M. Keith Booker
Psycho (1960) was Alfred Hitchcock’s followup to the lavish Vertigo (1958)—considered in some circles to be the greatest film ever made—and North by Northwest (1959)—which makes perhaps the most dramatic use of color in any Hitchcock film. Yet Psycho is a relatively low-budget black-and-white film shot, not by Hitchcock’s usual high-level cinematic crew but by a more modest crew accustomed more to shooting television series, such as Hitchcock’s own Alfred Hitchcock Presents, thus presumably giving it a grittier feel. Psycho is also a film with humble source material, being based on a pulp novel (Robert Bloch’s 1959 book of the same title), which was itself inspired by the career of real-life serial killer Ed Gein. But the result is an acknowledged classic, Hitchcock’s best-known film and one that rivals even Vertigo in critical reception. In the world of horror film, Psycho is also important for breaking new ground and ultimately inspiring the whole subgenre of the slasher film, as well as being a principal driving force in the evolution of psychological horror and of horror films that center on family relationships.
Psycho wastes no time in dispelling any illusions that its humble origins and its gritty black-and-white photography might produce an uncharacteristically unambitious film by Hitchcock’s standards. Indeed, somewhat like Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil only two years earlier, Psycho announces from the very beginning that it is a carefully-crafted work of cinematic art. The film thus bursts onto the screen with a striking opening titles sequence, featuring dramatic music by Bernard Herrmann and distinctive graphics designed by Saul Bass. The opening titles, incidentally, both begin and end with Hitchcock’s name, as if to emphasize that one is about to see a film produced by the hand of the master. The titles then fade into the film’s opening shot, a tour de force of cinematography that rivals the calisthenics of the opening tracking shot of Touch of Evil. Here, the film begins with a long shot of downtown Phoenix, Arizona, the McDowell Mountains in the background. The camera then slowly moves across the city (in an aerial sequence originally shot from a helicopter, though studio footage was later intercut with the helicopter shots, which proved too shaky in places). In the midst of this shot, onscreen text identifies the city and specifies the date as “Friday, December the Eleventh,” which would place the year as 1959, though that is not indicated on the screen. The shot gradually zooms in on a hotel window (the footage was shot at the Jefferson Hotel in Phoenix) and then seems to move through the window and into the room, where Sam Loomis (John Gavin) is getting dressed, while Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) lies on the bed in a bra and slip. A quick shot shows Marion’s modest lunch (a sandwich and soda) on a table in the room, still uneaten. It is clear that Sam and Marion are lovers, meeting for a lunchtime tryst at the hotel, a situation that would still have been a bit shocking in a mainstream Hollywood film at the time.
Already, then, viewers of the film are encouraged to feel like they are seeing something they shouldn’t, like they are acting as voyeurs in observing this scene, setting up a motif that will be crucial throughout the film, in which implicit connections between voyeurism and the making and viewing of films are a major theme, as I will discuss more below. Sam and Marion even do a bit of partly nude kissing and cuddling on the bed, though of course there is no explicit sexuality or genuine nudity. The scene, though, does stipulate that Marion is sexually active outside of wedlock, something that would come to be an almost automatic indicator that she might be a target as the slasher subgenre evolved. Still, this scene also makes it clear that Marion is uncomfortable with such meetings and that she is desperate to marry Sam, who seems suspiciously evasive about the idea, anticipating his later oddly affectless reaction to the discovery of her murder. She even specifies that this must be the last time they meet under such tawdry circumstances. Sam nominally agrees to her insistence that any future meetings must be under “respectable” conditions, and it is clear that their relationship would theoretically be headed for marriage, were it not for Sam’s various money problems, including paying off his father’s debts and paying alimony to his ex-wife. These problems, he insists, make it impossible for him to give Marion the life she deserves, though we wonder if he is just using his finances as an excuse to avoid commitment.
I have elsewhere noted the way in which this scene sets up a major theme of the film: the continuing oppression of individuals in the present by events that have occurred in the past, even if they themselves were not responsible for those events (Post-Utopian Imagination 171). As Marion states, concerning Sam’s various monetary commitments, “I pay, too.” She even suggests that, after marriage to Sam, she would be willing to lick the stamps for the envelopes he uses to send alimony payments to his wife, creating a moment of pathos in which Marion seems victimized by an unhealthy devotion to Sam, which makes her willing to suffer for his past actions. This theme will be played out most spectacularly in the film by the continuing psychic domination of Norman Bates by his dead mother and visually by the memorable image of the Victorian haunted Bates house looming darkly over the more modern, though a bit rundown, Bates Motel. As Robert Spoto puts it “this film is really a meditation on the tyranny of past over present” (314). The same, of course, might be said of many slasher films, in which the central slasher figures are typically driven by some sort of wrong (real or perceived) that they have suffered in the past, leading them to seek vengeance, even though their victims had nothing to do with the original injustice.
I also point out in The Post-Utopian Imagination that this theme in Psycho can usefully be glossed by Karl Marx’s famous declaration in The Eighteenth Brumaire that“the tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living” (Marx and Engels 594). Marx, of course, views this situation as a call to action, based on his belief that human beings can awake from this nightmare by taking collective action to make their own history. There are no such hints in Psycho, where the individual characters tend to be very much on their own and thus doomed to failure, as would also become typical of the slasher subgenre. This inability is, in fact, another of the film’s central themes. Here, all of the characters are far too alienated to be able to make genuine common cause with any of the others. As Brill puts it, “the central poverty of human life in Psycho, and the source of much of its miserable comedy and deep pessimism, derives from the inability of its characters to make contact” (229).
The characters might fail to make contact with one another, but they succeed very well in evoking emotional responses from audiences, who are encouraged from the very first scene to identify with Marion, who seems to be suffering greatly because of her love for Sam, a love that cannot be fully requited because of circumstances that are beyond her control—including the fact that we are led to suspect that Sam does not share her enthusiasm about the potential of a marriage between them. Thus, rather than condemning Marion for a disreputable meeting with a man in a cheap hotel, we think of her as a sweet, innocent girl being victimized by circumstances—and perhaps even by Sam. This scene even sets us up to sympathize with Marion’s later theft of $40,000 (after she rushes back to the office, walking right past Hitchcock, who stands on the sidewalk outside in one of this film’s trademark cameos) that has been deposited with her boss, a real estate agent, by Tom Cassidy (Frank Albertson), a blustering, obnoxious client who wants to purchase a house for his “baby” girl, who is being married—and who thus has all of the advantages that the poor and unmarried Marion lacks. “Eighteen years old,” Cassidy brags to Marion, as if to rub it in, as he shows her a picture of his “baby.” “And she never had an unhappy day in any one of those years.”
“Baby,” we suspect, might have a different story, but, if she does, we never hear it. The film does, though, go out of its way to emphasize that the wealthy Cassidy can easily afford to lose the $40,000 and that he even deserves to lose it (as when he suggests that he is so rich partly because he avoids paying his taxes). Her also flirts leeringly with Marion, engineering audience sympathy for her and lack of sympathy for him, thus assuring that the audience will not condemn Marion (a least not too much) for the theft. Indeed, the film works deftly to establish audience identification with Marion in this sense, completely ignoring the fact that the real victim of the theft is not the oily Cassidy but Marion’s innocent boss, who would no doubt be legally responsible for the loss (assuming Cassidy even reports it). At the same time, Marion seems to take a certain thrill from the theft that has nothing to do with her love for Sam, whose commitment to their relationship is already suspect given the easy resignation with which he accepts the economic impossibility of their union. It’s a clever cat-and-mouse game: Hitchcock offers audiences numerous opportunities to condemn Marion and her behavior and then demonstrates that he can make them sympathize with her, anyway. He gives us numerous reasons to sympathize with her, but then puts limits on that sympathy. Little do we know, at this point, that he has even more nefarious tricks up his sleeve.
By this time, it seems highly unlikely that any good will come of Marion’s love for Sam, or of her theft in order to provide financial support for that love. This film, in fact, thoroughly deconstructs the logic of Hollywood-style romantic narratives, just as it refuses (in a very postmodern way) the logic of Hollywood narratives in general. Still, audiences have been trained to follow the codes of such narratives, and so they eagerly follow Marion as she takes off with the cash and heads for California, where she and Sam will now have (she assumes) the financial wherewithal to be married. We share Marion’s alarm when she is spotted by her boss as she drives in her car headed out of time; and we root for her to succeed in allaying the apparent suspicions of the highway patrolman who looks her over ominously when he finds her sleeping in her car on the side of the road.
Indeed, the gaze of this patrolman is another key moment of voyeurism in the film, emphasizing as it does Marion’s own paranoid sense of being under surveillance after her theft. This is particularly the case in the scene involving the patrolman, whose dark sunglasses make it impossible for Marion to read his attitude or the level of his suspicion. They allow his eyes to see without being seen, much in the mode of Foucault’s panopticon, but also in the way Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) will secretly leer at Marion through his secret peephole in the wall of her motel room. Still, while Norman’s interest is primarily psychosexual, the patrolman is engaged in an act of official investigation, so that he, more clearly than does Norman, evokes the prevalence of surveillance in the security state of Cold War America. In this sense, the film would seem to be a perfect illustration of Robert Corber’s thesis that the discourse of national security plays a central role in Hitchcock’s work, which is thus thoroughly rooted in its Cold War setting. However, as Corber points out, Psycho’s refusal to suggest that anything good can come of all this surveillance actually tends to challenge and even subvert the rhetoric of the security state. For Corber, then, Psycho is a sort of anti–North by Northwest (where surveillance is at least partly endorsed) that“represents a kind of paranoid fantasy in which the discourses of national securitynot only fail to guarantee the individual’s consent to the postwar settlement but actually encourage her/his resistance to them” (Name 217).
In any case, most viewers surely root for Marion and against her discovery by the patrolman, not only because she will go to jail, but because it will interrupt the romantic narrative of her coming reunion with Sam, a narrative in which we are already heavily invested, despite the fact that we already know enough to know that it is not likely to end well. Later, we continue to share her anxiety as she checks her rearview mirror to find that the patrolman is still following her, as well as her relief when he finally takes a different road. Then we root for her as she completes the negotiation that allows her to switch automobiles in order to help her avoid detection, especially as the patrolman has now caught back up to her, keeping a wary eye on her and her suspicious behavior.
Twenty-eight minutes into the film, a driving rainstorm forces Marion to pull off the road and seek refuge at the Bates Motel, whose neon sign she spots from the road. Then the film takes a generic turn toward the Gothic as she looks up on the hill behind the motel to find it occupied by an old dark house that looks very much like it might be haunted. Within minutes, Marion has met the shy Norman, checked into the motel, and learned that she is only fifteen miles from Fairvale, where Sam lives. She has also apparently overheard a confrontation between Norman and his domineering mother, who rejects Norman’s plan to have Marion up to the house for dinner. So he brings sandwiches down to the motel and invites Marion to his parlor for dinner. There, the looming stuffed birds had a menacing touch that reinforces the notion that we have shifted into Gothic territory. “You eat like a bird,” Norman tells Marion, placing her in the position of the dead creatures around her, an identification that is furthered by her avian surname. Norman himself still appears relatively harmless, despite his hobby, though his personal revelations about his mother and his philosophical ruminations (“We’re all in our private traps. Clamped in them. And none of us can ever get out.”) seem a bit ominous.
By the end of her talk with Norman, Marion reveals that she has decided to head back to Phoenix to try to straighten things out there. Then the film takes another ominous turn when we watch as Norman watches as Marion undresses in her room. But none of these hints have prepared us for what happens next, as Marion is brutally slashed to death in the shower in one of the most famous scenes in all of film and one of the central founding moments of the slasher subgenre. It’s a chaotic scene filled with rapid cuts of both kinds, a scene of chaos in which we never get a clear look at the killer, who is seen only in silhouette, but we have every reason to believe Norman’s vicious mother is culprit. The shrieking violin music that accompanies it would become as iconic as the scene itself. We are less than halfway through the film, and the surveillance motif has taken a shocking turn as we see Marion’s dead eye staring back at us on the screen, her blood spiraling down the drain in the bathtub.
Everything in the film to this point (including the advertising campaign that theater-goers would have presumably seen before attending the film) has led us to believe that Marion Crane is the protagonist of the film. It’s a major breach of the implied contract between filmmaker and audience, with Hitchcock counting on the capital he has built up in so many successful films to get us over the hump and have us stick with the film as it suddenly shifts into a new phase in which Norman becomes the central character. It’s a jarring shift that combines with the shifting genres I have already mentioned to create a sense of fragmentation and disorientation. At this point, we can even look back at those opening graphics to realize that they were not just geometrically interesting. The shifting horizontal and vertical lines in fact act to fragment the screen, tearing at it just as the slasher’s knife has torn at the body of Marion Crane.
The shift of audience attention from Marion to Norman is furthered by the fact that, at this point, we do not realize that Norman is the killer. Subsequently, we share in Norman’s anxieties at key moments, just as we had earlier shared Marion’s, perhaps most clearly in the moment in which Norman rolls Marion’s car—bearing her body and the nearly $40,000 of remaining cash—into a swamp, only to have it momentarily appear that the car might not sink. And this shift in audience identification is a bit unnerving in that it requires audiences to undergo a shift in their own subject positions, much like the unstable postmodernist schizo-characters described by Jameson as having no “sense of the persistence of the ‘I’ and the ‘me’ over time” (“Postmodernism” 119). Jameson himself compares the fragmentation of postmodern texts to experience of schizophrenics, so it is highly relevant that Spoto notes the prominence of schizoid images of various kinds in Psycho, the attack on Marion being only one of many images of cutting and splitting that proliferate throughout the film (320).But this attack is nevertheless the most important moment of fragmentation, ripping up the narrative even as Marion’s body is so brutally torn apart.
For Spoto, Psycho is “a statement on the American dream turned nightmare … a ruthless exposition of American Puritanism and exaggerated Mom-ism” (314). Indeed, the film contains a great deal of subtle commentary on the state of American society at the end of the 1950s. The entire plot is driven, for example, by a belief that affluence is a necessary prerequisite to happiness. As the oafish Cassidy puts it, becoming the embodiment of one of the central ideas that drives American consumer capitalism, perhaps one cannot buy happiness, but one can at least buy off unhappiness. Even Marion has bought into this idea, believing that she can buy off the unhappiness of her current situation by stealing the money, allowing her to marry Sam. That doesn’t work out well of course, suggesting that there is something wrong with the American notion that money can overcome any and all obstacles. Similarly, both Sam and Norman realize the American dream of owning their own businesses, but Loomis’s hardware store only seems to pull him deeper into debt, while Norman’s motel is a crucial source of his psychic breakdown.
If Psycho calls into question the sanctity of money as a solution to all problems, it even more obviously takes on perhaps the most venerated (at least at the surface level of rhetoric) of all American institutions, the institution of motherhood. In Psycho,families are traps, not havens, and the common Hitchcockian theme of the sinister effect of excessive mothering reaches its most chilling conclusion in the end, as Norman’s identity is finally completely absorbed within that of his mother. It is little wonder that Barbra Creed, in her important study of the “monstrous feminine” in horror films, employs Psycho as a central example. Devoting an entire chapter to the film (entitled “The Castrating Mother”), Creed notes that Psycho “provides us with an exemplary study of the horror that ensues when the son feels threatened, physically and psychically, by the maternal figure” (140). It also, of course, provides us with an exemplary study of the strain of misogyny and fear of the feminine that runs through much of the work of Hitchcock—and much of the horror genre, perhaps most clearly in the slasher film, with its tendency toward male avengers who punish women for exercising their sexuality.
At the same time, Psycho is a complex text, and horror is a complex genre. For one thing, in the midst of all these highly serious themes—played out via a truly dark plot—it is perhaps worth noting that Psycho is a far less somber film than any brief description of it is likely to indicate. Regardless of how brilliantly crafted Psycho might be as a film, it is also excessive and, in fact, downright campy, another trait it shares with Touch of Evil, not to mention so many of the slasher films (most of them not so well crafted) that came after it. Hitchcock himself notoriously described Psycho as a “fun” picture made essentially with tongue in cheek, and Sterritt rightly calls it one of Hitchcock’s “most playful exercises,” despite what he sees as the serious implications of its depiction of the malleability of human identity (112).
Among other things, a recognition of the playfulness of the film casts a different light on the final explanation by psychiatrist Dr. Fred Richman (Simon Oakland) of Norman’s mental illness, an explanation often criticized as superfluous and certainly overly lengthy but one that now becomes a send-up of psychiatric explanations in general. As Corber points out, the psychiatrist’s diagnosis, which for many viewers of the film seems to tie up all the film’s loose ends a bit too neatly, really does not explain much and, in fact, does not even make sense (Name 190). Meanwhile, Corber further points out the way in which the portrayal of the psychiatrist serves as a commentary on the growing authority of “experts” in America in the 1950s, and reading this scene as a send-up of psychiatry can then be taken as a parodic challenge to that authority.
In any case, what leads to this final explanatory scene is an extended sequence of events in which Marion’s disappearance is investigated, while Norman (playing the dutiful son) struggles to protect his mother by disposing of all evidence of the crime that we (and he, apparently) believe she committed. (That he does so rather calmly and competently is the first real sign that all of this might well have happened before, a suspicion that will be verified in the film’s final scene when we learn that two other young women have suspiciously disappeared in Fairvale in recent years.) The film thus once again shifts into a generic register, now becoming a sort of detective story, as the private investigator Milton Arbogast (Martin Balsam), hired to retrieve the $40,000, makes his way to Fairvale in search of Marion. Marion’s sister Lila (Vera Miles), concerned at Marion’s disappearance, also comes to town, seeking her sister (Arbogast, in fact, follows her there). Arbogast stops at a series of motels in the area, finally arriving at the Bates Motel, where he becomes suspicious during a lengthy interview with Norman.
Seeking more evidence, Arbogast slips into the Bates house, where Hitchcock continues to play games with the audience by giving us a fairly clear look as Arbogast is apparently killed by Mrs. Bates. This event leaves Sam and Lila to take up the investigation, which they do, beginning by consulting crusty old Sheriff Al Chambers (John McIntire), who delivers the stunning bit of news that Norman’s mother has been dead and buried for ten years, apparently having poisoned her boyfriend and then herself. This news (which contains its own inaccuracies, of course, as Hitchcock continues to supply us with faulty information) comes as quite a surprise, threatening to send the narrative veering off in another new direction. We’re not sure what that direction is, though, because we are then immediately treated to a scene in which we apparently overhear a conversation between Norman and his mother and then see him carrying her down the stairs into the fruit cellar to hide her from those investigating Marion’s disappearance. Is Mrs. Bates the dangerous psycho of the title? Did she somehow fake her own death to escape prosecution ten years earlier?
As Sam and Lila go to check in at the Bates Motel, we still have every reason to believe that Norman is simply trying to cover for his mother, which allows us to have a certain amount of sympathy for him. The two amateur sleuths (who oddly seem to be almost enjoying the thrill of the investigation) remain convinced that there is an old woman in the Bates House, while suspecting that Norman has stolen the $40,000 to try to escape his failing motel business. It is not until the very end of the actual narrative (after a few last suspenseful moments) that we discover the truth—that Norman is a split personality who is both “himself” and “his mother.”
Among other things, the big reveal includes Marion’s discovery of the desiccated corpse of Mrs. Bates in the fruit cellar—in a moment that would be worthy of a carnival funhouse. Marion approaches the body from behind, then touches it on the shoulder. It seems to be sitting in a regular four-legged chair, but then somehow spins slowly around the reveal the face of the corpse, perfectly lit by the bare lightbulb in the cellar. It was probably a shocking moment for most first-time viewers back in 1960, but, on closer examination, it’s also a ridiculous, over-the-top moment that emphasizes the playful nature of the film. Norman then appears, right on cue, in his mother outfit, slasher knife in hand, only to be wrestled to the ground from behind by Sam, who also improbably arrives at just the right moment. Most of the film’s remaining seven minutes are then taken up by a sort of coda dominated by the psychiatrist’s long explanation of Norman’s psychic condition.
This explanation indeed includes some comic moments. After Richman has explained the unlikely process through which Norman would assume the identity of his mother, Sam asks (undermining the notion that there are no stupid questions), “Why was he dressed like that?” “He’s a transvestite,” pitches in another cop on the scene. Richman takes all of this perfectly seriously, subsequently providing a lengthy serious response to Sam’s stupid question. The final shot of Norman as his mother then adds one final gimmick (topped off by a final gimmicky fade of Norman’s face into that of his mother’s corpse) in an entirely over-the-top, basically ridiculous resolution to the film’s various mysteries.
Such gimmickry should be read against the tendency of Psycho to play with its audiences, though it also provides a final cheap thrill that reminds us that audiences get to play along as well. According to Linda Williams, who sees Psycho as a marker of the beginning of postmodernism in film, the film is Hitchcock’s most popular not because audiences are awed by its artistry but because they enjoy watching it, playing with their own identities as they do so. For her, Psycho
needs to be seen not as an exceptional and transgressive experience working against the classical norms of visual pleasure, but rather as an important turning point in the pleasurable destabilizing of sexual identity in American film history: it is the moment when the experience of going to the movies began to be constituted as providing a certain generally transgressive sexualized thrill of promiscuous abandonment to indeterminate, “other” identities. (103)
At the same time, Williams notes that Psycho, with its famous policy of not allowing anyone to enter the theater after the film had started, also marked an important turning point in the disciplining of once-unruly American film audiences. But this enforced routinization is also part of the fun. Indeed, Williams specifically compares this aspect of the film to theme parks such as Disneyland, suggesting that “the sort of discipline that Hitchcock was teaching was more like that of the crowds at these theme parks than any kind of simple audience taming” (107).
Psycho indeed is a sort of funhouse ride, as I alluded to earlier. One of the reasons why it has exercised such a lasting influence over the slasher genre is its demonstration of some of the ways in which horrific material could be rendered pleasurable to film audiences. That the film was such a huge success (despite the low expectations of its own studio) also suggested that there was a place for such films in American culture, though of course it was also aided by Hitchcock’s lofty reputation as a film auteur (and by a brilliant marketing campaign). Little wonder, then, that it took more than a decade (and the complete collapse of the Production Code) before the slasher genre could kick fully into gear.
Booker, M. Keith. The Post-Utopian Imagination: American Culture in the Long 1950s. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2002.
Brill, Lesley. The Hitchcock Romance: Love and Irony in Hitchcock’s Films. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1988.
Clover, Carol J. Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. Updated Edition. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015.
Corber, Robert J. In the Name of National Security: Hitchcock, Homophobia, and the Political Construction of Gender in Postwar America. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993.
Spoto, Donald. The Art of Alfred Hitchcock: Fifty Years of His Motion Pictures. 2nd ed. New York: Anchor-Doubleday, 1992.
Sterritt, David. The Films of Alfred Hitchcock. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
Williams, Linda. “Discipline and Distraction: Psycho, Visual Culture, and Postmodern Cinema.” “Culture” and the Problem of the Disciplines. Ed. John Carlos Rowe. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998. 87–120.
 In a prestigious 2012 poll of critics and academics conducted and published by the British Film Institute in their Sight and Sound magazine, Vertigo was named the greatest film of all time, displacing Citizen Kane (1941), which usually comes first in such polls. The concurrent directors’ poll, by the way, named Japan’s Tokyo Story (1953) as the greatest film, with Vertigo dropping to eighth place. Psycho placed 35the on the critics’ poll, making it the highest-rated horror film.
 Touch of Evil and Psycho have a number of things in common, in fact, including the fact that both are the work of auteur directors who make cinematic art of seemingly seedy material. The most obvious connection, of course, is that both films star Janet Leigh in the role of a damsel in distress threatened by sinister forces in a remote motel. Parts of both films (including parts of Psycho’s famous shower scene)were even shot with the same type of camera, a handheld French Éclair camera, which is excellent for achieving a gritty feel.
 In this sense, one might compare Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (also released in 1960), in which this connection is made even more explicit, given that its title character is literally a filmmaker (as well as a slasher who films his own murders).
 Marion’s room at the motel is actually quite comfortable—and the crucial bathroom seems very modern and immaculately clean. I suspect that many viewers recall the motel as being more dilapidated than it really is. The room, incidentally, is decorated with numerous pictures of birds, echoing Norman’s stuffed birds and serving almost as an advertisement for what would be Hitchcock’s next film.
 Hitchcock stamps his identity on this film even more than usual. After Marion enters he office, she is greeted by her co-worker, Caroline, played by Patricia Hitchcock, the director’s daughter.
 The extremely influential French philosopher Michel Foucault argues, in his book Discipline and Punish, that power in the modern world operates through psychological manipulation that requires a great deal of knowledge about individuals in order to operate successfully. This knowledge, he suggests, is gathered through ubiquitous systems of surveillance that operate very much in the mode of the nineteenth-century prison design known as the “panopticon,” in which guards located in a central tower can see into the cells in the circular arrangement that surrounds them, but the prisoners in those cells cannot see into the tower and thus cannot tell whether they are under surveillance at any given moment.
 Along these lines, one might note here that Hitchcock himself contributed to the highly successful publicity campaign for this film by declaring that, having heard rumors that the movie tended to scare audiences speechless, several of the film’s crew sent their wives to see it, hoping for that effect. Alas, the women emerged from the film shaken, but still quite able to speak. Such stories were considered amusing in 1960.