Tag Archives: lbom: editorials

Fresh Prince: Thirty Years Of TV Family Bliss?

So there’s going to be a 30th anniversary reunion of The Fresh Prince of Bell Air.  DJ ‘Jazzy’ Jeff Townes announced that the reunion has been recorded and will air on HBO Max in the near future.

ANNOUNCMENT

What with the recently announced Fresh Prince reboot, which will be a gritty drama instead of a lighthearted comedy like the original, there’s a resurgence of interest in this classic sit-com. In a world where pretty much every time your read/hear the news, it’s something shitty, this Fresh Prince reunion is a much needed ray of sunshine. Check out the pics below and try to work out why nobody has hardly aged over the last three decades…

FAMILYASHLEY AND JAZZCALRTON AND JAZZHILLARY AND JAZZJEFFY AND JAZZJAZZY JEFF AND FRESH PRINCEWILL AND JANET

And yes, that’s the original Aunt Viv, Janet Hubert with Will Smith. I’m not going to go into details here, if you know your Fresh Prince history, then you know just how monumental that image really is. Sadly, one of the biggest and most important cast members will be missing as Uncle Phil, played by the amazing James Avery died back in 2013. Best TV father ever! But I’m sure that while he can’t be there physically, he’ll be there in spirit and will be fondly remembered by the rest of the family.

Anyway, I love The Fresh Prince of Bell Air, it’s genuinely one of my all time favourite TV shows. I’m so excited for this reunion, so I thought I’d take a look at some of my favourite moments from this amazing sit-com with the greatest ever theme tune.

Originally airing in 1990 and running for six seasons, Fresh Prince was The Cosby Show for cool people… only with far less rape (is it still topical to do a Bill Cosby joke?). The Fresh Prince of Bell Air told the story of a fictionalised version of Will Smith moving from West Philadelphia (born and raised) to live with his Aunt and Uncle in the more affluent Bel-Air, after getting himself into some trouble. The series often contrasted Will’s street-wise lifestyle with that of his more upper-class relatives. While a comedy at heart, Fresh Prince also dealt with more serious issues and topics. With over one hundred and forty episodes, there’s a lot of great moments to chose from, whether they be funny or more emotional and heart-breaking… and I’m going to take a look at just a handful of my favourite bits right now.

The Theme Tune

I guess I really need to start with the first ever episode. My favourite part though is not anything from the episode itself, but the intro. The first ever episode was one of the very rare times when the theme tune was played in full.

Usually the second verse it cut from the opening as we often got the truncated version of the theme tune, but here with the first episode, we got the whole thing and it is glorious.

That Dance

Aunt Viv’s (Janet Hubert) dance. This is perhaps one of the most iconic moments of the whole show. The episode (The Big Four-Oh) revolved around Aunt Viv turning forty. While going trough a bit of a mid-life crisis, Viv decides she wants to be a dancer. At a dance class, she is ridiculed by some of the regulars and made to feel more than a little uncomfortable. The dance teacher goes over the complex move-set and plays some C+C Music Factory (Everybody Dance Now), then Viv steps forward. What follows is about forty seconds of pure bliss as Viv blows everyone away with her dance moves. The fact that Janet was actually trained in dance at Juilliard kind of helps, but even so, this was one of the best ever moments.

What Wall?

Wherever Will, or others, would break the forth wall. Too many individual moments to chose from and aside from the many times Will looked directly at the camera to the audience, but here are some that come to mind.

  • When Will is in court (Will Goes a Courtin’) and his opening statement recites the lyrics from the show’s theme song.
  • The Banks family disusing how rich they are (Same Game, Next Season), for Will to ask if they are so rich, why don’t they have a ceiling, as the camera pans upwards to reveal the TV set with the lights and rigging overhead.
  • Will pranks Carlton into believing he killed someone (Will’s Misery). Carlton then begins to scream in terror and runs around, moving between different several sets and even into the audience.
  • Will says he want’s to stay in Philadelphia (What’s Will Got to Do with It?  -Part 1), but NBC executives throw him in the back of a van and take him back to Bel-Air saying the show is called The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and not The Fresh Prince of Philadelphia.
  • While back in Philadelphia (The Philadelphia Story), one of Will’s friends talks about someone called Omar Boware. Carlton asks who that is and Will says: “The dude that be spinning me over his head in the opening credits”.
  • Perhaps the most famous and best forth wall break was when Janet Hubert was replaced as Aunt Viv by Daphne Maxwell (Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way – Part 1). I’ll let the scene speak for itself…

Arrrhhhhhhh!

Whenever Jazz got thrown out of the house (or similar). It was a long running gag where Jazz would usually upset Uncle Phil, to then be thrown out of the house. Jeff Townes playing Jazz had to wear the same shirt so the continuity matched as they reused the same clip of Jazz’s flying exit multiple times.

JAZZ THROW

While it was mostly the same gag reusing the same clip and Jeff having to wear that same shirt, there were a few variations. Uncle Phil has actually been thrown out once, though it was via a nightmare. Will has also been thrown out in the same way as the Jazz gag. Jazz has even thrown himself out to save Uncle Phil from doing it. Plus there are other versions, like the one at the end of the forth wall break clip above.

Tom Jones

Carlton’s obsessive fandom of Tom Jones was always good for a laugh. From sly jokes made at Carlton’s expense to that dance. The song, It’s Not Unusual had a bit of a resurgence thanks to Fresh Prince, Carlton played it a lot and would always break out his best dance moves. Alfonso Ribeiro as Carlton always threw everything he had at the dance too no matter how many times he had to do it, and every time, it was TV gold. But it got even better.

TOM JONES

The man himself, Tom Jones even appeared on the show as Carlton’s guardian angel. In the episode, The Alma Matter, a bit of a It’s a Wonderful Life parody where Carlton is feeling a bit depressed, he wonders what it would be like if he never existed. Enter Tom Jones to put Carlton right and show him how much he matters to the family.

Big Issues

Despite being a family friendly sit-com, Fresh Prince still got a little heavy now and then. The hi-jinks would take a back seat to deliver a more sober and often poignant point. Racism, alcohol abuse, sexism, mortality and other important subjects have been covered… and covered really well too.

  • Will and Carlton are asked to deliver a luxury car to one of Uncle Phil’s business associates. In the episode (Mistaken Identity), Will and Carlton are pulled over and arrested, with the white cop believing the two young black youths must’ve stolen the car based on nothing but the fact they are black. There’s an amazing moment when Uncle Phil turns up at the police station and berates the police officers, threatening them with legal action, well he was a high-class lawyer. But even as great as that moment is, it’s the finale where Carlton tries to rationalise and justify the police officer’s actions, he just didn’t see the racism. That’s when Will has his say and puts Carlton right.
  • More racism here (Guess Who’s Coming to Marry?), but with a bit of a twist.  Will’s mother’s sister… or Will’s other Aunt, Janice brings her new fiancée to the Banks’ house for the first time. His name is Frank..and he’s white. The family are surprised, but don’t make too much of a big deal about it… except for Will’s mother, Viola. She really gets upset over the black Janice wanting to marry the white Frank. There are arguments and disagreements as Viola’s bigotry is revealed. Of course, this being a family sit-com means that everything works out fine in the end. But it was really interesting to see the racism thing handled from a very different angle.

FRESH PRINCE SCENE

  • Uncle Phil’s cholesterol level rises (Home is Where the Heart Attack Is) and he is put on a diet… a diet he chooses to ignore. While enjoying a cheeseburger, Uncle Phil has a heart attack and is rushed into hospital. The family head to hospital to be by his bedside and offer their support, everyone goes except for Carlton who refuses to go, scared that his father could die. Will eventually talks to Carlton and tells him about his own dead-beat father and gives Carlton some home truths, like the fact he has an amazing father, something Will never had. Carlton does eventually go to the hospital, but reveals how he just could’t face seeing his father suffer. Its a great little tale about fears and mortality.
  • Will is challenged to a drinking contest (You’ve Got to Be a Football Hero). Carlton steps in and tries to stop him, but he’s too focused on bettering his peers, wanting to prove a point. Will drinks way too much and passes out. Left in a graveyard and while unconscious and drunk, Will meets several ghosts, one a child killed by a drunk driver. The dead child really hits a nerve with what he has to say and convinces Will to never drink again… and he never did. This one has a great message, if a little ham-fisted and preachy at times.
  • Will and Carlton are mugged at gunpoint while taking out some money from an ATM (Bullets over Bel-Air), Will gets shot. Taken into hospital, Will pulls though but Carlton has a rather extreme reaction to the mugging, he goes out an buys a gun. It’s when Will learns about the gun and really lays into Carlton for him to give it up where this one stands out. An interesting look at gun crime and its effects.

There are many more deeper and sombre topics handled in Fresh Prince, but this article is getting a bit to long now and I need to bring it to an end. But before I do, I have to cover perhaps the greatest moment in the entire show. Another hard-hitting moment that involved Will’s estranged father.

Papa’s Got a Brand New Excuse

This really is the great episode. Will’s father, Lou turns up after being absent for the last fourteen years. Lou walked out on Will and his mother and never looked back. Still feeling a little bitter about the whole thing, Will eventually forgives Lou and agrees to give him another chance at being a dad. There’s some bad blood between Uncle Phil and Lou as Phil sees through his lies, even if Will doesn’t see it himself. Long story short, and Lou eventually walks out on his son once more and Will finds solace in Uncle Phil’s arms. Look, my description just won’t cut it, you need to experience the scene for yourself…

“No, you know what, Uncle Phil? I’ma get through college without him, I’ma get a great job without him, I’ma marry me a beautiful honey, and I’ma have me a whole bunch of kids. I’ma be a better father than he ever was, and I sure as hell don’t need him for that, ’cause there ain’t a damn thing he could ever teach me about how to love my kids!…

…How come he don’t want me, man?!”

– Will Smith

Will has gone on record as saying that one scene was the most important of his young acting career. There are many behind the scenes stories surrounding it too, from cast members crying (if you listen just before the credits roll, you can hear Karyn Parsons (Hilary) sobbing). Will thinking he couldn’t pull it off, to be pulled aside by James Avery and given a major confidence boost. Even James himself has been reported as whispering “That’s fucking acting right there” into Will’s ear during the scene when they hugged at the end.

Oh and a quick bit of myth busting. It has been said that Will wasn’t really acting in that scene because his father abandoned him and he was just conveying all the hate he felt toward his real-life dad. Not at all true. Will’s parents did split up when he was young, but his father never abandoned him. In fact, Will and his father had a great relationship and he was a huge influence on Will’s career too. Sadly, Willard Carroll Smith, Sr passed away in 2016. Here’s a clip talking about that very scene from 2018. Well worth watching.

Of all the times Fresh Prince made me laugh over the years, it also made me cry . This episode and whole scene really hit hard with me personally as my father walked out when I was young and never looked back. I’ve always had that same “fuck him” attitude too, I’ll do and have done just fine without him, “I’ma be a better father than he ever was”, damn right. Anyway, it’s all getting a little too personal, so I think I’ll end this one here.


But yeah, I’m really looking forward to this reunion. Three decades of The Fresh Prince of Bell Air and I still think it’s as watchable now as it was then. It’s still relevant and many of the issues the show raised are (sadly) still problems now. It’s still funny and while Will Smith is as charismatic as any one person could ever be, the entire cast are mesmorising and all bring something worthy to the table. Will may have been the main star, but he was supported by a galaxy of others.

UNCLE PHIL

And as for James Avery, best TV dad ever. The big guy with the even bigger heart and smile is very sorely missed.

“Monetary success is not success. Career success is not success. Life, someone that loves you, giving to others, doing something that makes you feel complete and full. That is success. And it isn’t dependent on anyone else.”

– James Avery

Sean Connery At Ninety

Ninety years ago today on the 25th August, 1930, Thomas Sean Connery was born in Edinburgh, Scotland. The world didn’t know it then, but it had just been introduced to one of the finest actors to ever grace the screen.

Growing up in Fountainbridge, Edinburgh, Thomas (as he was known then) was the son of cleaning woman, Euphemia McBain McLean and truck driver, Joseph Connery. While named Thomas, his friends began to use his middle name of Sean and it just stuck from that point on. At the age of sixteen, Sean signed up to join the Royal Navy in 1946. He trained at the naval gunnery school in Portsmouth in the anti-aircraft crew. He was discharged from service aged nineteen due to a duodenal ulcer condition that affected most of the males in his family at that point. After which, Sean held down several jobs including being a milkman, lorry driver, lifeguard at a swimming baths, a coffin polisher he even did a bit of modelling. He turned to bodybuilding and entered the Mr. Universe contest (some sources say 1950, others say 1954) where he placed third.

SEAN CONNERY BODY BUILDING

A keen football fan and player, Sean Connery was offered a chance to play for Manchester United by then manager, Matt Busby. He turned the offer down realising that he was, perhaps, a bit to old to become a professional footballer. So as Sean didn’t see it as a sensible long term career move. Instead, he thought about becoming an actor.

“I realised that a top-class footballer could be over the hill by the age of thirty, and I was already twenty-three. I decided to become an actor and it turned out to be one of my more intelligent moves.”

– Sean Connery

Sean found himself a job working behind the scenes at the King’s Theatre in Edinburgh around 1951 and he landed his first acting roll in a production of the musical South Pacific. It was a very minor role, but as the production continued, Sean got promoted through various rolls to become one of the leads. In 1954, Sean met and became close friends with Michael Caine at a party for the South Pacific production. From then on, he began to rub shoulders with the likes of Hollywood actress Shelley Winters and also landed a few minor roles in films. 1957’s No Road Back is the first major film Sean Connery had a role in, it was a small part playing a gangster with a speech impediment, but it was enough to get him noticed. By the late fifties, he started to appear in TV and films more and more, including a lead role in the Disney film Darby O’Gill and the Little People from 1959.

SEAN CONNERY DR NO

Of course, the sixties were where Sean Connery would really get noticed as in 1962, he became James Bond in Dr. No and would go on to become the often most voted favourite James Bond actor. His casting as James Bond catapulted Sean into Hollywood stardom. Originally though, James Bond creator, Ian Fleming really didn’t like Sean Connery for the role.

“He’s not what I envisioned of James Bond looks. I’m looking for Commander Bond and not an overgrown stunt-man.”

– Ian Fleming

Yet, after Dr. No became such a big hit and after seeing Sean Connery’s performance,  Ian Fleming was so impressed that he even included some of Sean’s heritage into the James Bond character. In his 1964 novel You Only Live Twice, Ian decided to make James Bond’s father Scottish so the character fit more into Sean’s obvious Scottish roots. Despite the character making him so famous and starring in the first five James Bond films from 1962 – 1971, Sean began to tire of the character and worried he would become typecast.

“If you were his friend in these early days you didn’t raise the subject of Bond. He was, and is, a much better actor than just playing James Bond, but he became synonymous with Bond. He’d be walking down the street and people would say, “Look, there’s James Bond.” That was particularly upsetting to him.”

– Michael Caine

While still playing James Bond, Sean landed several other big movie rolls, including working with the master of suspense himself, Alfred Hitchcock in 1964’s Marnie. In 1975, he starred alongside his longtime friend, Michael Caine in The Man Who Would Be King. A film both actors say was the most fun and one of the best film-making experiences that they ever had. After James Bond and through the seventies, Sean’s career grew and grew, landing rolls in Robin and Marian, Murder on the Orient Express and A Bridge Too Far to name a few. By the eighties, he career showed no signs of slowing down either.

SEAN CONNERY TIME BANDITS

The Terry Gilliam classic, Time Bandits saw Sean Connery play Agamemnon, in what was essentially a joke role, but one that stands out in an already brilliant film. Then in 1983, Sean did something he swore he would never do… he returned as James Bond, the role he grew tired with. Playing James Bond in the not actually official Never Say Never Again, which is really a remake of the previous James Bond film, Thunderball (it’s a slightly confusing story). The title of the film is actually a reference to Sean saying that he would never play the James Bond character again. Also, people incorrectly state that Never Say Never Again was the last time he played the famous character. It was the last time he played him on screen yes, but in 2005, a video game version of From Russia with Love was made by Electronic Arts called, Bond 007: From Russia with Love and Sean Connery recorded all new dialogue as James Bond and allowed the use of his likeness too. So if the trivia question ever comes up asking when the last time Sean Connery played James Bond, the answer isn’t Never Say Never Again as most people think.

The eighties also saw Sean Connery star in two of my favourite films. First up, there is the head chopping, awesome Queen sountracked, time jumping masterpiece that is Highlander. Here, Sean played Juan Sánchez-Villalobos Ramírez, a Spanish (he’s not Spanish, he’s Egyptian) immortal, sword wielding mentor and friend to Christopher Lambert’s, Connor MacLeod, a French man (born in America) playing someone form Scotland. Yeah, the casting of this flick really does make the head hurt. Anyway, I love Highlander, so much so that I did a retrospective of the movie franchise a while back.

SEAN CONNERY UNTOUCHABLES

That other film I love so much was Brian De Palma’s brilliant take on the famed The Untouchables. Telling the story of Eliot Ness and his team of ‘untouchable’ police officers trying to bring Al Capone to justice during the prohibition era of America. Here, Sean Connery played straight talking, no nonsense beat cop,  Jimmy Malone, the Irish cop with a thick Scottish accent. Oh how I love this film and Sean Connery in it, a role he won an Oscar for, very much deserved too. This could be my all time favourite Sean Connery performance. He was pushing fifty-seven years-old too, an age where most Hollywood actors were taking it easy and winding down. But not for Sean, he was playing hard edged rolls and even got involved in the action. Well, he was an incredibly fit and active man, even in his twilight years. The Untouchables is a great mobster flick  told from the perspective of those trying to keep the mobsters under control. A movie full of great, memorable scenes and dialogue.

“You wanna know how to get Capone? They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That’s the Chicago way! And that’s how you get Capone.”

– Jimmy Malone

After his Oscar win for The Untouchables, Sean found himself very much in demand and he ended the eighties with easily one of the greatest pairings of action heroes ever.

SEAN CONNERY INDY

George Lucas has gone on record as saying that the Indiana Jones character was very much inspired by James Bond. He and Steven Spielberg wanted Indy to be the James Bond of the 1930s. So who better to play the father of the man inspired by James Bond other than James Bond himself? Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, released in 1989 teamed up Harrison Ford and Sean Connery for, what was then, the final in the Indiana Jones trilogy. The camaraderie between the two actors is amazing and Sean, despite being just shy of sixty, got involved with the action again.

In 1990’s The Hunt For Red October (a film Sean was quickly drafted in to do with only two weeks notice), he played a Russian submarine commander, Marko Ramius… with a Scottish accent.

Okay, so right here, I want to address the elephant in the room. Sean Connery was a fantastic actor, he could play anything. But yes, his accent let him down as no matter what role he played, he had that accent. Egyptian immortal, Scottish accent. Irish cop, Scottish accent. Russian submarine commander, Scottish accent. But you know what? I just don’t care. Sean’s voice, his accent was so iconic that it didn’t matter that it never changed. That dragging of the ‘S’ and the ‘sshhh’ sound was his trademark. That thick Scottish brogue was poetry to my ears. I really did not care that Sean’s accent hardly changed, if ever, from character to character. I didn’t care because Sean Connery was just so damn engrossing to watch. He could read the phone-book out loud and it would be entertaining.

SEAN CONNERY DRACO

You want to know how great Sean’s voice was? He could play a dragon and still be convincing, that’s how great. In 1996, Sean voiced Draco the dragon in the fantasy flick, Dragonheart. Featuring a still impressive looking CGI dragon, Sean made the character utterly charming and lovable… for a dragon. Also from 1996 was the bombastic The Rock were Sean played John Patrick Mason, ex-SAS captain and the only man to have ever escaped the famed Alcatraz island prison. Teaming up with Nicolas Cage’s FBI Special Agent Dr. Stanley Goodspeed, the two have to break into Alcatraz when it’s taken over by a group of marines turned rouge. Again, this is an action film with Sean Connery when he should’ve been taking it easy, he was sixty-five at the time. 

In the latter nineties, Sean did start to take it easier. He appeared in fewer films, despite the fact he was still massively popular. He played the main villain in the film adaption of the classic TV show, The Avengers. Bowler hat John Steed The Avengers, not Captain America The Avengers. Though I do think that having a seventy year-old Sean Connery play all-American superhero, Captain America with a Scottish accent would’ve been amazing. 

SEAN CONNERY LEAGUE GENTLEMEN

Yup, I have to mention it… The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen from 2005. A film so bad that it made Sean Connery retire from acting (true story). Apparently Sean had such a bad time on set, he and director Stephen Norrington just couldn’t get on and often argued over where the film was heading or what it was about. As he said himself…

“It was a nightmare. The experience had a great influence on me, it made me think about showbiz. I get fed up dealing with idiots.”

– Sean Connery 

And so, that was it. After a movie career that began in 1954 as an extra, Sean Connery officially announced his retirement from acting in 2007. He turned down the opportunity to return as Henry Jones in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. He turned down the chance to play Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, as well as the role as The Architect in The Matrix sequels, a part written with Sean Connery in mind. Sean was done with acting for good… kind of. His actual last film was the low budget, animated Scottish production, Sir Billi from 2013. I’ve not seen it, but it’s supposed to be pretty terrible…

Just to be clear, Sean Connery refused to come out of retirement for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, even only for a small cameo… but he came out of retirement for this?

Aside from the previously mentioned Oscar win for The Untouchables in 1998, Sean Connery has had various awards and honours bestowed on him. Three Golden Globes in 1972, 1998 and 1992. The latter being the Cecil B. DeMille Award given for outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment. Two BAFTAs in 1988, one being the BAFTA Fellowship, the highest honour given for outstanding achievement in the art forms of the moving image.

He also won the American Film Institute Life Achievement Award in 2006. as well as many other accolades over the years. Oh yeah, he was also knighted on the 5th of July, 2000, making him Sir Sean Connery.

Happy ninetieth birthday Sean. Thanks for the movies over the years… even the bad ones. 

Would you believe it, I just covered Sean Connery’s career spanning seven decades and I didn’t even mention or reference Zardoz once…

SEAN CONNERY ZARDOZ

“I like women. I don’t understand them, but I like them.”

– Sean Connery

Jaws: The Truth Behind ‘That’ Speech

Quint, the grizzled and very seasoned shark hunter, played brilliantly by Robert Shaw, is easily one of cinema’s great characters. His bravado, his charm, his personality simply make a him the best of the main three protagonists in the movie Jaws. He has some of the finest dialogue in the entire film and delivers each and every word with conviction. Right here, I’m going to explore the truth behind one of his most famous deliveries.

“Here’s to swimmin’ with bow-legged women.”

– Quint

You see, this is quite simply one of the most profound and deep-meaning lines captured on film ever. It may seem like a completely throw-away piece of dialogue at first, but it’s when we begin to peel back the layers of not just what is being said, but also how it is said, that’s when we can really begin to analyse it’s true meaning.

Nah, just joking. That’s just a funny little quip. But in all seriousness, I really do want to take a look at an absolutely wonderful piece of writing and acting from Jaws. I want to look at the real story behind a very specific speech. That being Quint’s recollection on the sinking of the USS Indianapolis.

QUINT 2

The Speech

First up, a quick reminder (as if you need one) of the speech in question.

“Japanese submarine slammed two torpedoes into our side, Chief. We was comin’ back from the island of Tinian to Leyte, just delivered the bomb. The Hiroshima bomb. Eleven hundred men went into the water. Vessel went down in twelve minutes. Didn’t see the first shark for about a half an hour. Tiger. Thirteen-footer. You know how you know that when you’re in the water, Chief? You tell by lookin’ from the dorsal to the tail. What we didn’t know… was our bomb mission had been so secret, no distress signal had been sent. Heh.

[Quint pauses and takes a drink]

They didn’t even list us overdue for a week. Very first light, Chief, sharks come cruisin’. So we formed ourselves into tight groups. Y’know, it’s… kinda like ol’ squares in a battle like, uh, you see in a calendar, like the Battle of Waterloo, and the idea was, shark comes to the nearest man and that man, he’d start poundin’ and hollerin’ and screamin’, and sometimes the shark’d go away… sometimes he wouldn’t go away. Sometimes that shark, he looks right into ya. Right into your eyes. Y’know the thing about a shark, he’s got… lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll’s eyes. When he comes at ya, doesn’t seem to be livin’… until he bites ya. And those black eyes roll over white, and then… oh, then you hear that terrible high-pitch screamin’, the ocean turns red, and spite of all the poundin’ and the hollerin’, they all come in and they… rip you to pieces.

[Quint pauses]

Y’know, by the end of that first dawn… lost a hundred men. I dunno how many sharks. Maybe a thousand. I dunno how many men, they averaged six an hour. On Thursday mornin’, Chief, I bumped into a friend of mine, Herbie Robinson from Cleveland- baseball player, boatswain’s mate. I thought he was asleep, reached over to wake him up… bobbed up and down in the water just like a kinda top. Upended. Well… he’d been bitten in half below the waist. Noon the fifth day, Mr. Hooper, a Lockheed Ventura saw us, he swung in low and he saw us. Young pilot, a lot younger than Mr. Hooper. Anyway, he saw us and come in low and three hours later, a big fat PBY comes down and start to pick us up. Y’know, that was the time I was most frightened, waitin’ for my turn. I’ll never put on a life jacket again. So, eleven hundred men went into the water, three hundred sixteen men come out, and the sharks took the rest, June the 29th, 1945.

[Quint pauses, smiles, and raises his glass]

Anyway… we delivered the bomb.”

– Quint

That’s a damn fine example of a picture being painted with words, one of the best four minutes of cinema ever. Some amazing writing and delivered perfectly by Robert Shaw’s acting. That one scene, that speech is actually Steven Spielberg’s favourite bit of his own film, and it’s easy to see why too. But the thing I want to take a look at in regards to that speech is the truth behind it. Jaws may be a fictional movie, but the USS Indianapolis, the secret mission and its sinking were all very true. Quint’s speech is not 100% factual though, there are a few embellishments to add to the drama of the scene or possibly just not fully researched to be accurate enough, but overall, it told the same story. Here is the real story of what happened to the USS Indianapolis and I’ll point out some of the changes as I go, I’ll list the differences in bold so they stand out from the rest of the text.

The Real Story Vs Quint’s Story

So yes, there was a United States Navy ship called the USS Indianapolis and yes, it did go on a secret mission related to the Hiroshima bomb and most of what Quint says is true, to a point.

USS INDIANAPOLIS

The USS Indianapolis had already been involved in several World War II campaigns before she met her fateful end. Helping out in both the New Guinea campaign and the Aleutian Islands campaign, the USS Indianapolis also took part in numerous battles including the Landing at Amchitka, Battle of Tarawa and the Battle of Saipan to name a few. After several years of service and battles, the USS Indianapolis was in need of repairs and an overhaul to get her up to standard for a top secret mission. After her work, she set out from San Francisco’s Hunters Point Naval Shipyard on the 16th of July, 1945. Her mission was to deliver a huge payload of enriched uranium and various bomb parts to Tinian Island in the Pacific Ocean. She made the journey and delivered her payload on the 26th of July, after a stop at Pearl Harbor on the 19th of July.

Already here, there is a little discrepancy between Quint’s speech and the real story. Quint says they delivered the Hiroshima bomb, which is not strictly true. The USS Indianapolis delivered several bomb components and the uranium used to build the world’s first first nuclear weapon nicknamed ‘Little Boy’, the Hiroshima bomb. But it didn’t deliver the bomb itself.

After the delivery, the USS Indianapolis went onto Guam for a change of crew. She then left Guam on the 28th of July and headed for Okinawa to join Vice Admiral Jesse B. Oldendorf to join his Task Force 95. But there was a stop over planed on Leyte Island first, a journey she never made. It was around twelve-fifteen in the morning on the 30th of July, 1945 when the USS Indianapolis was stuck by two torpedoes fired from a Japanese submarine. They struck her on her starboard side, causing massive damage. As the USS Indianapolis was kitted out for war, it was very top heavy with weaponry, cannons and the like. She began to take on water, the USS Indianapolis rolled completely over, the stern rose in the air and she quickly sank, and all within twelve minutes of impact with eleven-hundred and ninety-five crew-members on-board.

Most of what Quint says is true for this part. They delivered the bomb (parts) and set sail for Leyte Island from Tinian Island (after a stop off at Guam). It was a Japanese sub that slammed two torpedoes into her side too, and she did sink in twelve minutes. Quint also said that eleven-hundred men went into the water, it was a little more then that, but I guess he was just rounding down? However, around three hundred men actually went down with the ship and drowned. Now, Quint never says that didn’t happen, nor does his speech say that it did, but it does seem to suggest that all of the crew were adrift, which wasn’t exactly true. In reality, there were just shy of nine-hundred men in the water after three-hundred drowned as the ship sunk, not the eleven-hundred that Quint suggests.

USS INDIANAPOLIS 2

It was around ten-twenty-five in the morning on the 2nd of August, 1945 when a PV-1 Ventura patrol bomber flew over and spotted the crew of the USS Indianapolis adrift in the ocean. The pilot, Lieutenant Wilbur “Chuck” Gwinn and his co-pilot dropped a life raft and radio transmitter. The alarm was raised within seconds and all available units came to the rescue.

Quint says that the mission was so secret that the crew were not known as missing for a week. That’s definitely not true, the alarm was raised a little over three days later. Certainly not a week. But Quint is right when he said that a Lockheed Ventura saw them, it just wasn’t a week later as he claimed. But there is a discrepancy here as Quint says that the crew were not listed as overdue/missing for a week… but also says the plane spotted them after five days? Is he counting a week as five days, not including the weekend?

Many of the crew died of dehydration and hypernatremia, some suffered terrible delirium and hallucinations and killed themselves fearing they would not survive anyway. Exactly how many died from actual shark attacks is unknown. Around nine-hundred crew survived the sinking of the USS Indianapolis and were cast adrift, of those, only three-hundred and sixteen were saved.

So this is where Quint’s speech is at its horrific best. This is where he describes the tiger sharks, the high-pitch screaming of the crewmen, the ocean turning red with blood as the sharks began their attack. A thousand sharks eating a hundred men by the first dawn, averaging six men an hour according to Quint. Do the maths here, if (as Quint states) they were adrift for a week and a thousand sharks were eating a hundred men a day (average). Six (men) x twenty-four (hours) x seven (days) = one thousand and eight. Plus, going by Quint’s wording, all eleven-hundred crew were adrift (not true as some drowned or were killed by the explosions of the torpedoes). Anyway, Quint does say that eleven-hundred men went into the water and that only three-hundred and sixteen men come out. Those survival numbers are dead-on accurate to the real story… but he does say that the ‘sharks took the rest’. So Quint is claiming that of the eleven-hundred in the sea (rounding down remember), the sharks ate seven-hundred and four men minimum. As covered, it’s not known exactly how many were actually eaten by sharks, but it certainly wasn’t seven-hundred, three hundred drowned going down with the ship remember, others committed suicide, some died of dehydration and hypernatremia. So all in all, it was definitely fewer than the seven-hundred and four as Quint says.

As I have previously covered, the USS Indianapolis was hit by two torpedoes and sank within twelve minutes on the 30th of July, 1945.

But that’s not what Quint says, he ends his speech saying that she sank on the 29th of June, 1945. The date wasn’t even close, the day was twenty-four ours out yes, but it was completely the wrong month. Why the date is so wrong I have no idea, it was widely known at the time of writing when the USS Indianapolis sank. It was known as the worst sea disaster in the U.S. Navy’s history… still is. 

QUINT 3

All in all, Quint’s re-telling of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis is pretty damn close. Yes, there is some embellishment, perhaps to increase the tension and horror of the scene? A longer wait for rescue and more shark attacks than were probable, more gruesome and bloody deaths does make it sound a lot more horrific than it was… and it already was an horrific incident. But why the date of the actual sinking is so wrong I have no idea.

Anyway, even with the errors, either purposefully made or genuine lack of research, Quint’s USS Indianapolis speech is mesmerising. It’s brilliantly written, wonderfully acted by Robert Shaw and directed to perfection thanks to Steven Spielberg. But to end this article, I want to just throw in some interesting tit-bits connected to the whole scene and the Quint character himself.

Tit-Bits

The film, Jaws may have been fiction, as were the characters. But there was some grain of truth to Quint himself. Frank ‘The Monster Man’ Mundus was a keen fisherman from Montauk, New York. He had quite an eccentric personality and took great pride in displaying the many sharks he had killed over the years. The TV documentary, Shark Hunter: Chasing the Great White (narrated by Roy Scheider, who played Martin Brody in Jaws) was about Frank’s life as a shark hunter. The documentary even covers that fact that Frank Mundus was the inspiration for Quint in Jaws. Even Robert Shaw who played Quint said that he played the character as Frank Mundus, copying many of his traits and mannerisms. So Quint kind of existed in the real world. Just as a side note: Frank Mundus actually began to feel bad for all the shark killing he did and became a shark conservationist later in his life. He died in 2008 aged eighty-two.

Frank Mundus

Robert Shaw was a terrible alcoholic. The first time they sat down to shoot that scene, he was so drunk that he kept forgetting and slurring his words. The footage was useless and Robert walked away deeply embarrassed. The next day, he sat down to talk with Steven Spielberg, apologised for his behaviour and asked for another chance at the scene. So they set up again and this time, Robert was sober…

“He really wasn’t able to do it that day. The next day he came in stone sober and absolutely knocked it out of the park.”

– Steven Spielberg

What is seen in the film is an edit of both the first drunken attempt and the sober one (can you even tell which cuts are which?). But according to Steven Spielberg, Robert Shaw nailed the scene in one take when he was sober.

The original speech was written by John Milius (Dirty Harry, Apocalypse Now, Red Dawn, to name a few of his writing credits), unfortunately, it went on a bit too long… around nine or ten pages. Robert Shaw worked out that the speech would take about fifteen minutes to deliver on screen. So Robert took the epic soliloquy away and edited it down to what is spoken in the film. So not only was Robert Shaw responsible for the amazing delivery of the scene, he was also responsible for it not sending you to sleep.

The wreckage of the USS Indianapolis was believed lost, never to be found. Yet seventy-two years later, on the 19th of August, 2017, she was finally found. On the floor of the Philippine Sea, during a search led by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

For a rather depressing end and a bit more of the true story behind the speech. The commanding officer of the USS Indianapolis was Captain Charles B. McVay III, he was wounded by the sinking, but survived. A Navy Court of Inquiry stated that Charles McVay should be court-martialed for the loss of the USS Indianapolis. He was charged and convicted with failing to zigzag to avoid the torpedoes that sank the ship. The Navy even flew in the Japanese submarine commander, Mochitsura Hashimoto, to testify against Charles.

Captain Charles B. McVay III

Crew-members felt that their Captain was being railroaded, in fact Mochitsura Hashimoto himself even said that zigzagging would’t have stopped him from sinking the USS Indianapolis. There’s actually quite a few controversies worth looking into about the whole trial. Still, Charles McVay was found guilty of hazarding his vessel and he never sailed the seas again. Instead, on the 6th of November, 1968, he killed himself with his own service pistol. Years later in 2000, Captain Charles B. McVay III was exonerated for the loss of the USS Indianapolis… all thanks to a twelve year old Floridian schoolboy.

QUINT 4

“I value my neck a lot more than three thousand bucks, chief. I’ll find him for three, but I’ll catch him, and kill him, for ten. But you’ve gotta make up your minds. If you want to stay alive, then ante up. If you want to play it cheap, be on welfare the whole winter. I don’t want no volunteers, I don’t want no mates, there’s just too many captains on this island. $10,000 for me by myself. For that you get the head, the tail, the whole damn thing.”

– Quint

Good Evening: Why Psycho Has The Greatest Trailer Ever Made

The cinematic masterpiece that is Psycho is sixty years old today and I’ve been having a bit of a multi-article celebration. From looking at some of the behind the scene stories and the making of Psycho, to exploring the entire franchise from 1959 – 2017. Right here, I am going to look at the original teaser trailer that Alfred Hitchcock made for his film and try to explain why I feel it’s the greatest movie trailer ever made. SPOILERS ahead!

I love a good movie trailer, ones that whet the appetite just the right amount and get you interested in a movie. Sadly, those seem to not exist anymore as trailers these days are much more bombastic and often give away major plot points… sometimes even the ending to the film you have not yet seen. A truly great movie trailer is extremely hard to find these days. I don’t know, but I feel that the people who edit trailers these days have no restraint, no class, no sense of suspense. But there was one man who had all of those traits in spades, Alfred Hitchcock.

Given the fact that Hitch secured complete control when it came to making Psycho, it meant he also had full control over it’s advertising and promotion. When Hitchcock is in full control of something, that’s when you get the absolute best results. See the trailer for Psycho as an example. See, Hitch didn’t want to just use clips from the movie to give the audience an idea and a taste of the picture. He wanted to create something different, something unique… so unique that the trailer for Psycho doesn’t even show a single second, a single frame of the actual film at all.

What Alfred Hitchcock created with his Psycho trailer was a mini, six minute movie in itself. A short film that told you exactly what the film was about, but showed you absolutely nothing in the process. Not only that, the trailer starred the man himself, Mr Hitchcock and it is drenched in his trademark dry, black and macabre humour. You know what? Just watch it yourselves before I explain it’s genius…

See, now that’s how you pull off a teaser trailer. With Hitchcock presenting this tour of the wonderfully iconic house and even the infamous Bates Motel itself, as if the events from the film were factual. As if Hitch is fronting a documentary based on the murders. It all kicks off with that bouncy, light music that sets the audience at ease from the off. It’s misdirection like the music that makes this trailer really work. Then he begins to talk about the ‘sinister’ house and the ‘most dire, horrible events’ that took place in it. That bouncy music is gone as Hitch begins to unravel his tale of murder and things quickly take a turn for the worst… but not before Hitch throws in some of his humor about the sale of the house, again, just to ease the viewer. He really enjoys playing with us as he hints at a mysterious woman seen in the window.

Then yes, it’s that happy, upbeat music again. The flip-flopping from one extreme to the other, from happy to death really begins to get under the skin. His little look back at the audience just to check that we are following him into the house, it’s a look of reassurance and mischief… something is going on here. Hitch then goes on the talk about the second murder at the top of the stairs and goes into very specific detail too. He lets the audience know the killer was female, the way he doesn’t mention who the victim was is wonderful subterfuge. He then goes on the describe… or try to describe how contorted and twisted the body was after it tumbled down the stairs. Hitchcock uses his hands to try and convey how badly the body was damaged, he’s just told you about one of the biggest scenes in the film, but not said anything of any real detail. It’s really masterful work, brilliant use of body language and wording that still does not give anything major away. You just know something seriously bad happened on those stairs.

Before going into the woman’s bedroom, Hitch regales you in another misleading descriptive, telling you just what the woman was like as if she was still alive.  He’s telling you who the killer is, but without telling you who the killer is. Then it’s into her room, the killer we now know who carried out the two murders. He begins to point out several clues, one in particular being the wardrobe. Hitch opens the wardrobe, but does not show you wants inside. Instead, he just offers you the viewer a very disapproving look as that chirpy music kicks in again. So the woman’s clothing is a clue. Hitch then leaves ‘her’ room, stops off for one of his dry humor jabs about the bathroom and then points out the son’s room. However, we don’t get to see inside. Hitchcock tells us that the son preferred the parlor behind the office in the motel and that’s where he takes us next.

Hitch then goes on the tell us how sorry you have to feel for the son, how he was driven to extremes… he almost let’s the cat out the bag before entering the parlor. Giving a brief tour of the room, Hitchcock tells us about the son’s hobby of taxidermy and even says that a very important scene occurred in that very room. He’s just about the reveal exactly what, but he gets distracted by a framed picture on the wall. And this is where he teases his most. He stops at the picture, points at it and tell us that it has ‘great significance, because…’, Hitchcock then stops himself from telling us just how important the picture is and takes us to cabin number 1 instead.

Pausing yet again to deliver that dry ‘the bathroom’ line again, he goes in. Commenting on how it’s been cleaned up of all the blood. He also tells us that a very important clue was found in the toilet. Then it’s onto the grand finale. Hitchcock describes the murder, telling us how the killer crept into the room, how the shower drowned out any sound. He then pauses and looks at the shower, grabs the shower curtain and yanks it aside. We the audience are then greeted by a screaming Vera Miles.


 

The reason I love this trailer so much it that it works as a trailer should. It gives you a little taste of the film, all without giving too much away. Despite Alfred Hitchcock telling you about the murders, telling you about the killer, telling you about the son… he still tells you nothing. He takes you on this wondrous tour of the site of two grisly killings, describes them and yet, he still spoils nothing from the film. There isn’t a single frame from the movie in the trailer either. The use of Vera Miles in the shower at the end is a great shock as it gives the trailer it’s punctuation, but still keeps the big surprise that Janet Leigh is the one who is killed in the shower in the actual film.

You can watch this trailer before the film and it works as a great prologue that sets up the film beautifully. Then watch it after the film and you can see just how much Hitchcock was playing with the audience and how much he enjoyed it too. His little hints, those close misses of just what happened in the house and motel are genius. Hitchcock’s careful use of words, his body language, his hand movements, his gestures and his dead pan humour are what make this so damn enjoyable to watch.

Hitch Chair

“Luck is everything. My good luck in life was to be a really frightened person. I’m fortunate to be a coward, to have a low threshold of fear, because a hero couldn’t make a good suspense film.”

– Alfred Hitchcock

We all Go A Little Mad Sometimes: Psycho At 60

One of my all time favorite films turns sixty years old today. Psycho is a masterwork of cinematic genius, and I aim to celebrate it’s birthday with a handful of articles. One will look at the Psycho franchise as a whole, one will examine the film’s trailer and this one, will take a look at some of the behind the scenes stories of this classic Hitchcock flick.

Back in 1959, writer Robert Bloch penned one of the greatest thrillers ever written, Psycho. Okay, so the book wasn’t a huge hit at first, but it soon became one after some fella called Alfred made a movie based on the book, and that film went on to be one of the most loved pictures ever. A masterclass of suspense and ground breaking film-making.  But before I do look at how the film was made, I just want to take a quick glance at Robert Bloch’s novel.

The Book

As I write this, I’ve recently finished re-reading Psycho and it’s sequel (more on those in my other article). The book isn’t a long one, you could easily make your way through it in one sitting. Plus if you know the film, there’s hardly any surprises outside of some slightly different narrative ideas and a character name change. The ending is the same and the plots of both book and film are virtually identical.

Psycho Book

A quick synopsis for and those not in the know. Psycho tells the story of motel owner, Norman Bates and his taut, strained relationship with his overbearing and controlling mother, Norma. When young and beautiful woman, Mary Crane stops off for the night in Bates Motel, Norman becomes fascinated by the female… to the ire of Norma. While Mary hides a few secrets of her own, they’re nothing compared to Norman’s. Mary’s stay at Bates Motel kick-starts a series of events that slowly reveals Norman and Norma’s checkered history as Norman’s darkest secrets are brought to light.

I really do enjoy reading Psycho. As I said, it’s a quick read and a very enjoyable one too. But there is a misconception I quickly want to cover. It has been said that Psycho is based on the real life crimes of the infamous Ed Gein. It’s one if those long running tales attached to both the book and film… but it’s not strictly true. See, Robert Bloch didn’t even know of the whole Ed Gein case while he was writing his book. You have to remember that were talking about the mid-late 50s and communication back then wasn’t like today. There certainly wasn’t the internet to spread news in an instant, there was radio and TV of course, but even then, news reports were nothing like today and didn’t really make it out of their own towns, cites and countries, unless it was a major worldwide event. Unless something had happened in the town you were living in, then you didn’t really hear about it until much later, if at all. Bloch lived around forty miles away from where Gein had committed his crimes and was eventually arrested in 1957, by which time, Bloch had already pretty much finished writing his book. It wasn’t until he had finally finished writing Psycho when he heard about the Gein case for the first time.

So where does this rumor that Psycho was based on Ed Gein come from? Well from Robert Bloch himself, though not intentionally. See, after Bloch had finished his book and learned about Gein, he then threw in a very quick reference to the whole affair at the end of Psycho.

GEIN SNIPPET

That’s it, that’s the only mention or reference to Ed Gein in the entire book. So people assumed the whole book was based on the Gein case, when the truth is that Psycho had already been written by the time Robert Bloch heard about Gein’s crimes.

And now that’s out of the way, I can now yak on about how one of my favourite films, Psycho was made. Before I do crack on, I’m going to offer one of my usual SPOILER warnings right here. Yes, I know the film is sixty years old now and pretty much anyone who has seen a movie ever knows the ending to Psycho. But I’m a firm believer that a SPOILER is still a SPOILER no matter how old or famous.

The Movie

So anyway, Robert Bloch’s novel wasn’t a huge success at all, not at first anyway. It sold okay and was seen as a quick, disposable, pulp fiction read that people would forget about not long after reading it… and it was just that for the most part. However, Peggy Robertson, assistant to famed and respected TV & film director, Alfred Hitchcock, read a positive review of the book and suggested that Hitch should read Psycho himself, he did and loved it, so much so that he secured the film rights to the book soon after. I mean, the book was first published in April of 1959 and Hitchcock began shooting the film in November of the same year. That’s how fast the turn-around was on this thing. Hitchcock even asked Robertson to buy up all or as many copies of the book as she could find so people wouldn’t have the ending of his film spoiled for them.

Taking his pitch for the movie to Paramount Pictures, Hitchcock was soon shot down. He’d had a bit of a bad run the last couple of years and despite his past successes, Paramount didn’t have faith that Hitchcock could produce a hit film, he’d recently lost the studio a fair bit of cash over two aborted films, Flamingo Feather and No Bail for the Judge. Plus there was the fact that he was sixty years old in 1959 when he wanted to make the film. It’s kind if hard to think about it now, but when he was trying to make Psycho, Hitchcock was thought of as a has-been, past his prime as many industry insiders believed. Yet, Alfred Hitchcock was so sure he could make a great film from this pulp fiction novel that he offered Paramount a deal they really couldn’t refuse. He waived his usual $250,000 director’s fee, which was a huge sum back in 1959, around $2.2 million by 2020. Not only that, he said he would fund the film shoot himself and asked that Paramount only distribute the picture when finished. From a money point of view, Paramount had nothing to lose.

Hitch Pic

Obviously, not being paid $250,000 to direct and having to fund the production himself left Hitchcock with a major issue, money. Making films wasn’t cheap, there’s the pay for all the cast and crew, writers, equipment, music, catering, locations, sets to build and everything else. The budget for Psycho was said to be around $807,000 ($7.1 million in 2020), which was a huge chunk of cash in 1959, especially when Hitch himself wasn’t even being paid. Hitchcock put up his house as collateral to help raise money for the flick. He was putting a hell of a lot on the line, his career as a director was already a bit shaky and now his very home was at risk too. If Psycho as a film flopped, his career was certainly over and Alfred Hitchcock, along with his wife, Alma, would be homeless. It was a completely mad deal to make, but we all go a little mad sometimes.

To keep costs low, Hitchcock used his cheaper TV crew instead of a film crew and chose to shoot the film in black & white, all of which were lower cost options over how other films were being made back then. So he had the production under control, but there was another problem. The sound stages at Paramount Pictures were fully booked with other films being made, he may have had a plan to get the movie made cheaper than usual, but Hitchcock had nowhere to actually film it. That’s when Universal Pictures stepped in and offered their sound stages for the production. Ever wonder why a film distributed by Paramount had an attraction at the rival Universal Studios theme park? Now you know.

So (almost) everything was set. Hitchcock had his crew, he had a studio to film in but he was still missing some pretty big pieces. He didn’t have any actors signed on for the roles and nor did he have a script, just the Robert Bloch book. As the man himself once said…

“To make a great film you need three things. The script, the script and the script.”

– Alfred Hitchcock

First things first, Hitchcock needed a screenplay to show to potential actors to fill the roles. Sticking to his idea of using his TV show crew, Hitchcock gave the job to James P. Cavanagh, who was a writer on the Alfred Hitchcock Presents show. All told, the screenplay was terrible, Hitchcock felt it didn’t read like a movie but more like an episode of his show. It lacked the depth of character he was looking for and had none of the slow burn of tension and suspense he craved. Cavanagh’s screenplay was too short, to shallow, too TV episode-like… well he was a TV show writer after all. Enter Joseph Stefano, a young man with only one movie script under his belt at the time, the perfect writer for Hitchcock. Stefano may have lacked movie screenplay writing experience, but he had a little, plus the fact he was young and inexperienced meant he was cheap. Given the finance situation of the whole film, Hitchcock had to be frugal.

Anthony Perkins

Joseph Stefano’s adaption of Bloch’s novel was exactly what Hitchcock was looking for. Faithful to the source material, but still bringing new ideas to the table. Both Hitchcock and Stefano worked on tidying up the screenplay, adapting it to fit more with Alfred Hitchcock’s vision. First was changing Norman. In the book, Norman is a middle-aged, over-weight drunken pervert that you feel very little sympathy for. Hitchcock already had an actor in mind to play that part, Anthony Perkins, who was far removed from Norman of the book. Young, good looking, charming and erudite, everything Robert Bloch’s Norman Bates wasn’t. So gone were Norman’s more disgusting traits to be replaced with Perkins’ boyish good looks and charm. The opening was to change too. The book begins by introducing the reader to Norman and his mother, Norma from page one. Hitchcock thought it would be better to leave the introduction of Norman until much later in the picture and until after his leading lady had been introduced.

Plus there was the fact that Hitchcock also wanted Marion (Mary in the book) Crane’s back story to be expanded too. In the book, Mary’s story only really takes up two of the book’s seventeen chapters. In the film though, Marion is ‘seemingly’ the main focus… for good reason too. Hitchcock knew he had a film with a great twist ending, but he wanted to pull the rug from under the viewer before that ending, as to give them a double surprise. He and Joseph Stefano worked on the idea of making Marion the star of the film, put the focus in her and her backstory, then when the now infamous shower scene happened, the audience would be shocked that they just killed off the leading lady. The focus of the film could then turn fully onto Norman, who up to this point in the film, was pretty much a secondary character. It was one of the biggest shocks in cinema history and to help pull off the shock, Hitchcock needed a big name.

See, Psycho’s cast are or were relatively unknown at the time. Even Norman Bates himself, Anthony Perkins, wasn’t exactly a big movie star then, yeah he’d been in a few films but he was known more for his stage work. But Janet Leigh was huge. By the time filming on Psycho began in November, 1959, Leigh had already appeared in over thirty films. And it wasn’t just the acting that made her famous back then, she was also very well known for her marriage to big screen superstar actor, Tony Curtis too, they were Hollywood royalty. Leigh could’ve easily been counted among other big name female movie stars back then. With her name and face on the movie posters, it was a surefire way to make people believe they were going to see a Janet Leigh film… and how they were shocked at around forty-six minutes into the film when the leading lady decided to take a shower and was brutally killed off with a kitchen knife. It’s one of the greatest surprises in cinematic history.

Janet and Tony

So Hitchcock had his two main characters cast, filling out other roles were Vera Miles as Lila Crane, Marion’s sister. John Gavin as Sam Loomis, Marion’s lover and Martin Balsam as the private investigator, Milton Arbogast. The core cast where now in place as other minor roles were also filled out. But there was one bit of casting that Alfred Hitchcock had a lot of fun with, Norma Bates, Norman’s mother. Now I know what you are thinking as you read this… but yes, Hitchcock wanted to cast someone in the role of mother… kind of. This of course was what Hitch was great at, leading people down the garden path. Hitchcock put word out in the industry that he was on the look out for an older woman to play Norma Bates. He even mentioned two actresses by name for the role, Judith Anderson and Helen Hayes. But it was all a ruse to keep people unaware of the film’s finale. Alfred Hitchcock even had a cast chair made up for Mrs Bates with that name printed on the back too, he then had all the cast have their picture taken in that chair for publicity shots… all the cast except for Anthony Perkins.

Hitch Mrs Bates

So everything was now in place and shooting for Psycho began on the 11th of November, 1959 at Universal Studios, California… well most of it was, a few establishing/location shots aside. The house and motel from the film still stand on the back-lot tour at Universal Studios, California too.

The shoot was a relativity easy one with very few issues. Beginning on the 11th of  November, 1959, and finishing on the 1st of February, 1960, so it was a pretty short shoot really. All through filming, Hitchcock would place various mother corpse props hidden around the set for the cast to find, just to test how scared they were and how loud they screamed.

Perhaps the most famous scene in the film was the pivotal shower one. As simple as it looked, it was one of the hardest in the film to shoot. All in all, that one scene lasts a little over three minutes from start to end, yet it contains a total of seventy-seven different camera angles, over fifty separate cuts and took a whole week to film… for one three minute scene. It’s the fast edits and the multiple camera angles that gives the scene it’s sense of madness and frantic pace as the knife stabs and slashes. Plus the fact Hitch chose to shoot with fifty millimetre lenses on thirty-five millimetre cameras gave the scene and overall film a specific feel, similar to that of human vision. This meant the audience felt closer to the action and characters, especially when someone is being brutally stabbed in the shower, that helped to make the audience feel uneasy.

Shower Scene Stroyboard

There has been some debate over just who was in the shower for the stabbing itself. Janet Leigh had always said she was the girl in the shower for the whole scene, she stated a s much the book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho. But the book The Girl in Alfred Hitchcock’s Shower contradicts this by stating that a body double was used named Marli Renfro, who was actually in the shower for all the body shots that didn’t involve Leigh’s face. This is a claim back up by Hitchcock himself too. But then, Rita Riggs who was in charge of wardrobe on the film has said that it was Leigh in the shower the whole time. There seems to be a lot of confusion over just who was in the shower to be honest… not that it really matters as the scene is perfection on film regardless of whoever was playing the role at the time.

There there is another matter worth looking at. It has been said that in order to get Janet Leigh to scream just right, Hitch insisted on using ice-cold water for the scene. Bearing in mind that the whole shower scene was shot over a week in late December too, it would’ve been chilly (for California anyway) already. But Leigh has shot this down herself. According to her, Hitchcock used hot water to keep her as comfortable as possible and that everyone there for the shoot were extremely professional and helpful to her needs. Do I really need to bring up the fact that Hitchcock used chocolate sauce for the blood in this scene? Surely that’s a tit-bit famous enough already?

Then there is one of the biggest myths of the most famous scene to look at too. According to Saul Bass, who designed the opening credits to Psycho and other Hitchcock films, and also drew up the storyboards for many of Hitch’s movies. According to him, he directed the shower scene and not Hitchcock. It’s one of those movie rumors that’s been going on for years. Yet despite Bass’ claims, he seems to be outnumbered by everyone else on the film.

“Absolutely not! I have emphatically said this in any interview I’ve ever given. I’ve said it to his face in front of other people. I was in that shower for seven days, and believe me, Alfred Hitchcock was right next to his camera for every one of those seventy-odd shots.”

– Janet Leigh

“There is not a shot in that movie that I didn’t roll the camera for. And I can tell you I never rolled the camera for Mr. Bass.”

– Hilton A. Green (assistant director)

Then anyone who knows anything about Hitchcock and his methods, his perfectionism. Anyone would tell you that there would be no way that he would let anyone direct one of his scenes, especially one so important to the plot of the film and it’s impact, it’s reason for existing, it’s surprise factor. Basically, it seems that Saul Bass was talking utter shit.

Then of course, one can’t talk about Psycho’s shower scene and not mention ‘that’ music from legendary composer, Bernard Herrmann. I think perhaps what’s the most interesting thing about the now iconic music is the fact that Hitchcock never wanted it. His original vision for the shower scene was for it to be untouched by any music, he wanted the scene to speak for itself. Just the sound of the running water and Marion’s screams as the knife stabbed away at her flesh… a sound effect done by stabbing melons, a casaba melon if you really want to know. Still, Herrmann wanted to do something for that scene and asked Hitch if he could. They made a deal, if Hitchcock didn’t like the music, then they would discard it with no hard feelings. After a few days, Bernard Herrmann had his music written and record and played if for Hitchcock over footage of the shower scene. Hitch loved it and insisted it be used.

Everything about the shower scene is amazing, the music, the directing, the acting… everything. I’d quite happily argue that it’s the greatest movie scene ever caught on film.

Hitch Shower Scene

Psycho met with quite a fair bit of controversy when it was released in 1960. Things that seem very tame by today’s standards, but back then? There were issues that caused the censors to become inflamed due to the then Motion Picture Production Code, mostly due to it’s use of sexuality and violence. The now seemingly innocent opening scene of Marion and her lover, Sam caused a lot of upset. Firstly, Marion and Sam were not married, and showing them just lying in bed together was a serious taboo in 1960. Plus there was the fact that Marion was shown in her bra too. Quick aside, have you noticed that in the film, before Marion takes the money and runs away, she’s wearing a white bra, but after the theft, she’s seen in a black bra? Subtle. Other issues where the fact the film’s main plot was revealed to be about a man dressing as a woman. The censors even got upset about the fact the word ‘ transvestite’ is used in the finale to describe Norman.

Marion and Sam

Perhaps one of the silliest arguments Hitchcock had over censorship was the fact he dared to show a toilet in the movie… and have it be flushed too. Seriously, Psycho was the first American film to show a flushing toilet. Hitch got around being able to show the toilet being flushed by ensuring it was part of the plot. He had Marion tear up her calculations she made to return the money, and dispose of them in the toilet to then flush it. This meant he couldn’t cut the scene as no one would know what Marion was up to or why she decided to return the money and come clean. Then there was also an issue with the shower scene. When Hitch showed the film to the censorship board, several of them said they saw Janet Leigh’s naked breast in at least one shot. If showing a flushing toilet was an issue, you can bet anything that showing nudity was also one. Still, Hitchcock insisted there was no such shot in the film, his argument fell on deaf ears and he was ordered to cut the offending breast from the scene. So he did… kind of. Hitch went away with his film, just held onto it for a few days and cut absolutely nothing from it. He then took the exact same cut of the film back to the very same censorship board and resubmitted it for approval. The same people re-watched it and this time, none of them saw the offending breast. Despite the fact Hitch cut nothing from the film, he just let the board think he did. Just for the record, no Janet Leigh’s naked breast is not in Psycho, nor was it ever. It’s just that the censorship board saw it in their mind’s eye. The film was passed for general release with no more problems.

I do want to look into perhaps one of my favorite things about the release of Psycho, it’s strict ‘no late admission’ policy. Back then, the way films were shown at the cinema was very different from today. Now, you wouldn’t think about just buying a ticket and walking into a film at any point. These days you buy your ticket and sit down before the film starts to watch the picture from begining to end. Well that’s not how things worked back then. Cinemas would show a film all day long, this was also before multiple screens too, so one cinema would show one film and another would show a different film. So anyway, the cinema would screen a film, which would be book-ended with a newsreel, a small feature, a short serial or even a cartoon. Then the film and it’s bookend would be shown all through the day on a continual loop, no real start or end. You could buy a ticket and just walk in whenever you wanted. Twenty minutes in, the middle of a film, the start, the end, wherever. You could buy a ticket and just sit in the cinema all day watching and re-watching the same show over and over if you liked. Have you ever heard of the phrase “this is where we came in”? Well it originates with cinema back then. Someone would walk in to watch a film, say at the mid point, watch until the end and then just sit there and watch the start of the film they had missed by walking in at the mid point. Say “this is where we came in” and then leave, now having seen all the film… all be it out of sequence.

Well anyway, Hitchcock  instilled a firm rule of not allowing anyone in to the cinema once Psycho had begun. He did this to not spoil the film’s twist ending, as if you walked in to watch Psycho ten minutes from the end, you’d have no idea what was going on. But there was also the fact he didn’t want to ruin his ace up his sleeve. Janet Leigh being killed off. Remember, Leigh was the big draw, the reason people would’ve gone to see the film in the first place. So if anyone who wanted to watch the latest Janet Leigh film walked in after the shower scene, they’d have no idea that Hitchcock just killed off his leading lady and would’ve ruined one of the biggest shocks in cinema history. So no one was allowed in after the film had begun, breaking cinema tradition back then.

Hitch ensured cinema managers stuck to this rule of not letting anyone in after Psycho had started personally by attending every single screening and telling people they were not allowed in. Okay, so he may not have traveled the world attending every single screening, be he had cardboard cutouts of himself made with his personal statement made very clear on them. All done in that Hitchcock dry humor.

Psycho No Admittence 2

“We won’t allow you to cheat yourself! You must see Psycho from beginning to end to enjoy it fully. Therefore, do not expect to be admitted into the theatre after the start of each performance of the picture.  We say no one – and we mean no one – not even the manager’s brother, the President of the United States, or the Queen of England (God bless her)!”

– Alfred Hitchcock 

There were a few variants of this idea but they all pretty much said the same thing. No one was to be admitted entrance to see Psycho one it had begun. There were the previously mentioned cardboard cutouts of Hitch himself. There were also posters and other standees all saying pretty much the same thing. I suppose you could say that Alfred Hitchcock created the idea of watching a film from the start that we all take for granted these days.

Originally, cinema managers hated the idea as they felt they would lose money if people couldn’t come and go as they pleased, but they soon changed their tune when Psycho opened and queues built up around the block for hours of people eager to see the picture.

Psycho No Admittence

Given the fact that it was Alfred Hitchcock that funded the film himself, this gave him a certain freedom when it came to promotion. No studio could interfere with his plans, because it was his money, his movie. Aside from the ‘no admittance’ thing, Hitch had a lot of fun with the promotion of Psycho. First, he forbid either Janet Leigh or Anthony Perkins to do any interviews for TV, radio, papers, etc, as to not give away the twists. No one could talk about the film in interviews except for Hitch himself. He also didn’t allow critics to see advance/private screenings of the film for reviews and made them go to normal viewings with the public… which the critics hated doing… which was probably why the initial critic reviews for the film were not good. Plus, Hitch created what is quite simply, the greatest movie teaser trailer ever. I’ll have more to say about this trailer later as a nice little bonus article.

The film was a huge hit, despite early reviews claiming it was not very good and lacked that Hitchcock quality. But the general public loved it. The success of the film helped push sales of the book and in turn, the book helped to get people into the cinema to see the film. Psycho even got a re-release into cinemas in 1965.. and 69… and more recently in 2015. Psycho has, of course, gone on to be cinematic gold. One of the all time greatest ever films. It’s a film that can be analysed for so many reasons. From it’s masterful film-making ideas and concepts, to it’s deeper themes, motifs and psychoanalytic interpretations. Psycho is a masterpiece and despite all that Alfred Hitchcock had going against him at the time, he made his finest work ever and silenced his critics.

Perfection in cinematic form and a film that I don’t think that will ever be bettered, because while there are some amazing visionary and creative directors working today, none of them are Alfred Hitchcock.

Hitch Shaddow

“I know we’re only human, we do go in for these various emotions, call them negative emotions, but when all these are removed and you can look forward and the road is clear ahead, and now you’re going to create something. I think that’s as happy as I’ll ever want to be.”

– Alfred Hitchcock