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Friday, April 16, 2010

Psycho Semi-Centennial: Before It Was a Classic - Excerpts from Original Reviews

Time heals all wounds, and it also apparently adds some perspective. For example, perhaps you're familiar with how The Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind, West Side Story and other films generally regarded as excellent today were soundly panned by critics upon their original release. Well, Psycho was another one of those which, while perhaps not roundly rejected, did get a decidedly mixed reaction from reviewers in 1960 (though certainly not from audiences, who made it the biggest money-maker of Hitchcock's career.)

Psycho is an interesting example, as the first round of reviews from publications like Time, Newsweek, Esquire and The New York Times were negative--and then, as audience opinion proved significantly contradictory, and Hitchcock himself amped up the buzz surrounding the flick with a brilliant marketing campaign, many critics and periodicals flip-flopped. By the end of 1960, it was already being hailed as a modern masterpiece, and was strongly represented at the Oscars. But it's fascinating to see the initial knee-jerk repugnance of critics who perhaps had some difficulty processing what they were seeing. Here are a few snippets:
With such game afoot, the experienced Hitchcock fan might reasonably expect the unreasonable—a great chase down Thomas Jefferson's forehead, as in North by Northwest, or across the rooftops of Monaco, as in To Catch a Thief. What is offered instead is merely gruesome. The trail leads to a sagging, swamp-view motel and to one of the messiest, most nauseating murders ever filmed. At close range, the camera watches every twitch, gurgle, convulsion and hemorrhage in the process by which a living human becomes a corpse.
Time Magazine would later issue a new review describing the film as "superlative" and "masterly". And the New York Times' critic, Bosley Crowther, would later name Psycho among his top 10 films of 1960.

See, kids? It's all about perspective--initial reviews aren't everything. Who knows, in future years, film students may be studying Birdemic, Halloween 2 and The Happening! OK, maybe not...


le0pard13 said...

Fine post, B-Sol. So many times critics get it plain wrong. And sometimes the buying public knows it (of course, sometimes they don't get it, either). A fine look back, my friend.

B-Sol said...

Thanks Leopard!

Robert Ring said...

That one about censorship is fascinating on several levels. Great stuff.

On the topic of old reviews, I recently read one of the most befuddling that I have ever seen: a critic in 1933 calling The Invisible Man's visual effects "nothing new." Talk about a "Whaaaaaa?" moment.

The Mike said...

I've always found how critics reacted, then backtracked on Hitchcock's films intriguing. I did a term paper on Vertigo's initial critical panning back in college, and also have read that Rear Window didn't get much praise until it was re-released in '62 (at that point, it was being advertised with the tagline "SEE IT, IF YOUR NERVES CAN STAND IT AFTER PSYCHO!")

Good stuff, as always, Mr. Sol.

B-Sol said...

Robert, that really is mind-boggling--considering I'm STILL floored by the effects in The Invisible Man!
Mike, I think in Hitch's case, he was just too far ahead of his time. Critics weren't ready. He'd have had a much easier time later on.

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