Firsts: Psycho - The first film to demand theatrical showtimes

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Jan 3, 2018

Of a filmography that spanned nearly 50 years, Psycho is probably Alfred Hitchcock's most famous masterpiece. Based on the book of the same name by Robert Bloch — which was, in turn, loosely based on real-life murderer Ed Gein — Psycho tells the twisted tale of Norman Bates, a mild-mannered motel manager who has some severe mental issues, including a split personality and a tendency toward murder.

The film has a fascinating production history, one that is fairly well known. When Paramount Pictures (with whom Hitch was under contract) refused to finance such a salacious and deviant story, Hitchcock financed the film himself. To cut costs (and make the film appear less gory), he shot in black and white and used the crew of his television show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, instead of a pricier film crew. He even declined his usual director's fee, instead taking a stake in the back end. With all of these stipulations, Paramount agreed to distribute the film.

This sign was placed in lobbies to ensure people knew of the "no late entry" policy.

Janet Leigh was billed as the headlining star of Psycho. She appeared in more than 30 films before Psycho, and was a proven box-office draw. But as we all know, Janet Leigh's Marion dies in the first reel of the film -- something that was absolutely unheard of at that time. No director would ever kill off his star in the first 20 minutes of a film! Yet Hitchcock did just that.

Cinemas were a very different place before Psycho came to theaters in 1960. There were no multiplexes back then. Each cinema played their chosen movie on a loop. Audiences would buy a ticket and could go into the theater whenever they wanted, and stay as long as they wanted. You could come in during the middle of a film and would have to wait until it restarted if you wanted to see the beginning. That format didn't work for Hitchcock. Psycho was the first film that would earn what we consider a "spoiler alert."

Newspaper ad that suggests patrons take note of the listed  screening times.

Hitchcock was afraid of the film being spoiled ahead of time. He sent his assistant out to buy up as many copies of Bloch's novel as possible, and he refused to screen the film in advance for critics. But the most significant restriction Hitch placed on the release of Psycho was absolutely no late seating.

He didn't want people to know that Janet Leigh — the "star" of the film — died so early on, nor did he want to reveal who "Mother" was before audiences had the chance to see the film. Hitchcock insisted — demanded — that cinemas schedule screening times, sell tickets for those screenings, and not let anyone in after the picture started. Theater owners pushed back against this new policy, fearing that it would drive away loyal audiences. These concerns were unfounded, as audiences were lined up around the block for their chance to see the newest Hitchcock fright flick. Realizing the potential profits were higher on a per-screening basis, theater owners soon adopted set showtimes as an industry norm.

Because of Hitchcock, we now have scheduled movie times. Thanks, Psycho!