`Psycho' given a curtain call as best Hitchcock movie
Friday 06 August 1999
The 1960 film, most memorable for the shower scene in which Janet Leigh is attacked by a mystery knifeman, received almost double the votes of Vertigo, Hitchcock's other leading film. Critics have long fought about which of the two films is the master's greatest.
Psycho, which has been the subject of numerous sequels and re-makes, tells the story of secretary Marion Crane, played by Leigh, who steals $40,000 from her boss and escapes to the out-of-the way Bates Motel, run by the creepy, oedipal Norman Bates, played by Anthony Perkins.
The panel voting for their best film was put together by the British Film Institute's Sight and Sound magazine to mark the centenary of Hitchcock's birth next week.
Those voting for Psycho included such illustrious directors as Martin Scorsese, who made Goodfellas, Atom Egoyan, director of Exotica and Bruce Robinson, director of Withnail and I.
Vertigo was made two years before Psycho and is, if anything, an even more psychological thriller. It starred James Stewart as an ex-policeman who falls in love with Kim Novak, who plays the apparent double of Stewart's lover who has supposedly killed herself. Vertigo was the favourite Hitchcock movie of film-makers such as Milos Forman, who made One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Baz Lurhmann, who made Strictly Ballroom, and John Carpenter, who directed Halloween.
The surprise of the list is Rear Window, Hitchock's masterpiece of voyeurism, which starred James Stewart as a photographer trapped in a wheelchair in his room trying to uncover a murder. The film is usually considered one of Hitchcock's best but came only in joint fifth place with a long list of other films.
Notorious and The Birds came in third and fourth place and North by Northwest, famous for Cary Grant scaling Mount Rushmore to escape James Mason, also tied in fifth place.
"Throughout the Sixties and Seventies Psycho was regarded by critics as a sensationalist slasher movie," says Nick James, editor of Sight and Sound.
"Hitchock himself was not regarded as an artist until the French New Wave made him one of their own. Before that he was thought of as just a good Hollywood director, but not a Renoir or a Fritz Lang.
"Even when he started to be regarded as an artist, Psycho was still looked down on. In recent years it has become a highly venerated work. Every frame is magnificent and it is considered probably the most influential film made after Welles' Citizen Kane."
4. The Birds
5. North by Northwest
6. Shadow of a Doubt
7. Foreign Correspondent
9. The Lady Vanishes
Scene By Scene: The Directors' Choice
PSYCHO: "There are those insinuating camera movements - the camera that moves around Janet Leigh's bedroom, picking up every detail. You see that she is packing to leave, you see the money in an envelope. It is pure soundless exposition - what makes it so disturbing is the feeling that there's someone else in the room" - Martin Scorsese
NORTH BY NORTHWEST: "Hitchcock's POV [point of view] sequences are seminal in the development of the language of cinema, and the crop-dusting sequence is the most brilliant of these. Cary Grant's near fatal encounter with a biplane is still unsurpassed as the greatest action sequence ever" - John Carpenter
VERTIGO: "Vertigo opens with a thief being chased by Jimmy Stewart and a policeman over rooftops. Then Jimmy slips and hangs from a gutter and we get the `vertigo shot': the background receding rapidly to the look of horror on Jimmy's face" - Baz Luhrmann
THE LADY VANISHES: "The most chilling moment is when Michael Redgrave notices the faint imprint of Dame May Whitty's writing on the train window, this trace of a casual gesture being the only evidence of her existence" - Scott Hicks
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