Things in Film Noir Movies

A collection of scenes, characters, and other details from the film noir genre.

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’.

Brighton Rock

Brighton Rock (1947)

In Brighton Rock, just before gangster Pinkie Brown goes to record his charming gramophone message for new wife Rose, we see Rose operating a slot machine.

The machine, apparently (and logically) called ‘The Bell Ringers’, was operated by dropping in an old English penny, and played a short mechanical performance of figures in a church ringing bells.

‘The Bell Ringers’ was designed by German Charles Ahrens, a well-known name in the world of penny arcades. His model ‘The Executioner’ turned up in The Wench is Dead, an episode of Inspector Morse.

These moving models are now highly collectable, and there are several museums that specialise in them. National Jukebox have restored a broken-down Bell Ringers, and there’s a short video of it in action below.

The Third Man

The Third Man (1949)

Although The Third Man is (famously) set in Vienna, and makes use of numerous locations around that city, much of the studio work and other shots were filmed in London.

This would apparently include at least some of the back projection footage made for the driving scenes. During the drives to and from the hospital near the end of the film, several London buses are visible on the road. (These wouldn’t be the famous Routemasters, though, as those weren’t introduced until the 1950s. They’re more likely to be an earlier model, known as the Regent.)

These kinds of things are often easier to make out in moving footage, but above you can clearly see the outline of a bus behind the brim of Martens’ hat, and on the right of the picture below, even the bus route is tantalisingly close to being legible.

The Maltese Falcon

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

The opening scroll from The Maltese Falcon is, sadly, completely made up. There was no real Maltese falcon, although the idea may have come from another magnificent bird, the Kniphausen Hawk, which was made in 1697 for a Count of the Holy Roman Empire.

The Kniphausen Hawk certainly fits the bill – or should that be beak? – being made of precious metal and encrusted with rare jewels. It’s silver rather than gold, though, and a good deal more lively than the falcon. The Kniphausen Hawk is part of the collection at Chatsworth House, and there’s a photograph of it here.

Several prop falcons were made for the movie, and these are themselves worth a fortune. There are two lead falcons known to exist, one of which sold in 1994 at auction for $398,500, and there’s at least one original prop made of resin. It’s often possible to tell which version is on screen at any given moment, as long as somebody’s holding it: the lead falcons weighed more than 20 kilos each!

Aside from the authentic prop falcons, there’s also a healthy trade in replica falcons of varying quality. Of these replicas, the most accurate one-off must be the one made by propmaker & Mythbusters co-host Adam Savage. He discusses the process, and a great deal more about the history of the falcon prop, in the video below. (First he talks about reconstructing a Dodo skeleton. It’s very interesting in its own right, but skip to 6:25 if you’re in a hurry and want the falcon story.)

Dark Passage

Dark Passage (1947)

In Dark Passage, Humphrey Bogart plays Vincent Parry, a man wrongly convicted of his wife’s murder. At the start of the movie, he escapes from prison, and halfway through he gets plastic surgery to enable him to search for his wife’s killer without detection.

This gave the studio the problem of what to do about Humphrey Bogart in the early part of the film. After all, if Parry was going to look like Bogart after the surgery, he couldn’t very well look like him beforehand.

Rather than have another actor play Parry until the surgery, the filmmakers decided to use first-person camera, meaning that we see the world through Parry’s eyes, with the other characters addressing the camera directly, as Lauren Bacall does in the shot below.

As a result, Humphrey Bogart doesn’t appear on screen for almost 36 minutes, and even then his face is covered. The bandages don’t come off for almost an hour, meaning that Bogart’s face is visible for only the last forty minutes of the film.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, when Jack Warner at Warner Bros. saw the rushes, he baulked at the idea of paying for a star like Bogart and then using only his voice for the first half of the movie, but by then it was too late.

film still from Dark Passage