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Blu-ray Review: Psycho – 60th Anniversary Edition

Psycho - Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Release Date: September 08, 2020

Region: Region A

Length —

Psycho (Original Theatrical Version): 01:49:04

Psycho (Censored Re-release Version): 01:48:51

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio:

English DTS X

7.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio

Alternate Audio:

2.0 Mono Spanish DTS Audio

2.0 Mono French DTS Audio

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French

Ratio: 1.85:1

Bitrate: 24.43 Mbps

Notes: This disc is included in The Alfred Hitchcock Classics Collection boxed set, and the title has received a variety of previous Blu-ray releases (each with the same transfer). However, this is a brand new scan of the film that includes the original theatrical cut of the film (aka the “Uncut” version). The package also includes a code to redeem a digital copy of the movie.

PSYCHO - Title (4K UHD-Reduced)

Alfred Hitchcock Master is honored to present the following exclusive article by John Billheimer (author of Hitchcock and the Censors):

Psycho, Hitchcock, and the Censors

Alfred Hitchcock pushed the boundaries of sex and violence as much as any director between 1934 and 1938, when the Production Code dictated what was permissible on American screens.  And, of Hitchcock’s films, Psycho did more than any other to move those boundaries.

The shower stabbing of Janet Leigh in Psycho is unarguably the best-known sequence in all of Hitchcock’s films, and it was recognized in a 1990s poll of French movie critics and fans as the single most famous scene in motion picture history.  The justifiably renowned scene was specifically constructed to sidestep the restrictions of the Production Code.

By the time he made Psycho, Hitchcock had twenty years of experience dealing with Production Code officials and had grown quite adept at charming—and occasionally tricking—the censors, and swapping out bits of dialogue, plot points, and individual shots (some of which had been deliberately inserted as trading chips) to protect cherished scenes and images.  This experience served Hitchcock, and the movie-going public, in good stead when the time came to defend Psycho against the censors’ demands.

The censors in the Production Code office intervened at two points in the making of a film.  They reviewed the script for objectionable elements, and they reviewed the finished film to make sure it observed all the pieties of the 4,000-word code and would not “lower the moral standards of those who see it.”  This two-step process was designed to head off potential problems at the script stage before producers incurred the expense of committing the problems to film.  As Hitchcock’s career and renown increased, he would often go ahead and film certain elements, particularly dialogue, that the censors had objected to in the script so that he could use them as bargaining chips to trade off against demands for changes in the finished film.

In their review of the original Psycho script, the Code office found that “while the basic story may be acceptable under the provisions of the Production Code, the present version  . . . contains one element . . . which would make it impossible to issue a Certificate on a finished film based on this script.”

The forbidden script element was not the shower scene, which at that point existed only on paper and which the Code office did caution “would have to be handled with the utmost discretion and good taste.”  Instead, the one script element that “would be unacceptable under the Code” was “the very pointed description of an incestuous relationship between Norman and his mother.”

Since Norman and his mother were one and the same person throughout the story, it is hard to imagine what an incestuous relationship might look like and how it might be detected.  Luckily, the Code reviewers provided examples of dialogue that they felt clearly established the forbidden mother-son relationship that existed before the mother’s death.  In the script prepared by screenwriter Joseph Stefano, Mother referred to Norman as “ever the sweetheart” while objecting to the way he was “always peeping” and “disgusting me with his love.”  Moreover, the psychiatrist charged with explaining Norman’s condition in the penultimate scene originally characterized the mother-son relationship as “more that of two adolescent lovers.”

Other Code objections to the script included:

01.  An excess of profanity.

02.  Cassidy’s line that bed is “the only playground that beats Las Vegas.”

03.  The suggestion that Norman sees Marion partially nude through a peephole.

04.  The discussion of transvestism.

On meeting with Code officials to discuss the script, screenwriter Stefano was astonished to learn that the thing that upset the censors more than anything was the word “transvestite.”  The screenwriter convinced the Code officials to allow the use of the word by leading them to the dictionary definition, which did not necessarily imply sexual deviance, and arguing that the word was used in the script by a psychiatrist who said clearly that, properly speaking, Norman was not a transvestite. .

Hitchcock excised the instances of profanity cited by the censors (three “damns,” two “hells,” and one irreverent “God”) and eliminated most of the dialogue suggesting an incestuous relationship, but he retained Norman’s peephole voyeurism and the oilman’s objectionable speech so that they could be used as bargaining chips to protect his primary concern, Janet Leigh’s shower murder.

The shower scene was well worth protecting.  It had taken Hitchcock seven days to shoot the seventy-eight pieces of film that he and George Tomasini would edit down to forty-five harrowing seconds of a now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t sequence depicting the slashing of Marion Crane.  After the movie’s release, hundreds of viewers reported that the scene left them too frightened to take a shower, and one distraught father asked Hitchcock for advice after writing that his daughter had been afraid to take a bath after watching Les Diaboliques and was now afraid to shower as well.  Hitchcock responded, suggesting that the man send the girl out to be dry-cleaned.

The director was not so flippant with the Code censors, who exploded upon viewing the initial cut of the film.  They found the shower scene, with its fast paced sequence of shots, “some impressionistic, some completely realistic, of the girl’s nude body” to be clearly “in violation of the Code, which prohibits nudity ‘in fact or in silhouette.’”

The shower scene wasn’t the only reason the Code office refused Psycho its seal of approval.  Censors also objected to:

01.  The lovemaking in the opening scene, which was “entirely too passionate.”

02.  The oilman’s comment on bed as a playground.

03.  Norman’s seeing Marion partially nude through a peephole prior to the knife attack.

04.  Marion flushing the toilet to dispose of her calculations regarding the stolen funds.

Hitchcock already had his sacrificial pawns lined up for battle when he was informed of the censor’s objections.  Janet Leigh recalled, “He told me how he had planned all along to manipulate the censors by deliberately putting in things so bizarre, he could come back to them and say, ‘Tsk tsk. All right.  I’ll take that out, but you’ve got to give me this.’”

First to go was the remark the censors had objected to at the script stage.  The oilman’s view of bed as a playground was too pointed for the censors, and Hitchcock willingly excised it.  He was always willing to trade dialogue for imagery, and, in this case, it’s safe to assume he let the controversial remark survive the script review just so he could make a show of removing it from the final print.

Hitchcock had arranged a series of paired shots showing Norman looking through a peephole at Janet Leigh’s Marion as she undresses. The first pair of shots showed Norman’s eye at the peephole, followed by the peephole view of Marion in her black bra and half-slip. The second pair showed Norman’s eye at the peephole, followed by his view of Marion removing the bra. All three point of view shots were included in the original theatrical release but were removed for subsequent re-releases. By leaving the peephole shots in, the director successfully sidestepped the Code restrictions on voyeurism.

Another Code restriction cautioned against setting scenes in bathrooms. Hitchcock had run into this finicky restriction before, in films as disparate as The Secret Agent and Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Even when bathroom scenes were allowed, filmmakers were advised not to show toilets. Hitchcock had been forced to reshoot scenes from The Wrong Man, substituting a sink for a toilet in Henry Fonda’s prison cell. In Psycho, Marion Crane not only uses the toilet to dispose of her handwritten calculations of the disposition of the stolen money, but actually flushes it, a sight and sound unheard of in Code-era films.  Hitchcock and Stefano managed to salvage the sequence by arguing that it was necessary to the plot. Not only did Marion’s use of the flush lever symbolize her remorse, but the surviving scrap of paper became an important clue documenting her presence at the motel.

Hitchcock had carefully crafted the shower scene to subvert the censors’ objections.  Most of the images flashed by so fast that viewers couldn’t be certain whether or not they were seeing nudity or whether the knife actually touched the victim’s flesh. In one long shot, however, Hitchcock pulled the camera up and back to capture an overhead view of Marion sprawled across the side of the tub. In the eyes of screenwriter Stefano, this was the most heartbreaking shot of the sequence because it showed the vulnerability of the victim, whom the viewer “had cared about all through the movie up to this point, and there she was lying there dead.” Unfortunately, the shot not only showed the victim’s vulnerability, but also her bare buttocks, and Hitchcock surrendered it to the censors. The Code reviewers couldn’t agree on whether the rapid cuts of the murder itself actually showed nudity or merely suggested it. Three of five initial reviewers insisted they saw nudity, while two did not. The Code office sent the film back to Hitchcock, instructing him to remove the nudity. The director apologized profusely, promised to do his best to comply, and sent the sequence back to the reviewers without changing a single frame.  This time the three censors who had seen nudity before no longer spotted it, but the two who hadn’t seen it now did.

The debate over who had seen what or how much dragged on for nearly a week. Script supervisor Marshall Schlom recalled, “Finally, Mr. Hitchcock said ‘I will take out the nudity if you will allow me to keep the two people in bed in the opening scene.’” After the censors refused to agree to this, the director made another offer. If the Code office would allow him to keep the shower scene, he would reshoot the opening lovemaking scene, with the proviso that the censors show up on set to point out any objectionable passages.  When the censors failed to show up for the scheduled reshoot, the opening scene was left unchanged.  And the Code officials finally agreed that the removal of the one indisputable instance of nudity from the shower scene, the overhead shot of Marion Crane’s bare buttocks, was enough to earn the Code’s Seal of Approval. Thus the most memorable single scene in movie history owes its existence to Hitchcock’s desire to bamboozle the censors.

***

The above article was written for this page by John Billheimer.

Billheimer is the author of “Hitchcock and the Censors.” The book is available for purchase at amazon.com and other retailers.

The Presentation:

4.5 of 5 MacGuffins

Universal houses their disc in a standard Blu-ray case with film related artwork that is obviously inspired by the original one sheet poster. This artwork makes one wonder why they didn’t simply use that original image, but what we have here is a very nice design. A slip sleeve with the same artwork offers added protection.

Best Buy is also offering an Exclusive 4K UHD/Blu-ray Combo in Steelbook package:

The menu utilizes a slight reworking of the same art that is on the cover, and it in the same style as other recent Universal menus.

Bernard Herrmann’s iconic score plays over the menu.

Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 MacGuffins

The original 2010 Blu-ray transfer of Psycho (and all of Universal’s subsequent Blu-ray releases up until now) included a transfer that has been criticized for being an overly processed representation of the film. There was an obvious overuse of DNR applied to the image in an effort to “manage” the film’s grain, contrast was pushed a bit too far, and it appears that artificial digital sharpening had also been applied. Having said this, the film still managed to look outstanding.

This excellent new Blu-ray edition includes a brand new transfer that was taken from a 4K restoration master that was created for their new 4K UHD release of the film, and the benefits from this larger scan is also evident in this new 1080p image. It is also wonderful to report that this new transfer corrects those issues and looks considerably more filmic. In fact, any issues that one might find with this particular transfer seem to represent the source. Revelatory improvements in fine detail are certainly evident, gradients see a subtle improvement over the 2010 Blu-ray, textures aren’t as waxy here, blacks are healthier (it appears that the 2010 transfer had been brightened to “enhance” the image), and clarity is also greatly improved.

Some may fault this disc for not being as sharp as the earlier Blu-ray release, but it is worth repeating that the reason for this is that it hasn’t been artificially sharpened and the contrast hasn’t been pushed nearly as far here. It is also notable to mention that the AVC codec is technically superior to the earlier disc’s VC-1 transfer, and the superior encoding has ensured that fans can enjoy this remarkable new upgrade without any distracting artifacts, although sensitive viewers man notice some aliasing during certain scenes. Age related film damage is also occasionally evident but never blatant or distracting.

The “uncut” theatrical version and the re-release cut of the film are seamlessly branched, so there isn’t any noticeable difference in the quality of the two included versions if the film.

Sound Quality:

4 of 5 MacGuffins

Psycho has been given yet another soundtrack upgrade for this release, but the DTS X transfer isn’t an overwhelming overhaul of the 5.1 TrueHD mix that appeared on the original Blu-ray edition. Bernard Herrmann’s iconic score is allowed to really come to life here, and the mix is truly immersive when his music takes the stage. Other elements are also nicely handled, and this extends to the sounds that breathe life into the quieter moments of the famous shower sequence. Dialogue is always clear and well prioritized throughout the film, so there won’t be any complaints regarding this particular element.

This new re-mix isn’t a bad one, but it isn’t perfectly faithful to the original soundtrack either. New sounds have been added to the mix, and this might have been more acceptable if it was offered as an option in addition to the film’s original mono mix in high definition.

Special Features:

4.5 of 5 MacGuffins

Universal has included all of the excellent supplements that graced the earlier Blu-ray releases of Psycho. Some might complain that the disc lacks any new supplements, and we will agree that a commentary or featurette about the original theatrical cut would have added value and interest to this important release. However, this is still an incredibly rich supplemental package.

Feature Length Audio Commentary with Stephen Rebello

Stephen Rebello is known for writing the book, “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho.” His commentary is informative and focuses on the film’s production. He manages to relay a wealth of information in an engaging and entertaining manner. There is a lot to love about this commentary.

Alfred Hitchcock Master had a brief exchange with Rebello about this particular release, and he seemed slightly disappointed that Universal didn’t commission a new track that addresses the “uncut” theatrical version of Psycho:

“I spoke at length with Universal reps when they contacted me several times about the original print version of Psycho. They’re recycling my old recorded commentary on the new [release] (when they should have asked me to do a new recording specifically on the hows-and-whys of the original version and subsequent cuts).”Stephen Rebello

The Making of Psycho – (01:34:06)

Laurent Bouzereau’s documentary is probably one of the most comprehensive and well-made documentaries on the making of a single Hitchcock film that I have ever seen. It covers every aspect of production in great detail. It might have been better if archival footage of Alfred Hitchcock, Anthony Perkins, and Vera Miles were included. I know that relevant footage is available. Oddly, the documentary is so enthralling that the absence of these key contributors goes unnoticed until it is over. They are certainly discussed at great length. The documentary is far from a mere fluff piece. It is the best feature on the entire disc.

Newsreel Footage: The Release of Psycho – (07:45)

This is a vintage promotional newsreel revealing Hitchcock’s unique policies surrounding the film’s release. It is surprisingly witty and entertaining. Hitchcock fans will love it.

In the Master’s Shadow – Hitchcock’s Legacy – (25:27)

Contemporary filmmakers discuss Hitchcock’s influence and why his movies continue to thrill audiences. This is actually much better than it sounds because we see clips from contemporary films that illustrate the director’s profound influence on contemporary cinema.

Psycho Sound – (09:58)

This brief featurette is new to the Blu-ray disc and looks at the re-mastering process used to create a surround mix from the original mono elements. It is interesting but this is of less interest than the supplements about the film’s production. It is also worth noting that it is not discussing the mix that is included on this disc.

Theatrical Trailer – (06:36)

Theatrical trailers are rarely this entertaining. Instead of featuring footage from the actual film, Alfred Hitchcock gives a fabulously witty tour of the iconic set. He cryptically teases the audience with plot details, but reveals only enough information to make the audience curious. It is really quite delightful.

Re-Release Trailers – (01:51)

These re-release trailers are less interesting than the original theatrical trailer, but they are certainly worth seeing.

The Shower Scene (with and without music) – (02:31)

This feature gives viewers the opportunity to view the famous shower scene with and without Bernard Herrmann’s iconic score. It is actually surprising how differently the scene plays. It actually works quite well without music, but the effect is completely different. The scene is less startling and more devastating without the music. The sounds of the knife tearing through flesh combine with the Marion’s screams and whimpers to make the moment more intimate and tragic when they are played against silence. The horror becomes more personal. There is no doubt that the score contributed to the scene’s success, but for reasons that I would have never guessed. One understands Hitchcock’s reasoning for suggesting that the scene not have music. I realize that this isn’t the line that critics and scholars have sold us. Other people will probably have different reactions than mine, but this supplement will remain interesting for almost everyone.

Hitchcock/Truffaut Interview – (15:21)

These interview clips may sound familiar to those who have read Truffaut’s book length interview with Hitchcock, but these excerpts remain interesting regardless. The audio clips are presented over clips from the film, which increases one’s enjoyment.

The Psycho Archives

This is merely a collection of photo galleries related to the production and marketing of Psycho. The way that it is listed on the disc is rather misleading as it implies that this is a separate feature.

The Shower Scene Storyboards

These are the famous storyboards for the film that were drawn by Saul Bass.

Posters & Psycho Ads

Lobby Cards

Behind-The-Scenes Photographs

It is worth mentioning that all of these images are presented in standard definition.

Final Words:

Alfred Hitchcock’s original theatrical cut of Psycho finally sees a proper North American Blu-ray release, and the three extended scenes affected are certainly enhanced in subtle ways. It will come as no surprise to anyone that it comes highly recommended.

4 responses to “Blu-ray Review: Psycho – 60th Anniversary Edition

  1. This is a fantastic edition of Hitchcock’s masterpiece Psycho!

  2. Pingback: 2020 Holiday Gift Guide | Blu-ray Downlow

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