Things in Drama Movies

Dial M for Murder

Dial M for Murder (1954)

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’.

Doctor Zhivago

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

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.

A Matter of Life and Death

A Matter of Life and Death (1946)

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.)

Erik and Spangle in the Camera Obscura in A Matter of Life and Death
A Matter of Life and Death

A Matter of Life and Death (1946)

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’.

La Dolce Vita

La Dolce Vita (1960)

There aren’t many scenes in cinema that have reached a level as iconic as Anita Ekberg’s dip in the Trevi Fountain in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. Countless tourists flock to the fountain every year, and if they don’t jump in themselves, there are probably two good reasons for this. One is that the local council now puts bleach in the water, and the other is that the scene wasn’t really filmed at the real fountain.

Instead, the Trevi Fountain scene was shot at a recreation of the fountain on a lot at Rome’s Cinecitta studios, a few miles south of the real thing.

If this made the filming more convenient, it didn’t make it any more pleasant for the two stars: the scene was shot in winter, and Marcello Mastroianni needed both a wetsuit under his tuxedo and a bottle of vodka to prepare himself for the icy waters of the fountain, while Ekberg was wearing thigh-length waders under her dress.