How Alfred Hitchcock and Saul Bass storyboarded the iconic ‘Psycho’ shower scene
Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock’s famed 1960 psychological horror, is widely regarded to be one of the greatest films of all time and a lasting testament of Hitchcock’s cinematic legacy.
The film, written by Joseph Stefano and based on Robert Bloch’s 1959 novel of the same name, stars the likes of Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, John Gavin, Vera Miles and more. The story is built around Leigh’s character Marion Crane who finds herself holding up at a secluded motel after stealing money from her employer. What ensues is a tense encounter with Norman Bates, the motel owner which ends in tragedy.
While Psycho is an undeniable cinematic masterpiece, there’s one scene that remains the standout moment; the shower scene. The murder of Leigh’s character Marion Crane is arguably one of the most well-known moments in cinematic history. A remarkable seventy-seven different camera angles were used to shoot the scene which runs for three minutes and includes 50 cuts.
With a series of extreme close-ups and medium shots, Hitchcock later describing his technique as “transferring the menace from the screen into the mind of the audience.”
Hitchcock added: “As you know, you could not take the camera and just show a nude woman, it had to be done impressionistically,” when discussing the difficulties of the scene. “So, it was done with little pieces of film, the head, the feet, the hand, etc. In that scene, there were 78 pieces of film in about 45 seconds.”
While the scene lives long in the memory, Hitchcock’s intense planning for the moment meant that he was forced to recruit famed graphic designer Saul Bass to draw up a series of storyboards to strategically plot the action.
“Interestingly enough, the storyboard that I did for Psycho went precisely as I laid it up, and there was no change on that,” Bass once explained in a television interview. “And frankly, I myself at that point didn’t even really understand the impact that some of these things would have.”
He added: “I thought it was a neat little murder, and I thought it was pure. I liked its purity. I must say that when it appeared, when I saw the thing in the theater, it really scared the hell outta me. And apparently of everybody else.”