Make-up in Movies

A selection of examples of unusual uses of make-up in films.

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

Frankenstein (1931)

Those metal studs in the creature’s neck, much beloved by the makers of horror parodies and Halloween costumes, aren’t bolts at all.

They’re electrodes, left over from the mechanism that fed electricity into the creature’s body when he was brought to life. So leave the spanner set at home when you go the storm the castle / windmill / wherever he’s got himself holed up this time: it’s not going to do you one bit of good.

The Man Who Knew Too Much

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

When French spy Louis Bernard (Daniel Gélin) is stabbed in the back in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1956 remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much, he uses the last of his energy to seek out American tourist Dr. Ben McKenna (Jimmy Stewart). McKenna doesn’t recognise him immediately because he’s disguised as a native Moroccan, complete with a blacked up face. It’s only when Bernard’s make-up comes off on McKenna’s fingers that his identity is revealed…

…so the story has it, anyway. The actual process of filming the scene was a tad more complicated. In order for the shot to be visually effective, the make-up had to come off in clean stripes to reveal Bernard’s white face, but the make-up department couldn’t find a dark make-up that would do this: vague, icky smears weren’t much use.

Eventually, they solved the problem by reversing it. Instead of having McKenna’s fingers wipe Bernard’s make-up off, they covered his fingers in a white substance that streaks onto the other man’s face, over the top of the dark make-up.

Apparently this creative solution to the problem was actor Daniel Gélin’s idea, and when you watch the film, it’s hard to tell that make-up is being added to his character’s face, rather than taken away.