson Smith bringing sense to the Senate.

“There’s a lot of fancy words in this town.”

1939 was just a good year for movies. Two beloved classics, Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz (both of which we’ll get to later), were released in this year. However, there was another gem to come out of ’39: the dramatic, powerful, unabashedly patriotic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

When Frank Capra and Jimmy Stewart pair up, you can’t go wrong. A subject that might seem slightly dull on the outset is instantly illuminated by the professionalism and expertise of both the director and the leading man. While by modern definition the film isn’t epic, it is certainly powerful. Brace yourself for a cliché: they just don’t make ’em like they used to.

Although politics are considerably more aggressive now than they were in ’39, the topic was just as popular and controversial in those days. Capra pulls it off with grace, and the undeniably likable Stewart just increases the appeal. There are some surprisingly profound lines concerning Washington, corruption, patriotism, and the country itself.

However, Mr. Smith is not entirely solemn and somber. There are actually some priceless comedic moments, thanks to the awkwardness of our beloved Jimmy. The chemistry between Stewart and Jean Arthur is also fantastic.

As I’ve further familiarized myself with his filmography, I find that Jimmy Stewart can display a rather wide range of emotions. In Shenandoah, he’s a crusty, disagreeable Virginia landowner, who experiences terrible loss. In The Philadelphia Story, he’s a hilarious, awkward tabloid reporter. But in Mr. Smith, he’s an idealistic small-towner who just wants his voice heard. He plays all three of these characters to perfection.


I could talk forever, but I suppose I should give you the synopsis now. Sorry.

Naive Jefferson Smith (Stewart), leader of the Boy Rangers, is appointed to the Senate on a lark by the vacillating, malleable governor of his state. He is reunited with the state’s senior senator–presidential hopeful and Smith’s childhood hero, Senator Joseph Paine (Claude Rains). In Washington, however, Smith’s expectations are soon depleted by the harsh reality of politics. He discovers many of the shortcomings of the political process as his earnest goal of a national boys’ camp leads to a conflict with the hateful state political boss, Jim Taylor. Taylor first tries to corrupt Smith and then later attempts to destroy Smith with a scandal.


Check this out:

Directed by Frank Capra;

Written by Lewis R. Foster (story), and Sydney Buchman (screenplay);

Starring James Stewart as Jefferson Smith, Jean Arthur as Clarissa Saunders, and Claude Rains as Joseph Paine;

Produced by Frank Capra;

Music by Dimitri Tiomkin.

*sigh* Awesome.


Apparently, real politicians are rather offended by this movie. Hee hee. A Montana senator walked out of the screening he attended in disgust. It’s also been bitterly denounced by Washington insiders because of its accusations of corruption.

With this in mind, it was banned in most of Europe’s fascist countries, because it “showed that democracy works”.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington was Jean Arthur’s favorite film of her own.

Jimmy Stewart knew that the role of Jefferson Smith was the role of a lifetime. Therefore, he worked extremely hard, waking up at five o’clock and driving himself to the studio. According to costar Jean Arthur, “He was so terrified something was going to happen to him, he wouldn’t go faster.”

Jean Arthur did not get along with Jimmy Stewart very well during filming, because she wanted Gary Cooper (who costarred with her in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town) in the role of Jefferson Smith.

Something I just noticed: neither the Democratic nor the Republican parties are ever mentioned in the film.

Jean Arthur’s left side was considered her best side, so the sets had to be constructed in a way that whenever she entered, she would be photographed on that side. Just like Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca! For the record, I like Ingrid Bergman’s best side best.