Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho by Stephen Rebello

Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho Book CoverAfter catching Hitchcock in the cinema a couple of weeks ago I though I would re-investigate its supposed source, Stephen Rebello’s Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho – a book first published in 1990.

I first encountered this book while I was undertaking an A-level media studies course where one of our main subjects on the film module was Alfred Hitchcock’s horror and shock masterpiece Psycho.

As is often the case with books encountered as part of a school course, I never actually read the whole book, instead picking out the segments relevant to the course so, this was almost like coming to it totally fresh.

The most striking thing about the book from the start is the remarkable cooperation of all the then surviving cast and crew members to talk about the film and to be very honest with it.

Stephen RebelloThis paints a picture of the film’s development from the stage of Robert Bloch’s first idea for the novel based on the news stories of “The Wisconsin Ghoul”, Ed Gein, through the development of the script, to filming and, finally, Psycho’s effect on cinema.

So we hear stories from stars Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh, Bloch and screenwriter Joseph Stefano as well as various members of the production crew and archive of Hitchcock himself.

This paints a brilliant and in-depth picture of not only the creation of the film in question, but film in general, and gives us a unique eye into the world of the studio system that, arguably, Psycho speeded up the destruction of.

Alfred HitchcockThe specifics also tell the story of the film from being something considered a costly mistake by “The Master of Suspense” through to its reception as one of Hollywood’s first auteur pieces by the likes of Cahier du Cinema, which comes across as the Bible of the “Nouvelle Vague”, and, therefore, elevates Psycho to the status of art rather simply a “nasty little shocker”.

While the film this book spawned seemed intent on turning this story into a soap opera, here Alma Hitchcock receives very little coverage and there is no mention of Hitch being troubled by her having a possibly relationship with a screenwriter and, in my opinion, Hitchcock would have been a far more satisfying film if it had stuck more to the intrigue surrounding credits of design aspects of the film (often credited to Saul Bass more than Hitchcock) and the music as well as the wrangling with the studio and censors.

Anthony Perkins in PsychoWhat the book also adds which would never have fitted the three-act Hollywood movie structure is and exploration of the effect Psycho had on the career of Hitch.

It posits that while many have tried all, including the director himself, consistently failed to live up to Psycho and, as well as reviving Hitchcock’s energy for filmmaking, it may also have led to his decline as he switched studios from Paramount to Universal and lost touch with what had made his previous films what they were.

While there are elements of opinion in the book, and it clearly comes from a point of view of Hitchcock as auteur and certainly not a critical standpoint, it still paints a reasonably balanced picture of the creation of a classic in a way that I wish extra features on DVDs and Blu-rays would do more often.

One thought on “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho by Stephen Rebello

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  1. Mr. Girard,
    It is really a shame that many reviewers think this book “paints a brilliant and in-depth picture” of the making of Psycho when so much of it is just plain factually WRONG! Mr. Rebello explored the Alfred Hitchcock papers at the Margaret Herrick Library either stoned or in the most lazy and disorganized manner possible. The book is amazingly consistent in getting neary every date and dollar figure for the film WRONG, and comes up with so many howlers it would take many pages indeed to document them all. Here is one of my favorites though: “On Tuesday, April 26, 8:00 PM…Alfred Hitchcock hosted the first rough-cut screening of Psycho….missing…were the essential ingredients of a complete audio track and musical score” (p.135-136). Hitchcock FINISHED the film by April 3, when he left BY BOAT for a tour of the far east. HE WAS IN HONG KONG ON APRIL 26!!!!!. The music for Psycho was recorded March 16, 17 & 18–YOU CAN LOOK IT UP IN THE CONTRACTS KEPT BY THE MUSICIAN’S UNION LOCAL 47!!!!

    That so many people regard Rebello’s book with anything other than the contempt it deserves is truly amazing! It’s like trying to get an accurate portrait of the Ku Klux Klan by watching “Birth of a Nation”!

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