There was a time when movies were a lot more modest. Violence was in short supply, and sexual situations were all about subtlety. But that wasn’t all. Because it was thought to be uncouth, the scandalous sound of a flushing toilet was never heard on the big screen. That is until one movie changed the rules in 1960.
“Psycho,” a movie so famous for so many reasons, was the first flick to show audiences a flushing toilet. I know this sounds like a silly thing to praise, but the flush was actually a big deal at the time. Director Alfred Hitchcock had set out to make a film that put audiences ill at ease from the get-go. He knew that by showing something early in the film that they had never seen before (i.e., a flushing toilet), it would send a signal that the audience was watching a movie in which anything was possible.
Filmsite.org calls the scene in which the main character, Marion, flushes evidence of her crime down the toilet a “a convention-breaking taboo.” Cinepad.com goes into more depth, writing that “just the sight of the flushing toilet was considered shocking enough to mildly unsettle and disorient audiences of the day.” Cinepad quotes the screenwriter, Joseph Stephano, as saying, “I thought if I could begin to unhinge audiences by showing a toilet flushing — we all suffer from peccadillos from toilet procedures — they’d be so out of it by the time of the shower murder, it would be an absolute killer.”
It was. The film, most famous for its classic “shower scene” that followed the flush, went on to become one of Hollywood’s greatest films and a template for future horror movies. I like to think the flush played a small part.
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