mon 23/09/2019

The Hitchcock Players: Anthony Perkins, Psycho | reviews, news & interviews

The Hitchcock Players: Anthony Perkins, Psycho

The Hitchcock Players: Anthony Perkins, Psycho

Lean, boyish charm subverted in this deceptively nuanced portrayal of a homicidal psychopath

Perkins: playing against type

In Robert Bloch’s novel Psycho, Norman Bates was plump, balding, bespectacled and 40 years old, the physical antithesis of the lean, lanky and boyishly good-looking 28-year-old Anthony Perkins. The casting satisfied Hitchcock’s desire to create as much sympathy for Norman Bates as possible. There is nothing about Perkins to suggest a homicidal psychopath. He is a clean-cut young man, who soon reveals himself to be charming, confident, and witty. Only gradually does Perkins give us subtle clues as to the character’s inhibitions, such as when he gulps with embarrassment when indicating the bathroom to Marion Crane, his soon-to-be victim, and when he stumbles over the word “mother”.  

Birds hover everywhere, stuffed ones and in pictures. The ornithological theme is accentuated by Perkins resemblance to a bird – the shrugging shoulders, the fanning hands, the falcon’s neck, and the rapid chomping on his Kandi Korn. (It was Perkins who suggested that Norman would be a compulsive candy eater, which indicates the killer’s infantile nature.)

After the murder, there is a nine-minutes 40-seconds wordless sequence during which Perkins clenches his teeth and sets his jaw, as he takes on the task of meticulously cleaning up the bathroom, getting rid of all the blood and the body. Perkins indicates that Norman is no longer a boy but a determined man with serious business on his hands. Biting his lower lip, munching candy, and looking around warily like a bird of prey, he watches as the car slips slowly into the swamp (see video below). A flicker of a smile plays upon his lips, and he gives a look of satisfaction. 

Perkins’ performance and Hitchcock’s mise-en-scène go far deeper than the half-baked psychological explanation offered at the end.    

  • Watch the "swamp" scene from Psycho

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