Psycho is so much more than the infamous shower scene. The real terror of the film takes place even before Janet Leigh’s character’s dies.
This Hitchcock black and white tapestry unfolds with a man [Sam] and a woman [Marion] near the end f a clandestine rendezvous in a cheap hotel. She wants respectability. He can take or leave respectability but is willing to put up with it to see her again. He needs a couple of years to pay off his debts, including alimony to his ex-wife. She doesn’t want to wait. So they both need money and now.
Back at the office where she works, Marion, sweating in the un-air-conditioned outer space where she and a colleague work, finds herself seriously tempted by a large stash of cash that needs to be parked for the weekend. $40,000. A wheeler dealer is buying a house for his daughter. Marion’s boss asks her to take the money to the bank, as he and the client go into the boss’s air conditioned office. Marion matter-of-factly says she is leaving early and going to the bank to make the deposit and then home to sleep it off. The envelope of cash is there tempting her to the still understated haunting strains of Herrmann’s soundtrack. You can feel it pulling her in towards a downward spiral from which she won’t be able to easily return.
She grabs her coat and leaves. The next scene has her in her car and the creepiness really begins. Is that her boss she sees crossing the street in front of her and giving her a perplexed look? Or is it guilt? She is obviously running away and finds herself trapped by the persistence of a patrolman who absolutely is not going to leave her alone. Her responses to his questioning about why she was sleeping in her car on the side of the road sound false and rehearsed. The cop is like a leg-hold trap that won’t let her go. The music gets faster and more tense. Poor Marion. She stops in a used car lot and too quickly buys another car, making all the wrong moves, saying all the wrong things, all while that officer is watching her.
Marion continues her way on her journey, driving at night in the rain, blinded by oncoming headlights. She ends up at that hotel, and is told by Norman she could have easily reached her destination if she had just kept on driving for a few more miles. In the course of a civil and stiff evening with Norman, Marion makes up her mind to go back and return the money. This is, when you have the film many times before and know what is coming next, is the true horror of the film. Not only has Marion just missed getting to where she was headed, and chosen the wrong hotel and the wrong room at that hotel, she has just missed her last chance at redemption. And now she is going to die.