“hitchcock” and the scene that changed film forever

During a filmmaking career that spanned five decades, Alfred Hitchcock directed more than 50 movies, including the classics “Rebecca,” “Vertigo,” “Rear Window” and “North by Northwest.” But it was one of his last films that was the most influential: “Psycho.”

Shot in black-and-white and financed by Hitchcock himself, the 1960 film took in two and a half times more at the box office than “North by Northwest,” his previous biggest earner. And it made millions of people afraid to take a shower.

Anthony Hopkins plays the title character in “Hitchcock,” the story of how the iconic director, with a lot of help from his wife Alma, made his most provocative and controversial film. “I saw it in a movie theater in September 1960 on a dark Sunday afternoon in Manchester,” Hopkins said. “The scene in the shower was the most frightening thing I’ve ever seen. And the whole audience was under the seat, myself included, because we didn’t know what to expect.”

What the audience didn’t anticipate was the dispatching of its leading lady (Janet Leigh as Marion Crane) a half-hour into the film. “The shock was that he killed her,” Hopkins said. “His leading actress. Great, brilliant idea that came from Alma.”

“Hitchcock” director Sacha Gervasi was a teenager when he first witnessed cross-dressing killer Norman Bates in action. “I started a film club,” Gervasi recalled. “And the first three movies we had were ‘Don’t Look Now,’ ‘Easy Rider’ and ‘Psycho.’ And I’ll never forget — we had a 16-millimeter projector and we showed this film and it was really shocking. And it still is.”

Gervasi credits “Psycho” with paving the way for the “Saw” and “Hostel” movies of recent years. “Kids going to the cinema today and seeing one of these horror movies, they don’t really understand — it all started out with that crazy shower scene,” he said.

Alfred Hitchcock’s genius, Anthony Hopkins noted, was his ability to tease us. “He understood human psychology,” Hopkins said. “He understood what disturbed us all. And he could just poke us, saying, ‘Beware, because it can happen at any moment.’ ”