Hitchcock by Hitchcock

Anticipating Psycho: "One More Mile to Go"

The Hitchcock “look,” as it came to be known, figures significantly in Psycho: it is the parting image not only of Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), the disturbed, mother-obsessed cross-dresser who kills off the heroine, Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), halfway through the picture, but of his victim as well.  At the time, dispatching a star of Leigh’s magnitude—in the nude, no less—was a revolutionary conceit (unlike Vertigo, she isn’t “resurrected” in the next reel).  But there was little about Psycho that was ordinary.



Clip from Alfred Hitchcock Presents:
“One More Mile to Go”

The startling opening of “One More Mile to Go” (1957)—a visual accompaniment to Hitchcock’s observation that “television has brought murder back into the living room—where it belongs.” The episode was written by James P. Cavanagh, who had won an Emmy the year prior for his work on the series. He would also pen the first (rejected) draft of Psycho. It was another novice writer, Joseph Stefano, future creator of one of television’s last dramatic anthology series, The Outer Limits, who would finally nail the scenario to Hitch’s satisfaction.

After exotic locales (The Man Who Knew Too Much, To Catch a Thief), VistaVision voyeurism (Rear Window) moody romanticism (Vertigo), docudrama realism (The Wrong Man), and epic adventure (North by Northwest), it seemed only natural that a director as creatively restless as Hitchcock would change course, but the manner in which he wanted to make Psycho—cheaply, quickly, and on the down-low—led many, even those in Hitchcock’s inner circle, to believe that he had finally lost his marbles.  As Harrison, one of his most trusted collaborators, is said to have warned: “Hitch, you’re going too far this time.”  

In Hitchcock’s mind, the lurid subject matter, surprise turns, pulp origins, and overall tone of the story were more complicit with the sort of playlets he presented every Sunday night on television (a venue he seriously considered for the film during its troubled journey to the screen).  “It was an experiment in this sense,” he explained to Truffaut.  “Could I make a feature film under the same conditions as a television show?”  Yet in enlisting the services of his Shamley crew—from series cinematographer John L. Russell on down to the costumers and propsmen—it wasn’t just the austerity of television that Hitchcock hoped to recreate, but also its aesthetic.  

The series had always afforded the director a workshop for trying out new ideas.  Both “Arthur” and “Banquo’s Chair,” which Hitchcock directed for Presents whilst in pre-production on Psycho, display thematic antecedents (bird motifs, taxidermy, matricide) to the final film.  But the most remarkable example is “One More Mile to Go,”  in which Hitchcock can be seen working out the visual problems of key sequences.  The episode opens with a view into the window of a home.  Inside, a husband (David Wayne) and a wife (Louise Larabee) are having a horrific row.  Suddenly, the husband reaches for a fire iron.  

With a quick cut, Hitchcock takes us inside the house-—to where the husband has just impulsively bludgeoned the wife.  After surveying the grisly mess, the husband carefully wraps the body and places it in the trunk of his car, just as Norman does with Marion in Psycho.  Driving down a lonely stretch of highway to a lake where, like Norman, he hopes to scuttle both car and corpse, he is stopped by a meddlesome cop—a scene recreated virtually shot-by-shot in Psycho.


Frame Comparisons


“One More Mile to Go”


With blood on their hands, both the Husband and Norman are forced to confront the consequences of their actions.  This visual indication of the sin each has committed, and the heightened state of self-awareness it will bring them, provides troubling evidence of the barrier between an orderly life and a disorderly one.


“One More Mile to Go”




Flush with paranoia, and having taken flight, the Husband and Marion become fearful that they are being followed.  Although Psycho was filmed in a wider aspect ratio than the television series, Hitchcock staged each shot in a manner more suitable for the smaller screen—his tightly framed, television-style close-ups heighten the sense of dread in the film.  Indeed, it is only when a character is threatened by another that Hitchcock places them in the same frame.


“One More Mile to Go”




Hoping to sidestep the interrogations of the policemen, the Husband and Marion behave in erratic, evasive manners, thereby inflaming, rather than subduing, the suspicions of the lawmen—who, it turns out, have merely pulled them over for reasons entirely unrelated to their crimes.  Shots like this, in which the law is presented as a menacing force impeding the protagonist, played upon the audience’s notions of right and wrong by making them feel sympathy for a criminal.


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