America’s Most Famous Movie Scene

When discussing the “most famous movie scene ever,” several famous scenes come to mind: the opening scene of Alien, the last scene in Planet of the Apes, HAL disobeying Dave, the T-Rex chasing Jeff Goldblum and company, and Moses parting the Red Sea in 1956’s The Ten Commandments. There is one scene, however, that has been remade hundreds of times on film: the brutal shower scene in Psycho. This scene is referenced in everything from mocking comedy films to children’s cartoons. The music is instantly recognizable (and often imitated) and still makes me uncomfortable just hearing it. Here are some facts about the famous shower scene, lifted from the pages of my Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader: 4Ply Edition (©1988, 1989, 1990, 1991).

  • There are approximately 65 edits in this 45 second scene.
  • Although there’s practically no graphic violence in the scene, it has literally scared some people out of taking showers–including Janet Leigh (the actress portraying the protagonist who is stabbed to death in the scene), who says in her autobiography that she refuses to take them anymore.
  • Alfred Hitchcock later claimed he made the film as a joke.
  • It took seven days to shoot the 45 second scene.
  • The blood washing down the drain was actually chocolate sauce.
  • Only one shot in the entire shower scene montage shows a knife entering the body and no blood is seen in that shot.
  • Some shots use as little as eight frames of film (at 24fps, that’s only 1/3 of a second).
  • Anthony Perkins (as Norman Bates) did not actually act in the scene. He was on Broadway at the time of the shooting, starring in a play; a stand-in filled in as “Mom.”
  • Mixed-up priorities: According to Hitchcock, studio executives were more concerned about having a toilet flushing onscreen than they were about the implicit violence.
  • Janet Leigh refused to let her daughter (actress Jamie Lee Curtis) watch the movie as a child when it appeared on TV.
  • Hitchcock got the movie past censors by first submitting a script with many more horrible scenes, knowing that by allowing them to be cut he would get more leverage on the others (a tactic often used today).

Janet Leigh on the Shower Scene:

“What I was to wear in the shower scene gave the wardrove supervisor migraines. I had to appear nude, without being nude. She and I pored over striptease magazines, hoping one of their costumes would be the answer…. There was an impressive display of pinwheels, feathers, sequins, etc., but nothing suitable for our needs. Finally, the supervisor came up with a simple solution: flesh-colored moleskin…. So each morning for seven shooting days and seventy-one setups, we covered my private parts, and we were in business.

“For sundry reasons, we had to do [the scene] over and over. At long last a take was near completion without a mishap. Abruptly I felt something strange happening around my breasts. The steam from the hot water had melted the adhesive on the moleskin, and I sensed the napped cotton fabric peeling away from my skin. What do to?…I opted for immodesty…and made the correct judgment. That was the printed take.”

(By the way, I highly recommend the Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader series for articles and facts about anything and everything).

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