The Murder that Changed the Movies
Fifty years ago, death on the silver screen was typically quite decorous. Women swooned and expired in their beds, surrounded by sobbing intimates and backed by angelic musical chords. Men often died more violently, clutching their hearts on the battlefield yet spilling nary a drop of blood. And anyone who was murdered – gangsters and “bad” girls, for instance – generally got what they deserved, as decreed by Hollywood and the censors who routinely policed its business.
Then came the murder that broke all the rules and changed American movies forever. And with respect to cinematic violence – particularly the targeting of women – we’re still debating whether that change was for the better.
Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, shot in four weeks for $800,000 and released nationwide 50 years ago this month, earned few plaudits at the time. One reviewer called it “a blot on an honorable career,” while others veritably retched onto the page. Time magazine lamented “one of the messiest, most nauseating murders ever filmed. At close range, the camera watches every twitch, gurgle, convulsion, and hemorrhage…. The nausea never disappears.” And Bosley Crowther of the New York Times did not intend praise when he warned, “You had better have a pretty strong stomach.”
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