The descriptions - or showings - in the screenplay for Psycho (2nd draft) underscore the fact that the primary function of the BIG PRINT is to show action, and where and when it is occurring. The actions in the lead up to Marion's arrival at the motel work to convey the anxiety of guilt and her dread of being caught. She is confused and in danger, and the tension aroused is palpable in the screenplay owing to the way the action is written. Everything is literally "in her head" - and the fragmentary thoughts and fears that torment her lock us into a very strong sense of her POV. Fact is, she has been driving for hours, haunted by the crime she has committed.
Marion’s sad, desperate getaway is one of three long "silent" sections of Psycho. Hitchcock’s fascination with the idea of telling a story pictorially, along with his roots in silent film, encouraged him to construct a large number of such set pieces in several of his films. The concert hall section of the remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), for example, and Cary Grant’s high plains rendezvous with "Mr. Kaplan" in North by Northwest (1959), as well as the "win the tennis match/get the lighter" section of Strangers on a Train (the last two have minimal dialogue).
The tension that builds in the three, discreet driving sequences that ultimately bring Marion to Bates' Motel, manage to continuous build the sense of impending doom as the emotional energy builds. The arrival of the "death’s head" policeman (the sightless gaze of his dark glasses looks forward to Mother’s blind, staring sockets at the climax of Psycho) makes the implicit desperation of Marion's flight explicit. Once more - like her chance encounter with her boss at an intersection in town, she is being watched, and once more is powerless to do anything about it. She flees from the policeman’s gaze as quickly as she is able, and rushes to buy a new car, an utterly useless gesture, because he is watching her do it. Her interactions with the car salesman, "California Charlie," repeat her experience with the policeman: the more she tries to escape notice, the more she attracts it.
The driving sequence that follows - which is re-produced below - heigthens our anticipation as well as planting Marion's misgivings about what she has done. The writing is composed of fragments of images, memories, voices, and then it starts to rain. The wiper blades slash, battling against the elements almost as hopelessly as Marion wages her internal struggle against guilt and fear. The lights of oncoming cars nearly blind her. And she surprises us with the explicitly sexual referencing of Cassidy’s imagined response to what she has done — a threat that he will take vengeance on her "fine, soft flesh". In the film, Hitchcock chose to have his female lead smile as she mused upon the possibility, a cruelly ironic gesture given what is to happen to her. The rain and the slashing wiper blades - the blinding lights - and the fragmentary way in which the prose conducts one from one shot to the next prepares for what is to follow - the cruel deception of safety in the form of a neon looms up out of the rainy darkness - an image of sanctuary, protection and comfort that will draw Marion off the highway into the very darkness that the motel - at least in her imagination and ours - promises to dispel. Hitchcock used a neon sign in The Lodger, a sign for a nightclub that announced "To-Night Golden Curls." In The Lodger, it was the sign that drew the murderer out in search of his victims. In Psycho, the sign draws the victims to the murderer.
As you read the except below, note how the blocks of writing suggest shots. The driving shots are succinct, chopped, one shot with one action, then move on. But once Marion arrives at the motel the shots are filled with lots of actions. One lingers, warms to the place, relaxes. Indeed the script is written in a way that contributes to our inclination to stay awhile and enjoy the respite that such a place might offer, a shelter from the storm and the public thoroughfare where one continually runs the risk of being found out.
EXT. HIGHWAY It is completely dark now, night. INT. MARY'S NEW CAR We cut back to her face. LOWERY'S VOICE After all, Cassidy, I told you... all that cash... I'm not taking the responsibility... Oh, for heaven's sake, a girl works for you for ten years, you trust her! All right, yes, you better come over. FROM MARY'S VIEWPOINT EXT. THE ROAD AHEAD INT. MARY'S NEW CAR Fast cut back to Mary's face. Oncoming headlights throw a blinding light across her features. CASSIDY'S VOICE (undrunk, sharp with rage) Well I ain't about to kiss off forty thousand dollars! I'll get it back and if any of it's missin' I'll replace it with her fine soft flesh! I'll track her, never you doubt it! LOWERY'S VOICE Hold on, Cassidy... I still can't believe... it must be some kind of a mystery... I can't... CASSIDY'S VOICE You checked with the bank, no? They never laid eyes on her, no? You still trustin'? Hot creepers, she sat there while I dumped it out... hardly even looked at it, plannin' and... and even flirtin' with me...! A look of revulsion makes Mary close her eyes. THROUGH THE WINDSHIELD AGAIN Big drops of rain begin to appear. CLOSEUP - MARY She is becoming aware of the rain starting. THROUGH THE WINDSHIELD The rain increasing and backlit by the oncoming headlights. CLOSEUP - MARY Mary starts the windshield wipers. THROUGH THE WINDSHIELD The wipers are having a battle with the now torrential rain. CLOSEUP - MARY Peering through the blurred windshield. CLOSEUP - THE CAR WHEELS slowing down in the flooding highway. CLOSEUP - MARY peering through the windshield. The oncoming lights are fewer. CLOSEUP - THE CAR WHEELS almost coming to a slow turn. THROUGH THE WINDSHIELD just blackness and rain. CLOSEUP - MARY peering. MARY'S VIEWPOINT An almost undiscernible light in the far distance, a neon sign blurred by the rain-sheeted windshield. MARY'S CAR She presses down, forces the car to move on through the flooded road. EXT. THE ROAD As we move closer, we see the neon sign more clearly and can faintly make out the large letters which read "Motel." Mary stops the car, lowers the window slightly, looks out. We see the sign clearly now: "BATES MOTEL." Mary opens the car door and dashes out into the rain and up onto the porch of the motel office. EXT. BATES' MOTEL - (NIGHT) Mary pauses on the porch. The lights are on within the office. She tries door, finds it open, goes into office. CAMERA FOLLOWS her into office. There is no one present. Mary goes to the desk, rings a small pushbell. There is no response. Mary rubs her forehead in weariness and frustration, goes back out onto the porch. She looks off in another direction, slightly behind the office, and sees... MARY'S VIEWPOINT - A LARGE OLD HOUSE - (NIGHT) A path from the motel office leads directly up to this house. There is a light on in one of the upstairs rooms. A WOMAN passes the window, pauses, peers out. We see her in clear silhouette. She quickly goes away from the window. EXT. PORCH OF BATES' MOTEL - (NIGHT) Mary, having seen the woman, expects now that she will get some attention. She stands a few moments, waiting. No one comes. Impatience and anger rise in Mary. She dashes out into the rain, to her car, gets in, opens the side window, begins to honk the horn. After a moment, a YOUNG MAN open the front door of the house, pauses, starts down the path. After a few steps, he turns and runs back into the house. Mary leaves her car, starts a dash for the shelter of the porch. As she runs, we see that the Young Man has gone back only to get an umbrella. Seeing that Mary is on her way to the porch, he runs quickly, the umbrella unopened in his hand. He gets to the porch a moment after Mary has reached it. He stops short, looks at her, then at the umbrella hanging useless in his hand, then back to her. There is something sadly touching in his manner, in his look. Mary's impatience goes and she smiles and this makes him almost smile. He gestures her into the office, standing back to indicate that he will go after her. She goes into the office.
For more about "The Big Print, go to SHOWING THE ACTION