I’m not even going to pretend that I’m qualified enough to critique the masterpiece known as Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. The film is pretty much near perfection in all regards, and there is nothing I could say that you haven’t heard a million times before. However, there is one thing I want to talk about, and that is, the differences between the movie and book. Alfred Hitchcock was quoted as saying that everything that is in Psycho was from the book by Robert Bloch. For the most part, that statement is true. However, the movie does deviate a bit from the source material, and in fact, the film could have used a bit of the book’s material to help with the heavy exposition ending. If I’ve piqued your interest, read on…
Fair warning, there will be heavy spoilers for both the movie and the book.
Let’s get the obvious differences out of the way first. The first thing you are going to notice is the change in Mary Crane’s name to Marion in the movie. The reason for that is that production found that there were two people named Mary Crane in Phoenix, Arizona and to avoid a lawsuit, they changed the name. Fair enough, not a big change.
Secondly, the movie starts off right away with Sam Loomis sleeping with Marion Crane. In the book, we start off with Norman Bates (more on him later) arguing with his mother. The movie doesn’t dive into Sam and Marion’s history on how they met. In the novel, they met on a cruise and only got together twice. He has written her notes often, which you see in the movie. The film doesn’t stress the point that Marion and Sam’s relationship is relatively new and they have possibly become engaged way too early. Again, these are small differences that don’t hurt the overall plot.
The reason for Marion stealing the money to help Sam out of debt is the same. However, Sam mentions an ex-wife that was never present in the novel.
After Marion takes the money, she sees her boss on the street. This entire scene does not happen in the book, but I feel like its inclusion was brilliant. It strengthens Marion’s fear of being caught. Another scene that is also new in the movie is Marion sleeping on the side of the road and being woken up by a cop, who then follows her to the used car lot. In the book, Mary trades cars twice and pretty much doesn’t stop until she reaches Bates Motel. The inclusion of the cop is another wonderful idea from screenwriter Joseph Stefano that helps elevate the tension and fear that Marion is feeling after stealing the $40,000.
By the 27-minute mark of the film, we finally get to Marion meeting Norman Bates. In the book, Norman is overweight, balding man who has a fear of women. He is shy but is always on edge, and when he is alone, he becomes very vulgar and calls Mary a bitch often. Either portrayal of Norman works, but I find that Anthony Perkins’ shy and handsome portrayal is the clear winner. It is easier to clue in that the Norman in the book was the one more capable of the killing, but not so much the Norman in the movie, which works in favour of the surprise twist ending.
The wonderful scene of Marion sitting down and talking with Norman Bates in the back room of his office is also different in the novel. The scene takes place in the house. Mary does hear the mother talking about her, but she still goes up to the house to have a sandwich and a drink. The infamous line of “a boy’s mother is his best friend” is something that Joseph Stefano thought up, as it isn’t spoken in the book. Another difference is that Norman says we all go a little crazy sometimes in the novel, instead of the “mad” line in the movie. Again, just slight differences.
The book is a bit more vulgar when it comes to Norman peeking in on Mary as she showers. He goes into a bit of a fit, cursing her. He eventually blacks out, and the infamous shower scene takes place. Norman wakes up from his blackout and goes up to the house and finds bloody clothes on the floor. Norman thinks his mother may have wandered away after the murder. He thinks she is outside lost somewhere. Norman finds the body of Mary and cleans up the mess. The disposal of the body happens the same in the movie, dumping the car in the swamp, along with the money he never knew about hidden in the trunk.
For the next little while, the book and the movie, don’t differ too much. Marion’s sister Lila shows up to confront Sam at the hardware store, along with Private Investigator Arbogast. Arbogast goes off by himself to investigate the Motel and ends up being murdered by “mother”, but not before calling and talking with Sam and Lila about Mary/Marion being at the motel. He tells them that he is going to talk to the mother to find out what she knows. Sam does go to the motel and finds nothing. They do talk to the Sheriff the next day at church (in the book, the Sheriff was initially busy due to a big accident that happened). The Sheriff heads over to the motel and talks with Norman and Norman says that Mary/Marion left and Arbogast followed in her tracks. As for the mother being dead, that reveal happens pretty much the same way. However, this is where things take a bit of a turn.
Both Lila and Sam head over to the motel to confront Norman and his supposed Mother. They pretend to be a couple, and they investigate the room that Mary/Marion stayed in. However, in the book, an earring of Mary’s was found instead of a sheet of paper that didn’t end up being flushed. This causes Lila to sneak out and head up to the house, while Sam talks with Norman. As Lila is investigating the house, Sam’s conversation with Norman takes an interesting turn in the book, compared to the movie. In the movie, he is egging Norman on about the money, and eventually, Norman figures out Lila is up at the house, and he attacks Sam. However, in the book, Sam has a casual conversation with Norman, but Norman has drugged Sam, and he begins to tell him about his mother and how she didn’t really die. Supposedly she ended up being buried alive, and he had to dig her up and bring her home. You can tell now that Norman is a bit batty at this point, but his mother still being alive is a possibility.
Having this conversation be a bit lengthier gives the reader more insight into Norman’s past life and helps ease up a bit on the heavy exposition at the end.
As for the rest of the book and the movie, things get back on track as Sam passes out, Lila investigates the upstairs and finally the basement and finds the decayed corpse of Norma. Norman attacks Lila wearing his mother’s dress and wig, but Sam wakes up in time to save her.
The ending of the book does still have a lot of exposition, but it is Sam, who relays the information to Lila. He tells her about the different personalities that Norman possessed. In the book he had three personalities, instead of the two in the movie. There was Norman, Norma and Normal. Norman is the child who relied on his mother; Norma is the mother and Normal was Norman who despised his mother. The novel ends with Sam hoping that Lila won’t forget him and hopes for a possible future together (Robert Bloch’s Psycho II does show them getting together). As for the final scene in the film with “mother” saying she wouldn’t hurt a fly, that thankfully, is the same and yes, it still gives me goosebumps to this day.
As you can see, there are only a few changes here and there when it comes to comparing the film Psycho to the book Psycho. However, I feel that the book explained Norman’s troubled past and the reason for the murder better than the movie. The movie kept any explanation until the end, resulting in a lengthy speech. The film could have done what the book did and had Norman talk more about his mother with Sam, but for some reason, Joseph Stefano chose not to. Although, I should point out that it is much easier for a book to provide backstory than a movie, as we the reader get to be inside the character’s head, hearing their thoughts. Translating that to the screen is nearly impossible.
Of course, no matter what changed from novel to screen, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is still a bonafide masterpiece of suspense and whatever decisions were made were obviously the right ones, or else we wouldn’t still be talking about a 56-year-old film.
Have you read Robert Bloch’s Psycho? What do you think of the differences between the book and the movie? Let me know in the comments below.