HERE IS SOMETHING you don’t know about Norman Bates if you have seen the movie but not read the book:
- Along with his collection of pornography, he owns copies of A New Model of the Universe, The Extension of Consciousness, and Dimension and Being.
Something you don’t know about Sam Loomis, Marion’s boyfriend:
- In the back room of his hardware store, he keeps a tiny FM radio to listen to classical music. (“But there was no one in Fairvale who would recognize either the music itself or the miracle of its coming.”)
Something you don’t know about Marion Crane (Mary Crane in the book):
- Lowery, the man from who she stole the $40,000, once tossed a hundred dollar bill on her desk and suggested she take a little trip with him to Dallas (“three days’ rental privileges of the body of Mary Crane”). She did not do it.
The Book (1959)
Poor Robert Bloch. His agent sold the movie rights to PSYCHO for $9000. After the publisher, the agent, and the IRS took their share, Bloch got about $5000. For comparison, Bernard Herrmann was paid $34,501 to score the movie; Saul Bass, $3000 to design the title sequence.
It was a blind bid. Bloch and his agent did not know until too late that the buyer was Alfred Hitchcock.
Bloch writes in a monotone: everyone sounds like everyone else. (The exception is Norman Bates, for whom Bloch writes long interior monologues.) But the novel enjoyed good sales and good reviews, and won a major prize in 1960 from the Mystery Writers of America. It has slipped down in status to cheap pulp, a status it doesn’t quite deserve.
Its theme is the unknowability of another human being. This is Sam speculating about Marion:
Once you admitted to yourself that you didn’t really know how another person’s mind operated, then you came up against the ultimate admission—anything was possible.
The Movie (1960)
The movie and the book have the same plot. Even that peculiar coda in the mental institution came from the book, although in the book Sam talks about a conversation he had with the psychiatrist, and in the movie, the psychiatrist speaks for himself. Both book and movie have the same last line: “Why, she wouldn’t even harm a fly.”
However, Hitchcock and screenwriter Joseph Stefano made two big changes relating to the characters:
- They made Norman Bates young and handsome rather than middle-aged and fat.
- They turned up the heat under the relationship between Marion and Sam. That opening scene with them in the hotel room is not in the book—one of few places where the movie veers away.
That Shower Scene
The shower scene is not a Hitchcock invention. Marion’s death comes at the same early, disorienting point in both book and movie—and in more or less the same way.
A difference: in the book, Norman cuts off Marion’s head. As we all know, Hitchcock didn’t play it that way.
Another difference: Hitchcock waited, proportionately, almost twice as long as Bloch did to kill her off. In the 175-page paperback copy, the murder occurs on page 41. In the 109-minute movie, the murder occurs 47 minutes in.
Genius vs Talent
The scene where Marion sells her car shows the difference between Hitchcock and Bloch.
In the movie this scene is tense. When Marion’s frightened, defensive behavior makes a highway trooper suspicious and he follows her to the used car lot, his presence symbolizes her guilty conscience. It is at that point that she starts to regret stealing the money. This scene sets up the later one at the motel when she decides to abandon her plan and go back to Phoenix.
Bloch handles this scene dismissively, in a single paragraph. Marion does not appear nervous or frightened. No trooper follows her. There is no emotional payoff. As if bored by the whole thing, Bloch has her trade her car not once, but three times in that single paragraph.
I wonder what Hitchcock saw in the novel. In his book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, Stephen Rebello offers various explanations. Hitchcock owed Universal a picture and thought PSYCHO would get the commitment out of the way quickly and cheaply. Hitchcock had competitors who were making scary, successful movies on small budgets and he wanted to show them he could, too.
Rebello speculates that “the fifty-nine-year old suspense maestro felt bullied by his brilliant present and past.”
Lindsay Edmunds blogs about robots, writing, life in southwestern Pennsylvania, and sometimes books and movies at Writer’s Rest. She is the author of a novel about love in the age of artificial intelligence: Cel & Anna.