The Hitchcock Murders

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Alfred Hitchcock relished his power to frighten us and believed the shocks he administered improved our psychological health. But he could never satisfactorily explain our curiosity to see forbidden things or the perverse desire to experience anxiety and dread that made his work so popular.

In The Hitchcock Murders, Peter Conrad, one of Hitchcock's eager victims, undertakes the task on the master's behalf. At the age of thirteen, Conrad snuck...
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Overview

Alfred Hitchcock relished his power to frighten us and believed the shocks he administered improved our psychological health. But he could never satisfactorily explain our curiosity to see forbidden things or the perverse desire to experience anxiety and dread that made his work so popular.

In The Hitchcock Murders, Peter Conrad, one of Hitchcock's eager victims, undertakes the task on the master's behalf. At the age of thirteen, Conrad snuck into his first screening of Psycho, and he's been wary of showers and fruit cellars ever since. Thanks to Hitchcock, he's also suspicious of staircases, seagulls, and crop-dusting planes. Now he sets out to analyze the nature of Hitchcock's appeal to both himself and the millions of moviegoers for whom Hitchcock is cinema's foremost auteur. Examining Hitchcock's use of religion, morality, conscience, culpability, and literary symbols, Conrad unveils a chilling Nietzschean universe-one in which there is no God and no moral standard, where humans are petty and disposable and the neutral hand of fate can take a life in the blink of an eye. A timid, respectable man with the imagination of a psychopath, a chubby jester whose practical jokes took merciless advantage of human insecurities, Hitchcock is revealed here as the man who knew too much-about all of us.
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Editorial Reviews

David Thomson
One of the best books ever done on the spellbinding intensity of cinema.
The New Republic
Michiko Kakutani
There is much to be learned from The Hitchcock Murders about the director's innovative and sometimes daring art.
The New York Times
Tom Shone
Conrad . . . has published criticism so sharp you can cut your fingers on it . . . This is great stuff. . .
The New York Observer)
Jeff Simon
It's virtually a physical shock to the system to encounter a book as wild, willful, peculiar, brilliant . . .
Buffalo News
Nicholas Lezard
The best critical book on Alfred Hitchcock. —The Sunday Times
Publishers Weekly
"Hitchcock brought fear home to us," observes Conrad in this sharp-witted book about the master director who made us wary of taking a shower and flocks of birds. Eschewing any specific theoretical approach to the director's films or method, Conrad spins his own personal takes on the films into a comprehensive and erudite analysis of their continuing popularity. Relying upon an encyclopedic knowledge of Hitchcock's films, Conrad is most perceptive when he weaves together their themes and images to illuminate the director's worldview for example, he suggests that murder as "social sanitation" connects the killers in Lifeboat, Shadow of a Doubt and Rope, and uses Einstein's theory of relativity to explore the repeated image of a moving train. Filled with exhaustive and fascinating background information such as a comparison of the script of The Lady Vanishes and the novel on which it's based, along with a look at how Hollywood censorship mandated changes in the film adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca Conrad's book demonstrates a firm grasp of the material and instills both awe and trust in the reader. Not hesitating to place Hitchcock in a broader intellectual and cultural landscape, he perceptively discusses how Oscar Wilde, The Brothers Karamazov and Jean Genet contributed to the intellectual climate that produced these films. The result is a bright, resourceful guide to films that have defined both public art and the collective imagination. (Sept.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Hitchcock's great gift as a filmmaker was his ability to tap into the primal fears and desires of moviegoers. Many of his films had serious themes, yet the director had a prankster's soul; he would send up an audience's fears as he entertained them and once confessed that he felt his darkest film, Psycho, was a comedy. Conrad (Modern Times, Modern Places), whose teenage experience of watching Psycho led to a lifelong fascination with Hitchcock's work, spurns a film-by-film analysis, opting for a "surrealistic association of ideas my own brand of cinematic cross-cutting." His theme that "terror...is the price exacted by dreams" is provocative, but the free association he employs will confuse readers unfamiliar with the body of Hitchcock's work. Other problems include nonstop and dubious name-dropping, a narrative interrupted by frequent digressions, and awkward autobiography in the opening and closing chapters. Also, his assertions about Hitchcock's lack of a moral standard may be refuted by films like Shadow of a Doubt and Lifeboat. While Conrad's admiration for Hitchcock is palpable, most libraries would be better served by Robin Wood's Hitchcock's Films Revisited (LJ 9/15/89). Stephen Rees, Levittown Regional Lib., PA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Booknews
This work of criticism carefully avoids post-structuralism or any other of the "latest methodological tics" of the academy in its critical exploration of the films of Alfred Hitchcock. The author argues that Hitchcock displayed a daring that challenged legal and moral propriety, whether he ended the film with a happy or unhappy ending. He then examines Hitchcock's cinematic techniques, suggesting that Hitchcock's camera revealed a world that was no longer safely real. Finally he explores what he thinks Hitchcock's larger aims were in his films, concluding that in forcing his audiences to confront death, Hitchcock was encouraging his audiences to think spiritually. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Kirkus Reviews
A wide-ranging, though eccentric, tour of Alfred Hitchcock's agreeably scary cinema. Conrad (English/Christ Church, Oxford; Modern Times, Modern Places, 1999) will have no truck with the extensive literature already published on the Master of Suspense, which he dismisses as "pseudo-scientific" and "bogus cerebration." Nor, evidently, does he have much patience with the division of Hitchcock's work into discrete films from The Pleasure Garden through Family Plot. Instead of considering the films one by one, he has pulverized them all into a puree in which, for example, an excursis about the director's preoccupation with bathrooms (in which he set scenes in The Lodger, Number Seventeen, Secret Agent, The Lady Vanishes, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Spellbound, The Trouble with Harry, and Psycho) can range freely over half a dozen examples before moving on to films mysteriously without bathrooms, from The 39 Steps to Lifeboat. Although his determination to avoid earlier critics leaves Conrad spending a fair amount of time reinventing the wheel, his investigation, organized loosely around the question of how Hitchcock makes fear entertaining, yields some piquant insights, such as Hitchcock's affinity with Surrealists like Andre Breton to the self-portraits he left in the fat men who peopled his films. But Conrad's cavalier annexation of literary sources for the films to provide further examples, as if Hitchcock had created Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca and Robert Bloch's Psycho as well as the films he based on them, creates an unhappy confusion of boundaries, as if he could not decide whether Hitchcock was remarkable because his films were so distinctive or because they were so exemplary. In the end,all but the largest contours of Conrad's analysis become blurred as well, sunk beneath reams of absorbing detail. Even if the argument sometimes seems like an endless series of digressions, however, it never makes less than an entertaining and illuminating case for the unity of Hitchcock's half-century of films. (20 b&w photos)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780571210602
  • Publisher: Faber and Faber
  • Publication date: 9/4/2002
  • Edition description: 1 AMER ED
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 5.74 (w) x 8.22 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Conrad is the author of numerous works of criticism, including most recently, Modern Times, Modern Places. Since 1973, he has taught English at Christ Church, Oxford.
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Read an Excerpt

Excerpt from The Hitchcock Murders

"I cannot recall how my obsession with Hitchcock started; it goes back almost far enough to qualify as an original sin. But there is a specific date that solemnized the affair. One afternoon in 1961, aged all of thirteen, I lost my virginity at a screening of Psycho.

Strictly speaking, it was only my innocence I lost. The technical loss came later, but you spend so long preparing for it--rehearsing the scenes in your head, starting with a jerky silent movie to which you gradually add dialogue--that by the time the occasion arrives it is probably anti-climactic. Your graduation from innocence to experience occurs when the feverish business of imagining begins, and for me, this raid on a forbidden knowledge will always be associated with Psycho. During my first under-age exposure to the film, the images that thrilled me were those of trespass and guilty surveillance. This, surely, was why the cinema existed: to depict what you were not supposed to be looking at.

An aerodynamic peeping Tom hovers above a city, which drowses in the early-afternoon sun. The people in those faceless boxes are presumably working, or eating their lunch. No, not all of them. The camera, nosing the air suspiciously, swoops towards a certain window on an upper floor of a hotel, nudges the sill, and sidles into the room, blinking at the contrast with the glare outside. The couple it spies on think they are safe from scrutiny because they are so high above street level, which is why they have left the blind half-lowered. Here, for a thirteen-year-old, was a first small and easily soluble mystery: why are they undressed atthis time of day? Psycho starts post-coitally, and leaves the preliminaries to be scripted by us. In 1961, when the world was still blissfully ignorant, you had to work harder. Hitchcock supplied hints, or brief glimpses. Knowing us only too well, he left us to design our own private story-boards. Later comes a view even more privileged than the mid-air assault on the hotel room. Through a peep-hole drilled in a wall at the motel, there is a momentary sight--curtailed just in time--of a woman unpeeling her bra.

By the end of the film, worked up into a state of high excitement, we are ready to p0imagine what Hitchcock does not even bother to show us. In the house on the hill another explorer picks up a leather-bound book that has no title on its ornately tooled spine. She opens it, and her eyes imperceptibly widen. We are not allowed to see what she has seen. Robert Bloch, in the novel that Hitchcock adapted, offers no particular help, merely confiding that the illustrations clamped inside the covers are 'almost pathologically pornographic': it is a dare. When I became familiar with Hitchcock himself, after watching him eerily editorializing on his television series, I could hear his grave, glutinous voice muttering a clinical description of the book's contents. But that was later, once my capacity to fantasize had come up to speed. Meanwhile, there beside a rumpled, tormented bed in the same room on the screen was a collection of obsolete toys--a brutalized doll, a rabbit with a wilted ear: the relics of someone else's lost childhood.

On its long journey across the Pacific to Australia, and then on its second, even more tantalizing trip from the mainland to the island state of Tasmania where I was born, Psycho had acquired an unwholesome reputation. We had just completed a decade of satisfied suburban niceness and compulsory normality. Since the prosperity of the 1950s seemed too good to be true, no questions were to be asked, for fear that the illusion of affluent content might be revoked. My parents, having lived through a depression and a world war, were grateful for this oblivion. My own generation was bound to challenge it, and Hitchcock offered an early inducement. How normal was Norman Bates, who according to the psychiatrist in Bloch's Psycho enjoys an extra identity as Norma, inhabiting the stuffy persona and musty clothes of his own mother? An officious aunt warned my parents to ban me from seeing the film. 'It's too hot for his blood,' she said. Westerns were thought appropriate, because the violence in them offered a training in virility. But Psycho dealt with seamier matters, about which the grown-ups went into whispered conclave. The moralistic aunt claimed to know of someone who had already seen it in Sydney. He hadn't been able to sleep for a week afterwards, suffered screaming fits, and finally needed a prescription from the doctor. 'And he,' she said, 'was a naval man!' That, supposedly, should have immunized him.

As it happened, there was no need for a parental embargo. The censors saw to this, branding the film with an 'M'. That letter stood for 'MATURE', which made Psycho all the more enticing. It was, as I soon enough found out, a film about ripening--and also about rotting. I was sure, consulting the physical evidence, that I could pass as mature. But according to the aunt, you had to prove mental
up0maturity as well before they'd sell you a ticket; otherwise you risked permanent harm. In advance, Psycho had come to resemble a rite of passage, a visceral, constricted tunnel you had to pass through to get from one age to the next. Ingmar Bergman once imagined the breathless foreboding of those who buy tickets for a film: the audience, collectively tensed, says to itself, 'Here I am, seated in the darkness, and, like a woman about to give birth, I want deliverance.' Allowing for the transposition of sexes, that was what I required from Psycho. It was to be my blooding; a death from which I might, if I was lucky, recover, since the actual blood would be shed on my behalf by others--a woman whose body is slashed in a shower, a man whose brain is punctured as he climbs a staircase.

The week before Psycho arrived in town, I began to plan my strategy. The censor's certificate precluded a children's matinee on Saturday, and I was not allowed out of the house at night. What choice did I have? Playing truant from school, I intended to see it on a weekday afternoon. I would break the law, and tell lies to cover my trail. It was a life-changing decision. I was already behaving, if I had only known it, like the heroine of the film, who--after her own sweaty matinee in the hotel bedroom--asks her boss's permission to go home early. She then drives briskly out of town with the forty thousand dollars he has given her to deposit at the bank. She feigns a headache: a feminine ailment, inappropriate for adolescent boys. Toothache was the excuse I chose, and I dramatized its onset when I bit into a lunch-time sandwich. Excused from school for the rest of the day, I wondered whether I might not have strayed into perilous territory. If acts had immediate consequences, as we were always being told by those who dosed us with the Bible, wasn't I goading one of my own teeth to ache? It might have made a neatly retributive plot for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents; but in fact my teeth behaved themselves throughout the afternoon. The episode counted as one of my earliest and most valuable moral experiments, investigating how much it was possible to get away with.

I stuffed my school cap and blazer into the satchel that contained my books, and left it in the city library. The few blocks between there and the cinema had their dangers, like a snipers' alley. Ours was a small town, and I might have run into the invigilating aunt. Janet Leigh, after all, is spotted by her boss when she pauses at the traffic lights on her way out of Phoenix. To be thirteen and at large so soon after lunch was itself an admission of guilt, like being an able-bodied civilian in wartime. Head down, I made it. The cinema was called the Avalon; its name evoked chivalry and medieval enchantments, bravely defying the trams that clattered past and the odour of meat pies and pungent tomato sauce from the shop next door. A grim brick chapel stood opposite it, frowning. The lobby, to my surprise, was not barricaded against me. Shouldn't there have been barbed wire, or officials demanding the presentation of documents? In America they had apparently hired guards to marshal the queues of ticket-holders, and played tapes of Hitchcock explaining why no one was allowed to enter the theatre after a screening of Psycho had begun. I almost expected an improvised infirmary for those who allegedly staggered out at the end, their nerves shredded. But so far as I could see, no ambulance was standing by.

I cannot remember the rest of the experience without turning it into an anthology of Hitchcock clips, abbreviated excerpts from films I had not yet seen. The lobby elongated as I walked across it: an expressionistic camera trick like the swooning zoom that opens a crevasse beneath James Stewart in Vertigo. Then there was the box office, where a suspicious attendant behind the grille might call the police, which happens when Cary Grant--on the lam, like me--tries to buy a train ticket at Grand Central Station in North by Northwest. Instead a bored teenage girl glanced idly at me. Did I dry up, like Gregory Peck when he faces the ticket clerk at Pennsylvania Station in Spellbound? All he can blurt out is an absurd request for a ticket to Rome. What I said, I suppose, is: 'One, please.' Determined to cast off childhood, I did not ask for a child's discount. I got my ticket without trouble--but as Joan Fontaine discovers in Rebecca when she bypasses the rusty, overgrown gate of Manderley, dreamers have an agility denied to those who remain awake, and can vault over obstacles. I was soon inside, in the darkness where the revelation, lit by a lunar beam from the projector, was due to occur.

Psycho did not disappoint me. I may not have understood all I saw, but I knew that taboos were being breached. What I didn't know was that Hitchcock omitted a few of the scabrous sights and thoughts with which Bloch's novel regales us. In the book, Norman tells himself not to make mental pictures of certain bodily parts, even though in erasing the images he admits the imagining he has already done. 'Mother's thighs were dirty. Mustn't look,' he says. Likewise he pointedly 'never thought about Mother's breasts'. When he transports his querulous parent to the fruit cellar, he reminds her that there's a pot for her to use. 'Norman,' she croaks, 'must you talk that way?' Despite these repressions, the film gave me plenty to think about. After that first glimpse of avid tussling in a cheap hotel came the examination of a bathroom. For the first time in a film, someone flushed a toilet (though an incriminating scrap of paper, stained with a sum, remained behind in the bowl). There were confrontations, when I managed to unclench my eyes and look, with what ought to have remained invisible. Here was the featureless mask of an avenging deity: the traffic cop, inscrutable behind his dark glasses, or the shadowed figure with the slicing knife. At last I saw the face of death, leathery-skinned and laughing, with cavities where the eyes once were. I had been handed a psychological agenda for maturity, supplied with a life-time's worth of bad dreams. I was definitely no longer innocent.

Copyright © 2000 Peter Conrad

--From The Hitchcock Murders, by Peter Conrad.
© September 2001 , Faber & Faber used by permission.

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Table of Contents

Preface vii
A Blooding 1
The Art Of Murder 19
The Chief Executive 21
Playing God 41
Portraits of the Artist as a Killer 65
The Fat Man and His Disguises 81
Modernity and Murder 95
The Pursuit of Unhappiness 119
The Technique Of Murder 139
Black, White, and Red 141
The Blind Ear 153
The Philosophy of Motion 165
A Torn Shower Curtain 183
The Crimes of the Camera 193
Cutting and Splicing 209
The Religion Of Murder 227
A Visit to the Sphinx 229
Into the Next World 249
Excursions Underground 263
Holy Dread 283
A Hymnal 299
The Sacredness of Cows 313
A Haunted Head 329
Index 355
Acknowledgments 361
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First Chapter

Excerpt from The Hitchcock Murders

"I cannot recall how my obsession with Hitchcock started; it goes back almost far enough to qualify as an original sin. But there is a specific date that solemnized the affair. One afternoon in 1961, aged all of thirteen, I lost my virginity at a screening of Psycho.

Strictly speaking, it was only my innocence I lost. The technical loss came later, but you spend so long preparing for it--rehearsing the scenes in your head, starting with a jerky silent movie to which you gradually add dialogue--that by the time the occasion arrives it is probably anti-climactic. Your graduation from innocence to experience occurs when the feverish business of imagining begins, and for me, this raid on a forbidden knowledge will always be associated with Psycho. During my first under-age exposure to the film, the images that thrilled me were those of trespass and guilty surveillance. This, surely, was why the cinema existed: to depict what you were not supposed to be looking at.

An aerodynamic peeping Tom hovers above a city, which drowses in the early-afternoon sun. The people in those faceless boxes are presumably working, or eating their lunch. No, not all of them. The camera, nosing the air suspiciously, swoops towards a certain window on an upper floor of a hotel, nudges the sill, and sidles into the room, blinking at the contrast with the glare outside. The couple it spies on think they are safe from scrutiny because they are so high above street level, which is why they have left the blind half-lowered. Here, for a thirteen-year-old, was a first small and easily soluble mystery: why are they undressed at this time of day? Psycho starts post-coitally, and leaves the preliminaries to be scripted by us. In 1961, when the world was still blissfully ignorant, you had to work harder. Hitchcock supplied hints, or brief glimpses. Knowing us only too well, he left us to design our own private story-boards. Later comes a view even more privileged than the mid-air assault on the hotel room. Through a peep-hole drilled in a wall at the motel, there is a momentary sight--curtailed just in time--of a woman unpeeling her bra.

By the end of the film, worked up into a state of high excitement, we are ready to imagine what Hitchcock does not even bother to show us. In the house on the hill another explorer picks up a leather-bound book that has no title on its ornately tooled spine. She opens it, and her eyes imperceptibly widen. We are not allowed to see what she has seen. Robert Bloch, in the novel that Hitchcock adapted, offers no particular help, merely confiding that the illustrations clamped inside the covers are 'almost pathologically pornographic': it is a dare. When I became familiar with Hitchcock himself, after watching him eerily editorializing on his television series, I could hear his grave, glutinous voice muttering a clinical description of the book's contents. But that was later, once my capacity to fantasize had come up to speed. Meanwhile, there beside a rumpled, tormented bed in the same room on the screen was a collection of obsolete toys--a brutalized doll, a rabbit with a wilted ear: the relics of someone else's lost childhood.

On its long journey across the Pacific to Australia, and then on its second, even more tantalizing trip from the mainland to the island state of Tasmania where I was born, Psycho had acquired an unwholesome reputation. We had just completed a decade of satisfied suburban niceness and compulsory normality. Since the prosperity of the 1950s seemed too good to be true, no questions were to be asked, for fear that the illusion of affluent content might be revoked. My parents, having lived through a depression and a world war, were grateful for this oblivion. My own generation was bound to challenge it, and Hitchcock offered an early inducement. How normal was Norman Bates, who according to the psychiatrist in Bloch's Psycho enjoys an extra identity as Norma, inhabiting the stuffy persona and musty clothes of his own mother? An officious aunt warned my parents to ban me from seeing the film. 'It's too hot for his blood,' she said. Westerns were thought appropriate, because the violence in them offered a training in virility. But Psycho dealt with seamier matters, about which the grown-ups went into whispered conclave. The moralistic aunt claimed to know of someone who had already seen it in Sydney. He hadn't been able to sleep for a week afterwards, suffered screaming fits, and finally needed a prescription from the doctor. 'And he,' she said, 'was a naval man!' That, supposedly, should have immunized him.

As it happened, there was no need for a parental embargo. The censors saw to this, branding the film with an 'M'. That letter stood for 'MATURE', which made Psycho all the more enticing. It was, as I soon enough found out, a film about ripening--and also about rotting. I was sure, consulting the physical evidence, that I could pass as mature. But according to the aunt, you had to prove mental maturity as well before they'd sell you a ticket; otherwise you risked permanent harm. In advance, Psycho had come to resemble a rite of passage, a visceral, constricted tunnel you had to pass through to get from one age to the next. Ingmar Bergman once imagined the breathless foreboding of those who buy tickets for a film: the audience, collectively tensed, says to itself, 'Here I am, seated in the darkness, and, like a woman about to give birth, I want deliverance.' Allowing for the transposition of sexes, that was what I required from Psycho. It was to be my blooding; a death from which I might, if I was lucky, recover, since the actual blood would be shed on my behalf by others--a woman whose body is slashed in a shower, a man whose brain is punctured as he climbs a staircase.

The week before Psycho arrived in town, I began to plan my strategy. The censor's certificate precluded a children's matinee on Saturday, and I was not allowed out of the house at night. What choice did I have? Playing truant from school, I intended to see it on a weekday afternoon. I would break the law, and tell lies to cover my trail. It was a life-changing decision. I was already behaving, if I had only known it, like the heroine of the film, who--after her own sweaty matinee in the hotel bedroom--asks her boss's permission to go home early. She then drives briskly out of town with the forty thousand dollars he has given her to deposit at the bank. She feigns a headache: a feminine ailment, inappropriate for adolescent boys. Toothache was the excuse I chose, and I dramatized its onset when I bit into a lunch-time sandwich. Excused from school for the rest of the day, I wondered whether I might not have strayed into perilous territory. If acts had immediate consequences, as we were always being told by those who dosed us with the Bible, wasn't I goading one of my own teeth to ache? It might have made a neatly retributive plot for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents; but in fact my teeth behaved themselves throughout the afternoon. The episode counted as one of my earliest and most valuable moral experiments, investigating how much it was possible to get away with.

I stuffed my school cap and blazer into the satchel that contained my books, and left it in the city library. The few blocks between there and the cinema had their dangers, like a snipers' alley. Ours was a small town, and I might have run into the invigilating aunt. Janet Leigh, after all, is spotted by her boss when she pauses at the traffic lights on her way out of Phoenix. To be thirteen and at large so soon after lunch was itself an admission of guilt, like being an able-bodied civilian in wartime. Head down, I made it. The cinema was called the Avalon; its name evoked chivalry and medieval enchantments, bravely defying the trams that clattered past and the odour of meat pies and pungent tomato sauce from the shop next door. A grim brick chapel stood opposite it, frowning. The lobby, to my surprise, was not barricaded against me. Shouldn't there have been barbed wire, or officials demanding the presentation of documents? In America they had apparently hired guards to marshal the queues of ticket-holders, and played tapes of Hitchcock explaining why no one was allowed to enter the theatre after a screening of Psycho had begun. I almost expected an improvised infirmary for those who allegedly staggered out at the end, their nerves shredded. But so far as I could see, no ambulance was standing by.

I cannot remember the rest of the experience without turning it into an anthology of Hitchcock clips, abbreviated excerpts from films I had not yet seen. The lobby elongated as I walked across it: an expressionistic camera trick like the swooning zoom that opens a crevasse beneath James Stewart in Vertigo. Then there was the box office, where a suspicious attendant behind the grille might call the police, which happens when Cary Grant--on the lam, like me--tries to buy a train ticket at Grand Central Station in North by Northwest. Instead a bored teenage girl glanced idly at me. Did I dry up, like Gregory Peck when he faces the ticket clerk at Pennsylvania Station in Spellbound? All he can blurt out is an absurd request for a ticket to Rome. What I said, I suppose, is: 'One, please.' Determined to cast off childhood, I did not ask for a child's discount. I got my ticket without trouble--but as Joan Fontaine discovers in Rebecca when she bypasses the rusty, overgrown gate of Manderley, dreamers have an agility denied to those who remain awake, and can vault over obstacles. I was soon inside, in the darkness where the revelation, lit by a lunar beam from the projector, was due to occur.

Psycho did not disappoint me. I may not have understood all I saw, but I knew that taboos were being breached. What I didn't know was that Hitchcock omitted a few of the scabrous sights and thoughts with which Bloch's novel regales us. In the book, Norman tells himself not to make mental pictures of certain bodily parts, even though in erasing the images he admits the imagining he has already done. 'Mother's thighs were dirty. Mustn't look,' he says. Likewise he pointedly 'never thought about Mother's breasts'. When he transports his querulous parent to the fruit cellar, he reminds her that there's a pot for her to use. 'Norman,' she croaks, 'must you talk that way?' Despite these repressions, the film gave me plenty to think about. After that first glimpse of avid tussling in a cheap hotel came the examination of a bathroom. For the first time in a film, someone flushed a toilet (though an incriminating scrap of paper, stained with a sum, remained behind in the bowl). There were confrontations, when I managed to unclench my eyes and look, with what ought to have remained invisible. Here was the featureless mask of an avenging deity: the traffic cop, inscrutable behind his dark glasses, or the shadowed figure with the slicing knife. At last I saw the face of death, leathery-skinned and laughing, with cavities where the eyes once were. I had been handed a psychological agenda for maturity, supplied with a life-time's worth of bad dreams. I was definitely no longer innocent.

Copyright © 2000 Peter Conrad

--From The Hitchcock Murders, by Peter Conrad. © September 2001, Faber & Faber used by permission.
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Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

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