This month marks the 55th anniversary of the movie Psycho. I taught a unit on Psycho to my highschool students and wrote several articles for them about key themes in the movie. One was about director Alfred Hitchcock’s use of the colors black and white.
A woman dressed in a white bra and slip is getting ready to kiss her bare chested lover in the opening scene of the movie Psycho. Although Marion, the woman, is having a secret affair she is still depicted as innocent in her white underwear.
Later after she has stolen $40,000 from her boss and is packing her suitcase in order to run away with the money, she is wearing black underwear and a black slip.
At the beginning of the film she carries a white purse, but after she steals the cash she has a black one. Hitchcock uses the colors black and white to show Marion’s change from a hardworking reliable employee to a thief who took company money.
Alfred Hitchcock made Psycho in black and white even though many film makers were already producing color films. There are several theories as to why he did this. One was to save money. Paramount Pictures did not want to finance Psycho, so Hitchcock put up some of his own money for the film and waived his director’s fee.
He used the crew from his black and white TV show to film the movie, and tried to make it as cheaply as possible. A color movie would have been more expensive.
Some movie historians claim Hitchcock noticed that low-budget horror films of very poor quality were making plenty of money. He wanted to prove you could make a low budget black and white horror box office smash, that was classy and professional. Psycho only cost $800,000 to make but it became an American film classic and made Alfred Hitchcock a multi-millionaire, earning over $40 million.
Hitchcock was also concerned his film would not pass the censors without unwanted cuts. He figured the shower murder scene in particular would be way too gory if it was shown in color. It would seem less ghastly in black and white. Showing short newsreels before movies had become common place in major American cities in the 1930’s.
Many theatres were still using newsreels in the 1960’s. They were always in black and white and provided high lights of noteworthy news stories. Showing Psycho in black and white might have made it seem more realistic to viewers who had become accustomed to watching the news in black and white.
Psycho was the last feature film Alfred Hitchcock made in black and white. The rest of his movies were filmed in color.
Other posts about Psycho…..