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'Psycho' terrified us 50 years ago

Janet Leigh screams during the famous shower scene of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. — 50 years ago.

Associated Press

Janet Leigh screams during the famous shower scene of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. — 50 years ago.

Fifty years ago today, movie audiences in New York cringed at a new experience in terror — Alfred Hitchcock's thriller Psycho, the story of a very bad boy and his macabre "mother."

Now considered one of the greatest motion pictures ever, Psycho wasn't an immediate hit with all critics. Time magazine called its signature scene — a stabbing in a motel shower stall — "one of the messiest, most nauseating murders ever filmed … The nightmare that follows is expertly gothic, but the nausea never disappears."

Eh, what do movie critics know?

Not as much as we think sometimes. The Psycho anniversary sent me to the Internet Movie Database ( to learn more than I expected about a movie I've seen multiple times.

Enjoy these revelations, or smirk because you already knew. And mark July 18 on your calendar, when Tampa Theatre presents Hitchcock's masterpiece as part of its Summer Classic Movie Series.

Six things Steve Persall never knew about 'Psycho'

1. Forget the shower. Psycho was the first American film ever to show a toilet flushing.

2. Marli Renfro was a nude model used as a body double for Janet Leigh in the famed shower sequence. A few weeks after the film's release, Renfro was a Playboy cover girl. Coincidentally, she was photographed while taking a shower.

3. Watch the end of the shower scene and you'll see the camera pulling back from the victim's face but a few seconds are in freeze-frame. Hitchcock did this because his wife Alma, while viewing the rushes, noticed an artery pulsing in Leigh's neck.

4. Hitchcock originally planned complete silence for the shower sequence. Composer Bernard Herrmann wrote the classic, stinging violin music anyway. After hearing it, Hitchcock quickly changed his mind.

5. Leigh worked on Psycho only three weeks — spending a entire week filming the shower sequence.

6. Hitchcock later received a letter from an angry father whose daughter previously saw Diabolique (1955) and refused to take baths. After viewing Psycho, she was refusing to take showers. Hitchcock wrote back with droll advice: "Send her to the dry cleaners."

Steve Persall can be reached at or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at

'Psycho' terrified us 50 years ago 06/20/10 [Last modified: Sunday, June 20, 2010 6:19pm]
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