May 19, 1962 [Peeping Tom, Psycho]

Both Peeping Tom and Psycho were released in 1960--and I saw the latter then--but since its 1960 debut in England Peeping Tom has been thoroughly hated--piquing curiosity, but maybe also delaying release in the States.

The wait was—can I write “worth it” without sounding deranged? Both movies trouble me, particularly in their manipulations of—well, me: I found myself feeling bad for both of them, Mark Stevens with his slight accent and quiet manner, Norman Bates with his darting little birds’ eyes. They remind me of how frightened one can be of the past—no, of the weight of it on the present, forcing little covering grins--or small movements of the hands, keeping busy, keeping safe.

This is no confession of psychosis. But Norman with his little sandwiches for Janet Leigh and Mark’s boyish enthusiasm for motion pictures stay with me as clear images--yes of course scarred by their desperate violence, muddy as Leigh’s car drawn out of the swamp; but what a fine line they draw between loneliness and murder, between the fear of growing up and the refusal to let others live.

The worst of it is that one expects this kind of thing from Hitchcock. He’s been inching downward for years, despite the great fun of North by Northwest and the macabre E.C. horror comics glee of The Trouble with Harry. With Psycho, his chubby little toes have finally found some purchase on the bottom, the cold water keeping him awake, goosing us into attention. But no one is indulging Michael Powell, who turns on us for our desire to watch—outdoing even Hitchcock in Rear Window--and delivers a black-lace Valentine to the moviegoer. The scorn is bracing for the hardy, but too hard a slap for many.

For me it’s not so much a slap as a dull pressure, as though my head were being held by compellingly strong hands, my temples squeezed, my eyes turned toward the last movies. Mark is still watching, and Norman watches back, and their smiles cut the screen like an Andalusian dog’s razor blade.


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