February 16, 2014

Who Murdered Marion Crane? Some Say It Wasn't Hitchcock

PsychoIt's one of the most famous scenes in cinematic history. Almost everybody recognizes it, even if they've never seen the movie. It's the infamous shower scene in Psycho where Marion Crane is repeatedly stabbed by a mysterious individual. With a scene as iconic as that, who would guess that the question of who directed it would ever come up? It was Alfred Hitchcock -- right? Well, maybe not. Both Hitchcock and famous graphic artist and title sequence designer Saul Bass claim to have directed the 7-day shoot, but maybe we don't need to rely on mere hearsay. Vashi Nedomansky of Vashi Visuals sheds a little more light on the situation with a side by side comparison between Bass' storyboards and the actual footage.

It's a mystery that seems to go nicely with Hitchcock's thrillers: A scene of a one of the biggest films by one of the biggest, most important directors goes on to become on of the most famous scenes ever put on celluloid -- and it might've been directed by his Pictorial Consultant. Now all we need is some espionage, maybe some chase sequences and a murderous crop-duster and we'd be in business.

As the story goes, Hitchcock had worked with Bass before on Vertigo and North By Northwest. Bass designed the title sequences for both films, which went on to be highly lauded. In effect, Hitchcock hired him once again, but this time as his Pictorial Consultant on Psycho, where he designed the title sequence as well as the shower scene storyboards -- 48 in all.

When all was said and done, both Hitchcock and Bass claimed to have directed the iconic scene with Janet Leigh. Hitchcock does admit that he allowed Bass to direct a scene, but it wasn't the one of Marion's death -- it was the one of the detective climbing the stairs. Bass' account is much different. He claims that Hitchcock asked him to not only set up each shot according to his storyboards of the shower scene, but to "go ahead and roll it" -- meaning Bass called "action" every time.

Now, not only has Vashi broken down the history of the Psycho shower scene mystery, but he has put together this awesome video that compares Bass' storyboards and the final product. Check it out below.

It's quite compelling to watch how Bass' vision jumps from the storyboards onto the screen -- I mean, it's almost shot by shot. While Hitchcock holds fast to his version of the story, others are not so convinced, including fellow director Billy Wilder, who said:

Like most people in Hollywood you knew who did what if you were in the industry, especially if great stuff was involved. Everybody talked about that scene. Right from the beginning I understood that Saul did it. Everybody knew. Everybody knew Saul was brilliant. Who questioned it until those remarks of Hitchcock? You only have to look at the sequence and look at the film and think. Think for one minute. You see the shower scene and you see it is not at all like Mr. Hitchcock -- King of the Long Shot.

This brings up many questions about the role of a director as well as a film's collaborators. What makes a director a director? Is it their vision? Is it their voice calling action? Is it their involvement helping actors get to where they need to be emotionally for each scene? Or is it the their ability to collaborate and aggregate talent and good ideas from those around them that makes them a director? What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.

[Saul Bass 'Psycho' Storyboards image courtesy of Vashi Visuals]

Link: Who Directed the PSYCHO Shower Scene? -- Vashi Visuals

[via Cinephilia and Beyond]

Your Comment

19 Comments

In Janet Leigh's bio, "Psycho: Behind the Scenes of the Classic Thriller", she emphatically denied this myth. She wrote Bass was never on the scene during any of the shooting days and she was never directed by anyone period other than Hitchcock.

February 16, 2014 at 3:38PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Joanathan

Yes, I was just about to quote this interview: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fLwc2qUVFic

February 17, 2014 at 5:22AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Of course the story boards are the visual cues on how the scene was supposed to be shot. That's the point of having them in the first place. Which ever one of them directed it, did exactly what they were supposed to do, which is follow the story board. I'm sure Mr. Hitchcock approved them either way. Excellent scene, even after dozens of viewings.

February 16, 2014 at 3:39PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Agreed. Hitchcock was quite a meticulous chap with his planning. I doubt he said to Saul: ok old boy you board the shower scene, and i'll see you on set. He was most likely given a brief, with a process of approval.

February 16, 2014 at 6:48PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Nick

Interesting stuff. Was reading about this the other day after walking "Hitchcock" on HBO and found this bit on wikipedia. Seems like Leigh and the AD are with Hitch.

"Another concerns Saul Bass, the graphic designer who created many of the title sequences of Hitchcock's films and storyboarded some of Psycho's scenes, claiming he had directed the shower scene. This was refuted by several figures associated with the film, including Leigh, who stated: "absolutely not! I have emphatically said this in any interview I've ever given. I've said it to his face in front of other people... I was in that shower for seven days, and, believe me, Alfred Hitchcock was right next to his camera for every one of those seventy-odd shots."[72] Hilton Green, the assistant director, also refutes Bass' claim: "There is not a shot in that movie that I didn't roll the camera for. And I can tell you I never rolled the camera for Mr. Bass."[72] Roger Ebert, a longtime admirer of Hitchcock's work, summarily dismissed the rumor, stating, "It seems unlikely that a perfectionist with an ego like Hitchcock's would let someone else direct such a scene."[73]

February 16, 2014 at 4:17PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Is there really a question to this? Hitchcock could've taken the storyboards and used them as a guide, and claimed to be the diretor of the scene. While Bass says he "directed" it because he was the one who visualized it on paper, and he might've even been there at the day talking to Hitch and giving him ideas. I side with Hitch - the guy who was by the side of the camera and who had the power to change it all. He made those visualizations real.

February 16, 2014 at 4:51PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Click bait.

February 16, 2014 at 5:24PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Ed Z.

Oh yeah.

February 16, 2014 at 5:38PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Chris

Actually, directors often aren't the ones who call action on a set. That role frequently goes to the AD. This has no bearing on who the director is.

February 16, 2014 at 5:36PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Dave H.

This scene is as much about the editing as the composition of shots. When you think about it, a director didn't have that many options here. You can't have any nudity. You can't have the killer's POV. So, you are stuck with a bunch of closeups in a rapidly ascending sequence. Bass knew this and story-boarded accordingly. So, I say this was directed by Bernard Herrmann. Who heavily borrowed from Igor Stravinsky. And I don't think Stravinsky knew Bass.

February 16, 2014 at 10:30PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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DLD

perfect! :D :D

February 17, 2014 at 7:54AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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guto novo

"Saul Bass: “When the time came to shoot, I was on stage near Hitch, who was sitting in his elevated director’s chair in his Buddha mode, hands folded on his belly. He asked me to set up the first shot, as per my storyboard. After I checked it through the camera, I turned to him and said ‘Here it is.’ Then Hitch said ‘Go ahead, roll it.’ It was an amazing moment. On Hitch’s set, no one would issue orders other than Hitch. So I swallowed hard, gulped and said ‘Roll camera! . . . Action!’ He sat back in the chair, encouraging me, benignly nodding his head periodically, and giving me the ‘Roll’ signal as I matched each shot to the storyboard.” - See more at: http://vashivisuals.com/directed-shower-scene-psycho/#sthash.ZNK6at9I.dpuf"

Even if Saul's story is honest, this doesn't prove he directed it. He makes no mention of directing the actors. Hitchcock directed Saul to draw the storyboards, and then instructed him to set up the camera in accordance with his creative vision. While Saul was setting up the shots, Hitchcock was directing the action.

"No matter what the the key players said…one point is quite clear. Film is a collaborative art. Everyone on a project wants to contribute their strengths and make the film the best it can be. The best intentions and points of view can clash…but ultimately the best ideas will rise to the surface and survive…no matter who proposed them. This is when attribution and ownership comes into play. Everyone wants their due credit. Everyone wants recognition for their hard work. It can be rewarded with money, film credit, acknowledgement or other creative ways that Hollywood finds in attributing the hard work of artists. - See more at: http://vashivisuals.com/directed-shower-scene-psycho/#sthash.9s5scU1I.dpuf"

February 16, 2014 at 10:35PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Ben Gates

Many key scenes in the Rings and Hobbit movies are directed by Andy Serkis. Does that mean that Peter Jackson is not the main director, the main vision of the films?

Even if Bass set up the shots and shouted 'Action' it was under the direct supervision of Hitch. That's directing, to my knowledge.

February 17, 2014 at 6:19AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Álex Montoya

While I understand your point, the circumstances are a bit different. I'd consider Serkis more of a director because in the Hobbit he literally directed some scenes without Jackson around (while Jackson was directing). According to Bass, it was him there with Hitchcock there.

February 17, 2014 at 11:13AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Brett

It's quite possible Bass did directed the sequence, but it happen only owed because Hitch gave him permission to do so, and if he didn't like what Bass shot he would of scraped the footage and done it himself. Honestly, Hitchcock's decision was no different when the lead director has the 2nd unit team director go out and shoot footage he can't personally direct.

February 17, 2014 at 1:31PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Bolex16

Regarding Billy Wilder's remarksHe certainly made some excellent films, but some of his opinions regarding other filmmakers truly sucked. He himself said who gives a shit in response to Kubrick lighting the sets of Barry Lindon with candles.

February 17, 2014 at 1:43PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Bolex16

It's a compelling argument. Although Leigh claimed Hitch directed, she wasn't on set ALL the time - she had a body double, Marli Renfro (who was later murdered by Kenneth Dean, who believed he was killing the woman in the shower), and a lighting test stand in, Myra Davis. You can read more about creating the iconic scene in my piece here: http://cinetropolis.net/scene-is-believing-psycho/

February 17, 2014 at 3:46PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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In the indie world we would have had to shoot this scene before lunch. A 7 day shoot seems too good to be true.

D

February 18, 2014 at 6:49PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Perhaps Hitch shot the scene using Mr. Bass' storyboards?

February 18, 2014 at 8:19PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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