The film "Psycho" by Alfred Hitchcock. An Analysis of the Introductory Scene

Term Paper, 2019

11 Pages, Grade: 1,7



1 Introduction

2 The Introductory Scene
2.1 OpeningCredits
2.2 TheOpening Scene
2.3 The Importance ofThe Bra-scene

3 Themusic

4 Conclusion

5 Literature

1 Introduction

Hitchcock is one of the most famous and influential filmmakers of all the time. He created his very own genre: the Hitchcock-film. Psycho shocked cinema audiences all over the world. Everything together, the technique, the cuts, the story, the characters and much more made Psycho such a sensation. Hitchcock consciously plays with the real fears of the audience and builds up pressure. The fear of becoming the victim of a violent crime, the fear of losing one's mind and ultimately becoming mentally ill, the fear of unfulfilled love or finally the fear of being discovered. During the film, the viewers go through ups and downs and can put themselves in the position of and person and their situation. The construct, which the spectators have built up and accepted in one moment, is deconstructed again by Hitchcock in the next moment.

The shower scene is probably the most well-known, most discussed and most investigated scene of the whole film. After this film, nobody probably went showering with a closed shower curtain. There are numerous essays and works on this scene, so this essay focuses on another scene which is eye-catching: the introductory scene.

2 The Introductory Scene

2.1 Opening Credits

The opening credits were designed by Saul Bass, who had previously made the opening credits for Vertigo (1958) and North by Nothwest (1959) (Quitsch 2010: 66). He was assisted by Wiliam Hurtz and Paul Stoleroff (Quitsch 2010: 72). The production of Psycho costed only eight hundred thousand dollars (Tuffaut 1993: 276), a not inconsiderable part of which was used to produce the opening credits (Quitsch 2010: 67).

At the beginning, alternating horizontal and vertical strokes glide across the canvas. Later, these strokes carry fragments of writing with them into the picture and thus put together the names of the persons involved in the film. Shortly afterwards these are cut up again by further beams. The background is black throughout, the strokes light grey and the letters white. With the help of these strong contrasts, the differences stand out and are emphasized more at the same time. Another conspicuous feature is the separation of the listed names. This clean cross-section is reminiscent of cutting a knife. With regard to the film, this could be an indication of the knife that will later be used to kill both Marion Crane and Milton Arbogast.

However, the lines also can be seen as an allusion to the inner dichotomy of Marion Crane, regarding the robbery (Quitsch 2010: 70). The horizontal line represents the moral development, the bad conscience, the vertical, the personal advantage. Sometimes the horizontal lines have the upper hand, sometimes the vertical ones.

A special significance, could also have the contrast of vertical and horizontal. Here again two differences oppose each other. The pattern of these lines can be found again and again in the film. Immediately at the beginning of the film, for example, the horizontal lines can be found in the shawl of the hotel room in which Marion and Sam are located. But also in the architecture vertical as well as horizontal elements can be found. The vertical house stands alone, high up on the hill in the style of the Californian Gothic and at the same time draws the viewer's interest but also a certain respect (Truffaut 1993: 263). In contrast, the motel lies horizontal and flat at the feet of the hill. Hitchcock doesn't choose the two buildings to create the atmosphere of a horror film, but to be as authentic as possible (ibid.). It was already clear to him before the shooting began that both buildings, the house and the motel, had to be something special, there could be no ordinary bungalow that did not achieve the effect that was needed here. The architecture had to match the atmosphere and this was successful (ibid.).

2.2 The Opening Scene

At the beginning of the film, the viewer receives the first information in a way that is untypical for Hitchcock, because in his opinion it is "too easy" (Truffaut 1993: 260): the location of the film is betrayed with the help of the fade in of the city name, it plays in Phoenix, Arizona. Hitchcock usually favours a more complex style of announcing the venue by highlighting the specific features of a city/place, then activating the spectators' world knowledge and giving them an idea (ibid.). First Hitchcock also wanted to start by Psycho with pictures of the city events, but in hindsight he realized that Christmas decoration was to be seen in the background. There was no more time for a re-shoot, so he opted for the simple method, the naming (Kögeböhn 2013: 159).

While the title is faded in, the camera continues to pan across the city from an elevated perspective, the so-called top view or bird's-eye view (Mikos 2003:90): there are masses of houses and a busy street to be seen. Besides, the setting of the film is created by mentioning the day of the week and the date: it is Friday, 11 December. The space-time continuum is so important because it creates a certain reality and removes fictionality from the film (Mikos 2003:123).

Now the camera is moving in, in contrast to zooming, the camera is moving actively (Mikos 2003: 194). It focuses on a multi-storey house and approaches it more and more. Meanwhile, the spectators are told that it is 14:43. The naming of the time is based on the following scene of the film: the camera moves further into the picture and targets a window of the house. The blinds almost completely cover the view into the room, only a small gap is kept open. The pattern of the horizontal lines shown in the opening credits can be found here. After the camera slides into the room, a couple can be seen inside, it is Marion Crane and Sam Loomis. Hitchcock tries to use the time to draw the attention to the fact that Marion has to give up her lunchbreak in order to have the opportunity to sleep with Sam and this has the effect that the relationship between the two has something secretive about it right from the start (Truffaut 261 ff.). Within this scene, the audience becomes voyeurs1 like Norman Bates later in the film.

A dispute develops between Marion and Sam: She is dissatisfied with the circumstances under which they have to conduct their relationship and therefore wants to end it. Marion complains that she doesn't like the secret meeting in hotels, she wants to present her relationship to the outside world and be in public with Sam. He then gives in and suggests a dinner together.

At this moment Marion mentions her mother, almost incoherently. Her voice sounds very provocative and deeply serious. A strong contrast emerges and the mood of the film suddenly changes from romanticism, love and affection to sadness and seriousness. In the further course this change of effect is to be noticed again: Sam succeeds in building up the romantic effect again by showing Marion his affection. And again, this romanticism is interrupted, this time by Sam talking about past ghosts. It's lightning fast from the dream world to reality. Sam now talks about his deceased father, his debts, which he has to pay off, and his ex-wife, to whom he has to continue to pay alliances. Now that the audience has gained an insight into the complicated lives of the two and thus into their love lives, the film develops.

The introductory scene of a movie usually gives the viewer an idea of what to expect from the movie: this is not the case with Hitchcock, however, he breaks the rules. This is one of the games Hitchcock likes to play with his spectators. He "encourage them to fall into misidentifications and misinterpretations which have a specifically moral and thematic force" (Boyd 1995: 58). Most films begin with the introduction of the main characters. Hitchcock succeeds in portraying Marion as the leading actress in this scene and builds on this in the further course of the film. The spectators are all the more shocked and surprised by this game that Marion is killed. This turns her from a protagonist to an antagonist. "Marion's death does not make Psycho any more difficult to follow, but it does make it more difficult for first-time viewers to enjoy" (Leitch 1991: 64). In the first step the audience has to discard their construction from the film and in the further course recasting the story. Through such games Hitchcock succeeds, even if a happy end can be foreseen, in filling the audience with fear until the last second. And that's exactly what the audience expects from Hitchcock, they want to be challenged, they don't want to know how it will end, they want to be detectives themselves and are grateful for every new surprise (Leitch 1991: 67).

2.3 The Importance of The Bra-scene

In the first scene of the film, Marion and Sam are seen lying in bed together. Sam's naked upper body can be seen, Marion wears nothing but a pair of underpants and a bra. Jean Douchet, a French film critic, commented that only a part of the audience would receive satisfaction (Truffaut 1993: 262). However, the mere fact that Marion can be seen in the bra caused a sensation at that time. Nowadays, after the Age of Enlightenment, this is no longer a rarity. In today's film and television, there are permanent sex scenes, naked bodies and even sexual organs. If we look at the scene in a temporal context, however, the bra scene was a risk.

We are in the early years of the 60s: sexuality is hardly to be found in the media and does not belong to the everyday picture. Hitchcock once broke the rules with his film Notorious (1946). At this time, it was stipulated that a kiss scene should last no longer than 3 seconds. Hitchcock ignored this rule and created an almost three-minute sequence in which kisses were exchanged (Kögeböhn 2013:170). Certainly, actors in American mainstream film had never played an erotic duet in the horizontal, especially not half naked (ibid.). Already the production of this scene caused a sensation. Janet Leigh once mentioned that when she was standing in underwear on the locked set, people even looked down from the roof beams to catch a glimpse (ibid.).

But Hitchcock made a conscious decision to record it: he wanted to attract attention, provoke and shock. He justified his decision by saying that the age and thus the audience would continue to develop (Truffaut 1993: 262). Young people make their own sexual experiences and are quickly bored of simple kissing scenes (ibid.). In order to be an authentic film and to arouse the audience's interest, it must be clearly shown that Marion and Sam had sex. That's what the majority of viewers want, besides violence and murder: sex. According to Truffaut (1993: 262), it would have had an even stronger effect if not only Sam, but also Marion had been watching completely free of the upper body. Hitchcock agreed with him on this point, but drew attention to the censors who would not have tolerated this kind of freedom of movement (Kögeböhn 2013: 170). With this scene Hitchcock wanted to clarify two things: firstly, that the film is set in the 60s and secondly that the film is based on a voyeuric theme.


1 A person who gains sexual pleasure from watching others when they are naked or engaged in sexual activity (Oxford University Press, 2019: no pages)

Excerpt out of 11 pages


The film "Psycho" by Alfred Hitchcock. An Analysis of the Introductory Scene
University of Hildesheim
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ISBN (eBook)
Alfred Hitchcock, Hitchcock, Psycho, Introductory Scene, Opening Scene, Music, Analysis
Quote paper
Hanna Fennekohl (Author), 2019, The film "Psycho" by Alfred Hitchcock. An Analysis of the Introductory Scene, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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