60 Things You Didn’t Know About Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho

From how a painting on Norman Bates' wall is a cheeky nod to voyeurism to why Hitchcock was banned from shooting at Disneyland - on Psycho's 60 anniversary, we look at the film through its trivia
60 Things You Didn’t Know About Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho

One testament to the richness of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) is that you can pore over the film years later and still discover its hidden nuances and marvel at its legacy. Watch the painting Norman Bates removes from the wall to spy on Marion Crane undressing, for instance, it's a cheeky reference to voyeurism. Notice how Lila Crane survives the film? It spawned the Final Girls trope, in which women in horror movies outsmart their pursuers. On the film's 60th anniversary, we list 60 bits of trivia you didn't know:

1. Hitchcock largely made the film as he was fed up with the big-budget, star-studded movies he had made previously, and wanted to experiment with the more efficient, sparser style of television filmmaking. He ultimately used a crew consisting mostly of television veterans and hired actors and actresses who weren't as well known.

2. Hitchcock shot the film in black-and-white as he thought it would be too gory in color. Also, because he wanted to make the movie as inexpensively as possible (under one million dollars). He also wondered that if so many bad, inexpensively made, black-and-white "B" movies did so well at the box-office, what would happen if a really good, inexpensively made, black-and-white movie was made.

3. Paramount Pictures gave Hitchcock a very small budget ($806,947) with which to work, because of their distaste for the source material. They also deferred most of the box-office take ($50 million) to Hitchcock, thinking the movie would fail. When it became a sleeper hit, he made a fortune.

4. The Robert Bloch novel on which this movie is based was inspired by the true story of Ed Gein, a serial killer who was also the inspiration for Deranged: Confessions of a Necrophile (1974), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), and The Silence of the Lambs (1991).

5. Hitchcock bought the rights to the novel anonymously from Bloch for only $9,000. He then bought as many copies of the novel as he could, to keep the ending a secret from the public.

6. The character was named Mary Crane in the novel. This was changed to Marion Crane for the film because the studio's legal department found that two real people named Mary Crane lived in Phoenix, Arizona.

7. In the opening scene with Sam Loomis (John Gavin), Marion is wearing a white bra because Hitchcock wanted to show her as being "angelic". After she steals the money, the following scene has her in a black bra because now she has done something wrong. Similarly, before she steals the money, she has a white purse. After, her purse is black.

8. According to Stephen Rebello, author of Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, Hitchcock was displeased with John's performance and referred to him as "the stiff".

9. The first scene to be shot was that of Marion getting pulled over by a cop. This was filmed on Golden State Highway.

10. Composer Bernard Herrmann thought the shots of Marion driving away after stealing the money looked quite ordinary. As a result, Hitchcock thought of having the soundtrack convey anxious voices in her head to add to the action and tension. Herrmann noted, however, that it still didn't work until he suggested bringing back the main title music.

11. First-billed Anthony Perkins (Norman Bates) does not appear until 27 minutes into the movie. Second-billed Vera Miles (Lila Crane) does not appear until 57 minutes in.

12. Perkins was paid $40,000 for his role, which is the same amount of money that Marion Crane embezzled.

13. The Bates house was largely modelled on an oil painting at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Called House by the Railroad, it was painted in 1925 by Edward Hopper. The architectural details, viewpoint, and sparse sky are almost identical to those seen in this movie.

14. The tall vertical mansion on the hill contrasting with the low, long motel was a deliberate composition choice. Yet Hitchcock said it wasn't his intention to create a mysterious atmosphere with the big Gothic house but to recreate the kind of older architecture that existed in the Northern California setting of the story.

15. Hitchcock always preferred to film indoors on a soundstage, and only the distant shots of the Bates Mansion were shot outside on the backlot. To accomplish this, and allow for an exterior to interior dolly shot, a second, duplicate, mansion exterior consisting only of the front porch was constructed on the soundstage.

16. The score is entirely comprised of string instruments. The claim that Hitchcock and Stefano originally conceived the film with a jazz score instead of Hermann's miniature string orchestra is disputed by Herrmann's daughter Dorothy. In a 2011 interview with Susan King, Dorothy revealed that Hitchcock wanted a string orchestra to cut costs.

17. This was the first American movie ever to show a toilet flushing onscreen. Screenwriter Joseph Stefano was adamant about seeing a toilet onscreen to display realism. He also wanted to see it flush. Hitchcock told him he had to "make it so" through his writing. So Stefano wrote the scene in which Marion adds up the money, then flushes the paper down the toilet, specifically so toilet flushing was integral to the scene and therefore irremovable.

18. Stefano and Hitchcock deliberately layered-in certain risqué elements to divert the censors' attention from more crucial concerns, like the bedroom scene in the beginning and the shower murder. The "unimportant" extra material was censored and Hitchcock managed to sneak in his "important" material.

19. To implicate viewers as fellow voyeurs, Hitchcock used a 50 mm lens on his 35 mm camera, which gives the closest approximation to human vision. Its effect is felt in scenes in which Norman is spying on Marion.

2o. The camera used to shoot Norman's point of view as he watches Marion undressing through the peephole required a circular mask on the lens.

21. When Norman spies on Marion as she gets ready to shower, the painting he removes from the parlor wall is Susannah and the Elders, in which a young woman is unknowingly watched as she bathes.

22. When Marion tells Norman she's worried that 'Mother' could harm him, Norman replies, "but she is harmless, as harmless as these stuffed birds". This hints at Mother's true condition.

23. Janet Leigh only had three weeks to work on the movie and one of those was spent just filming the shower sequence.

24. The shower scene required 78 shot set-ups and took seven days to film. The set was built so that any of the walls could be removed, allowing the camera to get in close from every angle. Although other scenes were shot with more than one camera, this one used only one cameraman.

25. Hitchcock originally envisioned the shower sequence as completely silent, but composer Bernard Herrmann went ahead and scored it anyway. Upon hearing it, Hitchcock immediately changed his mind.

26. Herrmann achieved the shrieking sound of the shower scene by having a group of violinists saw the same note over and over. He called the motif "a return to pure ice water."

27. For a shot looking up into the water stream of the shower head, Hitchcock had a six-foot-diameter shower head made up and blocked the central jets so that the water sprayed in a cone past the camera lens, without any water spraying directly at it.

28. Hitchcock used Bosco chocolate syrup to simulate blood for the shower scene because it showed up better on camera.

29. The sound that the knife makes when it penetrates the flesh is actually the sound of a knife stabbing a casaba melon.

30. Hitchcock received several letters from ophthalmologists who noted that Janet Leigh's eyes were still contracted during the extreme close-ups after her character's death. The pupils of a corpse actually dilate after death. They told Hitchcock he could achieve a proper dead-eye effect by using belladonna drops. Hitchcock did so in all of his later movies.

31. When Norman first realizes there has been a murder, he shouts, "Mother! Oh God! God! Blood! Blood!" Hitchcock had the bass frequencies removed from Anthony Perkins' voice to make him sound more like a frightened teenager.

32. In interviews, Hitchcock and Janet Leigh categorically stated that it was her body in the shower scene, but it wasn't. The body belonged to a model called Marli Renfro. When you can't see Leigh's face in the shots, you're looking at her body double. She only made $500 for filming what would become one of the most iconic movie scenes ever.

33. Although Leigh was not bothered by the filming of the famous shower scene, seeing it on film profoundly moved her. She later remarked that it made her realize how vulnerable a woman was in the shower. For the rest of her life, she always took baths.

34. In an interview on The Dick Cavett Show in 1968, Hitchcock said of the shower scene, "everything was so rapid that there were seventy-eight separate pieces of film in forty-five seconds."

35. Controversy arose years later when Saul Bass, the film's graphic designer, claimed that he had completely planned and directed the famous shower scene. Those who worked on the film have refuted this claim.

36. Hitchcock and his cinematographer John L. Russell regularly used two cameras to get most of the shots in Psycho, rather than resetting to get different angles, a common practice in television but rare for feature films.

37. Vera Miles wore a wig to play Lila Crane, as she had shaved her head for her role in 5 Branded Women (1960).

38. Lila Crane was the first Final Girl in the slasher genre. The final girl is a trope in horror films, particularly slasher films, that refers to the last girl or woman alive to confront the killer, ostensibly the one left to tell the story.

39. For the high angle above the stairs in the Arbogast murder scene and the shot of Norman carrying 'Mother' to the fruit cellar, the camera was placed in a cage hung from rails on the ceiling.

4o. The shot of Arbogast falling backward down the stairs was a process shot of the actor (Martin Balsam) sitting stationary and waving his arms, as if losing his balance, in front of a screen projecting a previously filmed dolly shot moving down the stairs.

41. To mislead moviegoers and reporters about Mrs. Bates' true identity, Hitchcock leaked stories that he was considering stars such as Helen Hayes and Judith Anderson for the part. He even kept a chair on set with 'Mrs Bates' marked on it to keep up the ruse.

42. Three actresses recorded Norma Bates' dialogue. Their recordings were then mixed together until Hitchcock found the right tone of voice for each particular scene.

43. The psychiatrist's speech at the end provides the detailed exposition needed to understand everything that has happened up to that point. It's long and full of nuance, but actor Simon Oakland did it perfectly in the first take, leading Alfred Hitchcock to stand up, shake his hand, and say, "Thank you very much, Mr. Oakland. You've just saved my picture."

44. The ending involves a superimposition of three elements that many people fail to notice. The last shot of Norman Bates' face has a still frame of a human skull superimposed on it. That skull is Mother's. This dissolves into a shot of the chain pulling out Marion's car out of the swamp. The chain is placed so that it appears to be moving through where Norman/Mother's heart would be, symbolically showing that the two are tied together.

45. Shooting wrapped on February 1, 1960, nine days over schedule. A rough cut was finished by April, at which point Hitchcock was convinced his "experiment" had failed. He was ready to cut Psycho down to a TV episode, but handed it over to be scored. After he saw the completed film with the music, he was pleased.

46. Hitchcock was delighted with his composer's contribution to the film, giving him an unusual amount of credit (by his standards) and stating that "33 percent of the effect of Psycho was due to the music".

47. The official trailer was over six minutes and thirty seconds, an unusual length by today's standards.

48. The trailer was shot after the movie was completed. Because Janet Leigh wasn't available anymore, Hitchcock used Vera Miles for the shower sequence.

49. Every theatre that screened this movie had a cardboard cut-out of Hitchcock pointing to his wristwatch, with a note saying, "The manager of this theatre has been instructed at the risk of his life, not to admit to the theatre any persons after the picture starts. Any spurious attempts to enter by side doors, fire escapes or ventilating shafts will be met by force. The entire objective of this extraordinary policy, of course, is to help you enjoy PSYCHO more. Alfred Hitchcock."

50. Andrew Sarris, in his first column for Village Voice, gave Psycho its first rave review. He advised "discerning filmgoers" to see the film no less than three times (first for "the sheer terror of the experience," again for the "macabre comedy," and finally for the movie's "hidden meanings"). Irate readers flooded the Voice with letters.

51. After the movie's release, Hitchcock received an angry letter from the father of a girl who refused to have a bath after seeing Diabolique (1955), and now refused to shower after seeing this movie. Hitchcock sent a note back simply saying, "Send her to the dry cleaners."

52. Janet Leigh received threatening letters after Psycho's release, detailing what the writers would like to do to Marion Crane. One was so grotesque, she passed it on to the F.B.I. The culprits were nabbed.

53. Tony Curtis, Leigh's husband at the time, claimed in his autobiography that Psycho's success, and the fact that all anyone wanted to talk to her about was the shower scene, drove his wife to drink, which eventually led to her breakdown and their divorce.

54. This was Hitchcock's last film for Paramount Pictures. By the time principal photography started, Hitchcock had moved his offices to Universal Pictures, and this movie was shot on Universal's backlot. Universal owns the movie today, even though the Paramount Pictures logo is still on the movie.

55. The Bates house, though moved from its original location, still resides on Universal's lot. The motel has been replicated. It is a regular stop on the Universal Studios tram tour.

56. This movie marked the fifth and final time that Hitchcock earned an Oscar nomination for Best Director, though he never won.

57. Psycho was the highest-grossing movie of his career.

58. It is currently the oldest movie in release to carry an R rating, having been released eight years before the MPAA rating system was established, in 1968.

59. Norman Bates is ranked the second greatest villain on AFI's 100 Years…100 Heroes & Villains list

60. Walt Disney refused to allow Hitchcock to film at Disneyland in the early 1960s because of "that disgusting movie Psycho."

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