Things in Thrillers

Things you might not have noticed when you were on the edge of your seat.

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’.

Shutter Island

Shutter Island (2010)

The eponymous Shutter Island in Martin Scorsese’s 2010 psychological thriller was actually put together from a variety of locations, including some computer-generated scenery.

The shots of the harbour, and of the whole island during the ferry’s approach at the beginning, use Peddocks island in Boston Harbour (although even this has been enhanced in the shot above, with CGI adding higher mountains and cliffs than exist on the real island).

Peddocks Island was used by the US military as a harbour defence fort (‘Fort Andrews’) until after World War Two. There are several abandoned military buildings left over, and some of these are visible in the early shots of the characters’ arrival.

The island has camping and swimming facilities, although if you’ve seen the film, you may not be too keen on taking the family on a waterside holiday.

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 Birds

The Birds (1963)

In The Birds, right after stopping in the street to respond to a boy’s wolf whistle, Tippi Hedren goes into a pet store. As she enters, out comes Alfred Hitchcock, along with two dogs.

The dogs were apparently Hitchcock’s own, although for director’s pets, they weren’t particularly well trained. Despite their fleeting screen time, one of the dogs still finds time to stop and look right at the camera:

The Birds

The Birds (1963)

Near the beginning of The Birds, when Tippi Hedren is walking down the street (having just passed the San Francisco poster), she turns to acknowledge a wolf-whistle from a passing boy. This is an in-joke.

Hitchcock had first seen Hedren in a commercial for Sego diet drink made by Pet Milk. There was a shot in that commercial where she turns and smiles in response to a wolf whistle, and Hitchcock decided to reference it here.