The shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) is easily one the most viewed, analyzed and parsed lengths of film in cinema history. Constructed from over 70 shots, the scene shows Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) – the supposed protagonist of the movie – meeting a gory end at the hands of a cross-dressing Norman Bates 30 minutes into the movie. Hitchcock’s quick editing and his subjective camera work brilliantly evokes all the scene’s nudity and transgressive violence without actually showing much of either. The scene freaked out audiences when it came out and 54 years later, it still has the power to shock. Critic David Thomson called it “legitimately among the most violent scenes ever shot for an American film.”
Psycho went a long way toward cementing Hitchcock’s standing as a cinematic auteur. So in 1970, seminal graphic designer Saul Bass, who did the title sequence for the movie, made waves when he claimed that he directed the shower scene. His proof is his storyboard, which shows a sequence of images that are similar — though not exactly the same — as what ended up in the movie. Vashi Nedomansky helpfully placed Bass’s storyboard alongside the actual movie. See above.
As you might notice, that eerie motif of the shower head is not to be found on the storyboards. Other images – the knife-wielding murderer in silhouette, the blood spiraling down the drain, the curtain getting pulled from the rod – look like they came straight from Bass. And some have argued that the scene simply looks more like Bass’s previous work than Hitchcock’s.
Others, including many of the people who were actually on set, insist that Hitchcock was at the helm. Janet Leigh — who, of course, was there for the duration of the scene’s seven day shoot, screaming her head off – has been unequivocal about her thoughts on the matter:
Saul Bass was there for the shooting, but he never directed me. Absolutely not. Saul Bass is brilliant, but he couldn’t have done the drawings had Mr. Hitchcock not discussed with him what he wanted to get. And you couldn’t have filmed the drawings. Why does there always have to be controversy?
Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow.