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5 Things You Might Not Know About Alfred Hitchcock's 'Psycho'

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist June 15, 2012 at 11:58AM

What's the greatest Alfred Hitchcock film? Every film fan will have a different answer, with "The 39 Steps," "Rebecca," "Spellbound," "Notorious," "Rear Window," "Vertigo" and "North By Northwest" all making compelling cases for being the very best. But few of his films had such an impact on cinema as "Psycho," the 1960s thriller that saw him go into darker, more shocking territory than ever before, with some of the most famous sequences in the history of the medium.
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Psycho Shower
4. Hitchcock's secrecy about the film makes J.J. Abrams looks positively open.
Not above William Castle-style gimmicks when needed, Hitchcock's promo campaign for the film reached new levels of mystery-baiting with "Psycho." From the off, he knew he'd want the film's shock twists kept under wraps, and allegedly told assistant Peggy Robertson to buy up as many copies of Bloch's novel as she could in order to keep the plot secret. In a neat piece of misdirection, he told the trades he was trying to get veteran actress Helen Hayes ("Anastasia," "A Farewell To Arms," "Airport") to play Bates' mother. On the first day of filming, he made the crew raise their right hands and swear an oath to not spill any secrets, and even then, the ending of the script was kept from them until the last possible moment. Perkins and Leigh were banned from doing interviews, lest they accidentally drop any of the surprises. No press screenings were held to stop reviews from including spoilers -- then, as now, normally a warning sign of a stinker, and critics were predictably resentful of having to see the film among the plebs. Most famously, the director insisted that no latecomers could be admitted once the film had started, with cardboard standees of Hitchcock standing in theater lobbies, warning audiences to be on time. Again, this was something Hitchcock was borrowing from Clouzot, who'd pulled the same stunt with "Les Diaboliques" five years earlier. The most entertaining part of the promo campaign was undoubtedly the trailer, which features no footage from the film, instead featuring a light, bouncy tone with Hitch himself giving the audience a tour of the Bates motel, hinting at the horrible events to come. The shock ending is something of a cheat -- the trailer, which runs an impressive six and a half minutes, was shot after the film wrapped, and Janet Leigh was unavailable. Instead, Hitchcock used her co-star and screen sister Vera Miles, putting her in a wig to look like Leigh (the actress had actually shaved her head for "5 Branded Women" before making this, and had already donned a hairpiece for the main portion of the shoot). Watch the whole trailer below.

5. There was a real life murder tied to the film with just as many twists and turns.
One of the big questions about "Psycho" over the years was the extent to which Hitchcock used a body double for Janet Leigh in the famous shower scene: both initially said that it was all Leigh, but later admitted that, for a few of the more risque shots, they had indeed used a nude stand-in. But as it turns out, the most interesting question was what happened to that double after the film was released. The person in question was Marli Renfro, a glamor model and exotic dancer who was one of the earliest Playboy Bunnies. While Leigh seemingly did most of the scene with the help of moleskin patches, Renfro was brought in for certain shots; after the film, she covered Playboy in September 1960, and had a small role in "Tonight For Sure," the second film by one Francis Ford Coppola. But after that, she disappeared from the radar entirely, until a 2001 Associated Press report announced that Kenneth Dean Hunt had been convicted of raping and strangling two women, including Myra Davis, which they said was the real name of Renfro -- the latter victim part of a murder that had remained unsolved since 1988. According to The Guardian, after reading a 2007 interview with Davis' granddaughter, in which she expressed surprise that her grandmother ever would have taken part in nude scenes, Robert Graysmith, the expert on the Zodiac murders (and the part played by Jake Gyllenhaal in David Fincher's "Zodiac"), took an interest in the case. In fact, it turned out to have been an error in the reporting of the case: Renfro and Davis were two different people, the latter having been Leigh's stand-in during lighting set-ups. Renfro was alive and well, and had, according to Graysmith, been so busy "living life to the full[est] that she had no idea she was meant to be dead." Graysmith believed that Renfro had been Hunt's intended target -- he was supposedly obsessed with the "Psycho" shower scene -- but had mixed her up with Davis.

This article is related to: 5 Things You Might Not Know About..., Alfred Hitchcock, On This Day In Movie History, Features, Psycho


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