It’s the movie scene that forever changed my attitude about taking a shower. At least 55 snippets of film come together in less than a minute and scare the bejeezus out of you, leaving you unfortunately in dire need of a shower. Or is it 78 pieces in three minutes? I guess that’s depending on what you count as the open and close of the scene in question — a scene that’s been questioned and analyzed ad nauseam, a fitting phrase of Latin here.

This scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) is unbelievably shocking on many levels, including the one where you’re whiplashed into digesting the fact that the star, Janet Leigh, has been killed off and the movie’s not even half over. Huh!?

The director’s mastery and tricks were handsomely detailed nearly 50 years ago in a coffee-table book called Hitchcock/Truffaut, in which French director Francois Truffaut in a series of interviews takes the British craftsman of thrillers through the art of filmmaking. That book has now become the backbone of a new documentary with the same title. It will be screened at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center on Friday, Jan. 8, at 4 p.m. and again on Wednesday, Jan. 13, at 7:30 p.m.

Many of the pleasantries behind the unpleasantries of Psycho are told in this book and film. They were also told to me by Hitchcock himself in July, 1966. Yes, this was when the book was published. But our meeting was because the director’s 50th film, Torn Curtain (starring Julie Andrews and Paul Newman), was having its world premiere in Boston.

It’s what they laughingly called a press junket. As the youngest member of the Greater Boston film press corps, I got to spend a couple of hours with Hitchcock aboard a theatre owner’s yacht in Boston Harbor. I was trying to finesse my way around the movie of the hour. I cared more about the workings behind the shower curtain than those behind Torn Curtain, which I really didn’t like. Years later, I found out Hitchcock didn’t care for it either.

The more I brought up questions about Psycho or his other films, the more he directed his eyes toward me and the more he gravitated closer. There I am, a year out of grad school, showing spunk. It would be years later when maturity finally kicked in and I’d become an editor when I understood Lou Grant’s distaste for such spunk.

Psycho is probably Hitchcock’s most popular movie, seen by just about every living American except maybe Donald Trump given, you know, his thing about bathrooms.

The full sketch and autograph. — Mark Lovewell

Hitchcock took me through the whole shower scene. He pulled it off by fooling the eyes and the brain. At no time in that sequence does a knife ever slash into a body, does blood ever gush from a wound. It’s all done with fast cuts, screams, chocolate syrup, a casaba melon, eye drops and Bernard Herrmann’s piercing music score, which still haunts like one long fingernail scratch on a chalkboard.

“Of course, it took seven days to shoot those few minutes,” Hitchcock said. “We used a body double for Miss Leigh in the tub, a professional model used to being nude in front of people. More comfortable that way. We needed many shots of Miss Leigh’s face and hands, which required many camera set-ups. Then we had to rig up a shower head that allowed us to angle the lens in such a way not to have the water pouring down on it. We accumulated enough visual material to create a miraculous montage of mayhem. But you’re right, you never see a blade penetrating flesh.”

All that screaming and knife wielding makes you think otherwise.

“Then again, you do in fact hear a knife going into something, don’t you?” He beamed with pride. “That took a while to figure out. It came down to a correct choice of fruit. We tried quite a few. A-ha! The casaba. That melon took center stage, the perfect sound of stabbing.”

“Then there was the blood. In a black and white film, Technicolor blood looked all wrong, but chocolate syrup looked just right.”

What about that final shower shot of Janet Leigh’s lifeless head on the tile floor and her stone cold unblinking eye with water dripping across the skin? “A few anesthetizing eye drops did the trick. She was a trooper.”

I was scribbling away in a notebook of blue pages. As our time ended, he said, “Give me your notebook.”

I blanched. Why? “Just hand it over for a minute.” I obliged and he drew his famous cartoon image of himself and signed it. He then handed the notebook back to me. “It’s been a pleasure talking with you.”

Years later my wife opened my old Hitchcock/Truffaut book and out slipped a piece of blue paper with the Hitchcock autograph. Paula came to me with it: “Is this real?”


“And you leave it as a book mark?”

She had it appraised, matted on acid-proof paper, framed in non-reflective glass and placed with loving care in a safe deposit box. 

Arnie Reisman and his wife, Paula Lyons, regularly appear on the weekly NPR comedy quiz show, Says You! He also writes for the Huffington Post.