Posted by Greg Ferrara on October 8, 2014
Janet Leigh is TCM’s Star of the Month and that is, to say the least, kind of fitting. After all, Janet Leigh is the most famous cinematic slasher victim of all time in one of the most famous and influential horror films of all time, Psycho, and this is October, the month most movie writers celebrate the horror film. Psycho is also the only film for which Leigh was nominated for an Oscar (Best Supporting Actress, by the way, but she lost to Shirley Jones for Elmer Gantry) and practically the only film in which she was ever asked about in interviews. Boy, I bet she got sick of talking about Psycho. Frankly, I’m kind of sick of talking about it, too.
In case you’re feeling bad for Psycho, don’t. I love it. I think it’s one of Hitchcock’s very best and I’m sure there’s plenty to talk about concerning it for years to come. It’s just I have nothing more to say about it. At all. I once did a post here about how you can love a movie so much, and watch it so much, that eventually, even though you still love it, you never want to see it again. This is a close cousin of that article, only concerning movies that both the creators and the viewers can’t hear about even one more time. Of course, the most gracious stars, lovely people like Janet Leigh, did and do so without complaint. She kept talking about Hitchcock and that shower scene for the 10,000th time even though I’m sure any time anyone brought up Psycho she probably screamed louder in her head than she ever did in the movie. Others looked at things differently.
In Peter Bogdanovich’s book documenting his conversations with Orson Welles, This is Orson Welles, he has a notoriously difficult time getting Welles to discuss Citizen Kane. It takes months, years, to really get anything good or usable from Welles on the subject because every time Bogdanovich brings it up, Welles moans and changes the subject. Bogdanovich even relates an amusing story of he and Welles meeting Norman Mailer for lunch and the first thing Mailer said was, “I’m really looking forward to asking you some things about Citizen Kane,” to which Welles replied (I’m paraphrasing here), “Please, God, no! Anything but that!” Mailer laughed and said he felt the same way about The Naked and the Dead.
Fay Wray did Doctor X and Mystery of the Wax Museum but she also did King Kong and, well, that was it for her. As I related here before, Hugh Hefner, when he met Fay Wray, said, “I love your movie!” He didn’t have to say King Kong, she knew exactly what he was talking about. For the record, I still have plenty to say about King Kong. Why I have plenty to say about King Kong and nothing more of value to add to the conversation about Psycho I have no idea.
Alec Guinness made one great movie after another, and plenty of my personal favorites, from all of his work with Ealing and Rank to all of his work with David Lean but when you type in his name on IMDB, you see this:
Guinness’ contempt for Star Wars was well known and given the depth and breadth of his film work, it’s easy to see why. After decades of truly phenomenal screen acting, all he ever heard was “You’re Obi-Wan Kenobi!” At the same time, he appreciated it, too, and made note in his autobiography that his percentage deal on Star Wars allowed him to live out his days utterly free of financial worry and able to act in only what he chose. He even wrote, “Blessed be Star Wars.” So, yes, he hated it and, yes, he loved it and, no, he didn’t ever want to talk about it again. Neither do I.
Well, Janet Leigh is gone now, as is Welles and Wray and Guinness but if they were still here, I’d tell them all, respectively, how much I loved them in The Manchurian Candidate, Touch of Evil, Doctor X, and The Lavender Hill Mob. I’d tell Humphrey Bogart he was great as the self-important gangster returning to his old neighborhood in Dead End. I’d tell Toshiro Mifune how awesome he was in High and Low. I’d talk to Clark Gable about anything but Gone with the Wind and never mention either On the Waterfront or A Streetcar Named Desire to Marlon Brando. In fact, I’d talk to him about One-Eyed Jacks just to make him feel better. If I met Ginger Rogers, I’d ask about all of her dramatic performances and never ask her what it was like to be Fred Astaire’s partner. You get the picture.
There’s a moment from the great The Larry Sanders Show where Warren Zevon is a guest on Larry’s talk show and tells Artie (Rip Torn), the producer, that he’s not going to perform Werewolves of London under any circumstances. After he finishes performing the song he wants to sing, Larry Sanders (Garry Shandling) asks him to sing, of course, Werewolves of London because he loves it so much. Zevon bristles but then performs it anyway. Sanders never has a clue. I’m sure this same situation has played out for many a star and director in the movies going back to the very beginning of cinema and we can thank the Janet Leighs out there for being gracious and kind and never complaining. But, seriously, now that I’ve said that, can we never talk about Psycho again?
Streamline is the official blog of FilmStruck, a new subscription service that offers film aficionados a comprehensive library of films including an eclectic mix of contemporary and classic art house, indie, foreign and cult films.
Actors Alfred Hitchcock Bela Lugosi Bette Davis Boris Karloff British Cinema Buster Keaton Cary Grant Charlie Chaplin Citizen Kane Comedy Criterion Dracula DVD Elizabeth Taylor Film Film Noir FilmStruck Frankenstein Fritz Lang Hammer Horror Horror horror films Horror Movies Humphrey Bogart James Bond Joan Crawford John Ford John Huston John Wayne Joseph Losey MGM Movie movies Night of the Living Dead Orson Welles Peter Lorre Psycho Roger Corman Screwball Comedy Steve McQueen TCM The Exorcist Warner Archive Westerns