Wednesday, 17th October 2012
Fans of Alfred Hitchcock will know where he makes his trademark director’s cameo in Dial M for Murder (1954), appearing in the photograph taken at Tony Wendice’s class reunion dinner.
But there may be another, more obscure cameo in this picture: the man sitting across the table from the director looks remarkably like Jimmy Stewart, who starred with Grace Kelly in Hitchcock’s other 1954 film, Rear Window.
It may be Ray Milland, who plays Tony Wendice, as the two actors do sometimes look similar, but the man in the photograph parts his hair on the right (like Jimmy Stewart), while Milland usually parted his on the left. Judging by the white aura around the figure, he also seems to have been added later as a cutout. (Perhaps by the same person who got a bit too enthusiastic when touching up Charles Swann’s cigar, just to make absolutely sure the viewer could see it.)
We’re pretty convinced it’s Jimmy Stewart, but until we know for sure, we’re filing this under ‘unconfirmed rumour’.
Friday, 18th November 2011
When bank teller Henry Bemis goes down to the bank vault for some peaceful reading in this Twilight Zone classic episode ‘Time Enough at Last’, he takes with him a newspaper that gives us a good quick explanation of what’s about to go seriously wrong with the world. The headline reads H-Bomb Capable of Total Destruction.
Not much might survive the subsequent apocalypse, but the newspaper itself shows up again, four episodes later, in ‘What You Need’. In this case, it’s the violent loser Renard who has the paper brought to him, hoping to use a mysterious fountain pen to divine the winners of the listed races.
The recurrence of the newspaper might be an in-joke by the programme’s makers, or just a handy reuse of a prop. As the latter episode continues into the evening, however, there’s no chance that the two episodes take place on the same day. (Unless Bemis is still carrying yesterday’s paper…)
The incident with Lili Muráti and the train wasn’t the only tense moment during the filming of Doctor Zhivago.
Much of the film was shot in Spain, with the streets of Madrid redressed to become Moscow. So when the crowds of Spanish extras march through the streets singing the communist Internationale, they had good reason: they were living under the dictator Francisco Franco.
The secret police took a dim view of all this revolutionary singing and kept a close eye on the extras, while apparently some local residents also misunderstood the singing, and toasted the revolution.
Michael Powell’s two cocker spaniels made canine cameo appearances in four of the Powell & Pressburger films. They turn up in Contraband, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, and I Know Where I’m Going! Their last appearance is in Dr Reeves’ camera obscura in 1946’s A Matter of Life and Death.
The following letter regarding the dogs’ acting careers appeared in David McGillivray’s ‘Now You Know’ column in the magazine Films and Filming (June 1983), as a response to a reader enquiry:
My thanks to Michael Powell for passing on to me the following communication.
“Our names are Erik and Spangle and your letter has been dropped in on our celestial kennel by a passing astronaut. Our dear owner on earth was Mr Michael Powell, who had something to do with films – we never found exactly what. Erik is named for Erik the Red and Spangle’s name comes from a film in which Wallace Beery says to Jean Harlow ‘I don’t like all those spangles on your dress’, a remark which prompts Robert Benchley’s ‘I had a spangle once, a cocker spangle’. Mr Pressburger wrote us into the scripts of the films you mention, but the camera obscura scene was our own idea.
P.S. If you see Colonel Blimp again, watch when we arrive in the house in London Square. Erik was so excited that he cocked his leg on a piece of Chippendale.
(The film referred to is probably China Seas, which featured all three actors and was released in 1935, so about the right time to have inspired the name of a thespian dog working in the early forties.)
Wednesday, 9th November 2011
The great celestial escalator leading up to heaven in A Matter of Life and Death is one of the film’s most enduring images, referenced in everything from architecture to pop videos (‘Go West’ by Pet Shop Boys and Pulp’s ‘Help the Aged’ both feature clear references to it). Radio adaptations of the story even took the title ‘Stairway to Heaven’.
The escalator itself was made by Rowson and Clydesdale for the production, at a cost of £3,000 (in 1946 money). It featured 106 steps, each 20 feet wide, and was powered by a 12hp motor. The engineers who built it nicknamed it ‘Ethel’.