Actors in Movies

A collection of notes and unusual facts about the people in 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’.

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
Doctor Zhivago

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

Towards the end of the first half of David Lean’s Doctor Zhivago, when Zhivago and his family are making their way across Russia by train, there’s a scene in which he helps a woman to board while the train is moving.

There are rumours that the woman fell under the wheels of the train and either died or had her legs cut off. The truth isn’t quite so dramatic, although it must have been a hell of a day for all concerned.

The actress was Hungarian Lili Muráti, and it seems that there was a mix-up over what was supposed to happen: she runs alongside the train, and was meant to grab Omar Sharif’s hand. However, he grabbed hers, meaning that she couldn’t control her pace and fell, rolling under the train. She tucked into a ball and managed to avoid losing any limbs, but did have to go to hospital; however she recovered, and returned to finish filming.

The shot in the finished film is cut is rather abruptly, and could well have been the take in which she fell.

Gregory's Girl

Gregory's Girl (1981)

Wandering around in the background of Bill Forsyth’s charming comedy is a lost boy in a penguin costume. He doesn’t serve any part in the story, and his presence is something of a mystery.

In an interview with The Times, Forsyth explained that the idea came from watching someone at Abronhill High school, where the film was shot, carrying a papier-mâché head down a corridor “and no one batting an eyelid; a school is a place where anything can happen.”

Inside the suit was Christopher Higson, son of production manager Peter Higson. It seems to have been his only credited acting role, but rumour has it that he went on to be a model-maker for the Lord of the Rings films.

Went the Day Well?

Went the Day Well? (1942)

There is a rumour going around that Christopher Lee makes a very early appearance in the 1942 war film Went the Day Well? The rumour seems to have originated with the IMDb listing for the film, which features the actor in an uncredited part.

Given that the film was made several years before his first generally recognised credit, and that even posters on his official website are sceptical, it’s probably safe to say that, went the day well or ill, it almost certainly went without Christopher Lee.

There is also the possibility that it’s somebody else of the same name; the IMDb listing appears to have been amended to support this theory.