VILLAGE VOICE, August, 1960
For many years American and British critics have been mourning the "old" Alfred Hitchock who used to make neat, unpretentious British thrillers before he was corrupted by Hollywood's garish technical facility. Oh, for the days of "The Thirty-Nine Steps," "The Man Who Knew Too Much," and "The Lady Vanishes!" Meanwhile in Paris the wild young men on Cahiers du Cinema, particularly Claude Charbrol, were proclaiming the gospel that Hitchcock's later American movies stamped him as one of the screen's major artists.
A close inspection of "PSYCHO" indicates not only that the French have been right all along, but that Hitchcock is the most daring avant-garde film-maker in America today. Besides making previous horror films look like variations of "Pollyanna," "Psycho" is overlaid with a richly symbolic commentary on the medern world as a public swamp in which human feelings and passions are flushed down the drain. What once seemed like impurities in his patented cut-and-chase technique now give "Psycho" and the rest of Hollywood Hitchcock a personal flavor and intellectual penetration which his British classics lack.
No Longer Cheats For one thing, Hitchcock no longer cheats his endings. Where the mystery of "Diabolique," for example, is explained in the most popular after-all-this-is-just-a-movie-and-we've-been-taken manner, the solution of "Psycho" is more ghoulish than the antecedent horror which includes the grisliest murder scenes ever filmed. Although Hitchcock continually teases his conglomerate audience, he never fails to deliver on his most ominous portents. Such divergent American institutions as motherhood and motels will never seem quite the same again, and only Hitchcock could give a soft-spoken State Trooper the visually sinister overtones of a dehumanized machine patrolling a conformist society.
Despite its huge grosses, "Psycho" makes fewer concessions to popular taste than an allegedly daring film like "Private Property." "Psycho" takes its audience wherever its direction wants to go, while "Private Property" stays a little ahead of the audience until a catching-up finale worthy of Albert Zugsmith.
Forced to Respond
"Psycho" should be seen at least three times by any discerning film-goer, the first time for the sheer terror of the experience, and on this occasion I fully agree with Hitchcock that only a congenital spoilsport would reveal the plot; the second time for the macabre comedy inherent in the conception of the film; and the third for all the hidden meanings and symbols lurking beneath the surface of the first American movie since "Touch of Evil" to stand in the same creative rank as the great European films.