Who Directed the Psycho Shower Scene?: Hitchcock’s Film & Saul Bass’ Storyboards Side by Side

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?

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Alfred Hitchcock’s Rules for Watch­ing Psy­cho (1960)

Hitch­cock (Antho­ny Hop­kins) Pitch­es Janet Leigh (Scar­lett Johans­son) on the Famous Show­er Scene

A Brief Visu­al Intro­duc­tion to Saul Bass’ Cel­e­brat­ed Title Designs

21 Free Hitch­cock Movies Online

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.

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Comments (5)
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  • Allan Rosenberg says:

    To con­fuse the mat­ter even more, Hitch­cock was known to work very close­ly with his sto­ry­board artists on the sto­ry­boards. My guess is they both very very involved.

  • dak718 says:

    Looks like it was a great col­lab­o­ra­tion, that’s all. Hitch­cock direct­ed the film, and clear­ly added some spec­tac­u­lar shots to fill out an already fan­tas­tic sto­ry­board sequence that we can’t assume was entire­ly con­ceived by Saul Bass. Who is to say they did­n’t sit togeth­er and have a beau­ti­ful time dis­cussing shot angles, edit­ing tem­po, etc., appre­ci­at­ing each oth­er’s bril­liance? They were both genius­es in their own ways.

  • Get Your Facts Right says:


    Hitch­cock hired Bass to draw sto­ry­boards based on test footage shot by Hitch­cock and his DP with a hand held Eymo (prob­a­bly the same one used by Orson Welles for Touch of Evil).

    Bass then worked up sto­ry­boards based on the test footage.

    Bass in NO WAY “direct­ed” any­thing on set as he was NOT a mem­ber of I.A.T.S.E. at the time and Union floor rep­re­sen­ta­tive would have pulled every­one out on strike if Bass had in any way vio­lat­ed union rules. Hav­ing Bass on set to observe test footage (which stills show) was­n’t a prob­lem, but Bass claim­ing (as he did lat­er) that he “hung around after hours and put the whole thing togeth­er” is an utter fic­tion cre­at­ed by Bass after the fact.

    Bass only start­ed mak­ing such out­ra­geous claims after Truf­faut’s inter­view book with Hitch­cock appeared in Eng­lish, where the direc­tor’s response to Truf­faut’s ques­tion about
    what Bass did on Psy­cho (“Not Much.”) total­ly set him off. Bass then began claim­ing he “direct­ed” seg­ments of Spar­ta­cus and Grand Prix. Well, Hol­ly­wood has quite a few fab­u­lists:
    the rule of thumb (includ­ing for Hitch­cock) was always “take cred­it for EVERYTHING and blame oth­ers for any­thing remote­ly look­ing like fail­ure”!!!!

  • Mark says:

    Seri­ous­ly? I don’t care who direct­ed the scene — that’s the least impor­tant ques­tion since it’s an almost shot-by-shot rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the sto­ry­boards and the rest was done in edit­ing. Any­one with eyes and a brain (and minus a slav­ish devo­tion to Hitch­cock) can tell the show­er scene was clear­ly designed by Bass since the fast-cut­ting between dozens of shots is noth­ing like Hitch­cock­’s work before or after Psy­cho.

    We’ve got arm­chair “experts” here try­ing to bol­ster Hitch­cock­’s sad refusal to acknowl­edge Bass’s inno­va­tion on the most her­ald­ed scene of the film, when some­one as knowl­edge­able as Bil­ly Wilder already laid out the facts plain as day:

    Film direc­tor Bil­ly Wilder, who knew both Bass’s and Hitchcock’s work inside out, had lit­tle patience with those who could not see the dif­fer­ence between the over­all style of the film and that of the show­er scene. He told [Ms. Kirkham in a 1994 inter­view], “Like most peo­ple in Hol­ly­wood you knew who did what if you were in the indus­try, espe­cial­ly if great stuff was involved. Every­body talked about that scene. Right from the begin­ning I under­stood that Saul did it. Every­body knew. Every­body knew Saul was bril­liant. Who ques­tioned it until those remarks of Hitch­cock? … You only have to look at the sequence and look at the film and think. Think for one minute. You see the show­er scene and you see it is not at all like Mr. Hitch­cock — King of the Long Shot.”

    Hitch­cock also failed to men­tion Bass’s idea for the time-lapse clouds above the Bates house at night, anoth­er great idea.

  • Mark says:

    BTW, this schol­ar­ly link delves deeply into Bass’s work, his col­lab­o­ra­tions with Hitch­cock, and the Psy­cho con­tro­ver­sy (for cita­tion)


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