Props in Movies

Notes and fact on some of the objects seen in films.

The Twilight Zone: Time Enough at Last

The Twilight Zone: Time Enough at Last (1959)

When bank teller Henry Bemis goes down to the bank vault for some peaceful reading in this Twilight Zone classic episode ‘Time Enough at Last’, he takes with him a newspaper that gives us a good quick explanation of what’s about to go seriously wrong with the world. The headline reads H-Bomb Capable of Total Destruction.

Not much might survive the subsequent apocalypse, but the newspaper itself shows up again, four episodes later, in ‘What You Need’. In this case, it’s the violent loser Renard who has the paper brought to him, hoping to use a mysterious fountain pen to divine the winners of the listed races.

The recurrence of the newspaper might be an in-joke by the programme’s makers, or just a handy reuse of a prop. As the latter episode continues into the evening, however, there’s no chance that the two episodes take place on the same day. (Unless Bemis is still carrying yesterday’s paper…)

The newspaper in The Twilight Zone: What You Need
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’.

The Twilight Zone: Judgment Night

The Twilight Zone: Judgment Night (1959)

In Judgment Night, an episode from the first series of The Twilight Zone, the British Ship SS Queen of Glasgow makes an ill-fated voyage through the dangerous waters of the Atlantic Ocean in 1942.

One odd omission from a British vessel is any mention of tea, and this isn’t entirely by chance. The original screenplay did call feature references to the British sailor’s favoured refreshment, but they were cut.

One of the sponsors at the time was General Foods, who were selling an instant coffee called Sanka, and they objected to this reference to a rival beverage. Eventually, one line was changed to a reference only to a ‘tray for the bridge’, and elsewhere, the characters are seen drinking only coffee.

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.

Inspector Morse: The Wench is Dead

Inspector Morse: The Wench is Dead (1998)

Following on from the appearance of ‘The Bell Ringers‘, here’s another of Charles Ahrens’s coin-operated machines.

This one is a little more ghoulish; it takes the form of the front wall of a prison, through the door of which we get to watch a condemned prisoner being hanged.

Just as ‘The Bell Ringers’ fitted perfectly with the catholic sensibilities of Graham Greene’s story in Brighton Rock, ‘The Executioner’ suits the themes of The Wench is Dead, one of the later episodes of Inspector Morse, which sees the Oxford detective re-examining a 19th century murder which resulted in the hanging of two men—wrongly, according to Morse.

film still from The Wench is Dead (Inspector Morse)