June 29, 2017

20,000 Vinyl LPs 94: Bernard Herrmann ~ Psycho

Psycho vinyl LP record
front cover detail
detail photo by Styrous®

Today, June 29th, is the birthday of Bernard Herrmann, an American composer best known for his work in composing scores for motion pictures. And he is one of the greats! The list of films he has scored contains one exceptional film after the other (link below). To me, his score for Psycho is tied with that of The Day the Earth Stood Still. As a Sci-Fi nerd, I tend more to Day but I can't decide which one is the greatest. I decided to leave Day for another blog.     

There can be no argument that Psycho is one of the great psychological horror films of all time. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, the tension and suspense generated by camera work, lighting and innuendo are brilliant. The score by Bernard Herrmann utilized only a string orchestra, unusual at the time; it completed the final project and insured it got there. Herrmann & Hitchcock teamed on other films to achieve terrific results but for me, this film is at the top!    

Psycho vinyl LP record
front cover detail
detail photo by Styrous®

Psycho vinyl LP record
front cover
cover design ~ Philip Warr
photo by Styrous®

The shower scene has to be one of the most shrewdly filmed sequences in movie history. The screeching violins are like finger nails on a black board that make the hair on the back of your neck and arms stand on end. Hitchcock originally intended to have no music for the sequence but Herrmann insisted he try his composition. Afterward, Hitchcock agreed it vastly intensified the scene, and nearly doubled Herrmann's salary.       

Any one who has ever seen the film and this scene in particular will never forget it. And the remarkable thing about it is, it's all innuendo; nothing graphic is depicted. The quick cuts and music say it all (link below). I think if Hitchcock had shown the real thing (well, it is a film) it would not have had as much impact.     

Psycho vinyl LP record
back cover 
photo by Styrous®

But that is not the only scene that is adroitly scored. Marion's (Janet Leigh) drive from the city to the final destination, the Bates Motel, is a sterling model of tension building. As her car plows through the pummeling rain at night, the events leading up to the drive are played through her mind and backed up by staccato strings overlaid by swirling ones. It is a study in churning waves of confusion! Brilliant! (link below)   

Psycho vinyl LP record
back cover detail
detail photo by Styrous®

The opening of the film (I know I'm going in reverse) doesn't give you a chance to prepare for what you are about to see. The orchestra immediately bursts into the theater auditorium with a determined, jagged-paced orchestra overlaid by sweeping strings and wipes of credit graphics accentuating them (link below). 

Psycho movie poster

The trailer for the film is actually hilarious; Hitchcock plays it for laughs and makes it look like it might be a comedy. The music by Herrmann is dorky and silly which reinforces the effect. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is six and a half minutes long and worth taking the time to watch every minute of it (link below). 

 Theatre poster providing notification 
of "no late admission" policy

The poster reads:  
The manager of this theatre has been instructed at the risk of his life, not to admit to the theatre any persons after the picture starts.

Any spurious attempts to enter by side doors, fire escapes or ventilating shafts will be met by force.
The entire objective of this extraordinary policy, of course, is to help you enjoy PSYCHO more.

Until I started researching for this blog, I didn't realize that the film is based on real-life events. It was based on the book of the same name, written by Robert Bloch, which, in turn, was loosely based on the true story of serial killer Ed Gein. Gein was known as The Butcher of Plainfield, an American murderer and body snatcher. His crimes, committed around his hometown of Plainfield, Wisconsin, gathered widespread notoriety after authorities discovered that Gein had exhumed corpses from local graveyards and fashioned trophies and keepsakes from their bones and skin. His story also inspired The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in 1974 and The Silence of the Lamb in 1991.     

 Ed Gein, circa 1958
police crime photo

The Bates Motel is based on a painting, House by the Railroad (1925), by Edward Hopper. House depicts an isolated Victorian wood mansion, partly obscured by the raised embankment of a railroad. Lloyd Goodrich praised the work as "one of the most poignant and desolating pieces of realism."  There is other art work that inspired the film with more info on Alfred Hitchcock Geeks (link below).
Edward Hopper  ~ House by the Railroad  1925

Anthony Perkins was uncanny and properly creepy as Norman Bates, the owner of the Bates Motel. It was the best role of his life. The success of Psycho jump-started his career, but he suffered from typecasting. However, when Perkins was asked whether he would have still taken the role knowing that he would be typecast afterwards, he replied with a definite "yes".     

Perkins made his film debut in The Actress (1953). He received the Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actor and an Academy Award nomination for his second film, Friendly Persuasion (1956). Perkins portrayed the Boston Red Sox baseball player Jimmy Piersall in the 1957 biopic Fear Strikes Out. Perkins reprised the role of Norman Bates in three sequels to Psycho.    

He performed in the Frank Loesser musical Greenwillow (1960), for which he was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical,       

Perkins released three pop music albums in 1957 and 1958 on Epic and RCA Victor as "Tony Perkins". His single Moon-Light Swim was a hit in the United States, peaking at number 24 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1957. He showcased his musical talents in The Matchmaker (1958) with Shirley Booth and Shirley MacLaine.        

 shower scene
movie still

Janet Leigh was perfectly cast as Marion Crane, the heroine (briefly) of Psycho, as was John Gavin, her amazingly handsome boyfriend, Sam Loomis.   

Until her death, Leigh continued to receive strange and sometimes threatening calls, letters, and even tapes detailing what they would like to do to Marion Crane. One letter was so "grotesque" that she passed it along to the FBI, two of whose agents visited Leigh and told her the culprits had been located and that she should notify the FBI if she received any more letters of that type.     

Psycho vinyl LP record
back cover detail
detail photo by Styrous®

Psycho, independently produced and financed by Hitchcock, was filmed at Revue Studios, the same location as his television show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents. It had a budget of $807,000. Nearly the whole film was shot with 50 mm lenses on 35 mm cameras. This trick closely mimicked normal human vision, which helped to further involve the audience. There are videos about and of how Psycho was made on YouTube (links below).   

Psycho vinyl LP record
back cover detail
detail photo by Styrous®

Before his collaboration with Alfred Hitchcock, Herrmann had written several scores for radio and film. His music was also heard on dozens of television programs, including The Twilight Zone. He died in 1975, just after completing the score to Taxi Driver. His most enduring and best-known work was done with Hitchcock, and his score for Psycho has come to epitomize suspense and terror.     

 Psycho vinyl LP record, side 1
photo by Styrous®

Psycho vinyl LP record, side 2
photo by Styrous®

Amazingly, Psycho did not get good reviews when it was released. It is now considered one of Hitchcock's best films and praised as a major work of cinematic art by international film critics and scholars. Often ranked among the greatest films of all time, it set a new level of acceptability for violence, deviant behavior and sexuality in American films, and is widely considered to be the earliest example of the slasher film genre.

In 1992, the US Library of Congress deemed the film "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.         

Bernard Herrmann ‎– Psycho
Label: Unicorn Records (3) ‎– UN1-75001
Format: Vinyl, LP, Album
Country: UK
Released: 1975
Genre: Classical, Stage & Screen
Style: Contemporary, Neo-Classical, Score, Soundtrack


    Artwork – Philip Warr
    Conductor – Bernard Herrmann
    Engineer [Recording] – Bob Auger
    Orchestra – The National Philharmonic Orchestra*
    Producer – Christopher Palmer


Recorded at Barking Assembly Hall on 2nd October 1975.
Newly Recorded

Net links:       
Bernard Herrmann film scores    
NPR ~ Bernard Herrmann's Score to 'Psycho'     
Psycho ~ Full Cast & Crew      
Psycho ~ Synopsis      
The Lineup ~ 
Was Ed Gein the Most Misunderstood Killer in American History?
House of Horrors ~ American Psycho
Alfred Hitchcock Geeks ~ Hitchcock's Most Hopperesque Film: "Psycho"               
      Psycho (1960) links on YouTube:        
    Theatrical Trailer (6:30 minutes)            
    drive to the Bates Motel           
    the shower scene            
    How Hitchcock Got People To See "Psycho"         
    The Making of "Psycho" (1 hr 29 min)        
    The making of the Shower Scene             
Psycho scared the bejeezez out of me in 1960;
it still does! 
Styrous® ~ Thursday, June 29, 2017    

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