Hitchcock by Hitchcock

Television and the Road to Psycho

By Allen Glover

"This is Alfred Hitchcock... We trust the presence of a special policeman throughout the current engagement of Psycho will not prove annoying or frightening.  Personally, they scare me to death.  Actually, he merely represents the theatre management, who have been instructed to make certain that no one is seated after the picture begins."

An audio recording played in theatre lobbies during the run of Psycho. Like most of the promotional materials for the film, it was scripted by James Allardice, who also wrote the monologues that Hitchcock delivered as host of his own television series.

Of the fifty-three feature films that Alfred Hitchcock made, Psycho is undoubtedly the one that most people associate with his name. Stark, gruesome, unrelentingly suspenseful, it is one of cinema’s boldest and most influential endeavors—and yet its maker went to his grave insisting it was but a modest dark comedy, and a misunderstood one at that. Produced for just over $800,000 (a fifth of what Hitchcock’s previous picture, North by Northwest, had cost), Psycho opened in June of 1960 under a shroud of carefully calculated secrecy. Fueled by Hitchcock’s decree that nobody could be admitted once the film began, lines formed around the block in cities all over the country. By the end of the year (in an era when the average ticket cost seventy cents), Psycho had grossed $15 million. It was the most profitable black-and-white film since D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation (1915). 

As a cultural phenomenon, Psycho owed its success to an ingenious marketing campaign, masterminded by Hitchcock himself, that was entirely hinged upon the public persona he had crafted as host of his popular CBS anthology series, Alfred Hitchcock Presents. In print ads, recorded theatre announcements and, most especially, a cheeky six-minute trailer in which Hitchcock gave a tour of the Bates Motel, the promotional push for Psycho suggested that the experience of going to see the film would be akin to viewing a big-screen version of one of his television shows. Given the pedigree of the film, which he made as if it were for television, this wasn’t entirely a case of false advertising, but nothing in the history of the movies could have prepared audiences for the forty-five masterfully executed seconds it took for Marion Crane to leave this mortal coil.












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