Urban legends of the silver screen
MOVIES ARE made by people, and people make mistakes. It goes without saying that perfection is rarely achieved in the making of motion pictures, if ever.
Browsing the "Goofs" section of the Internet Movie Database, one finds more than enough evidence to bear this out. Lampposts with electric light bulbs have been spotted in the Civil War epic, Gone With the Wind; camera shadows mar at least one shot of Steven Spielberg's otherwise meticulous Close Encounters of the Third Kind; in the wedding scene of The Godfather, the amount of wine in some characters' glasses changes mysteriously and instantaneously from shot to shot, and so on.
But movie viewers are human, too, which means sometimes we misinterpret what we see, or we think we see things that were never captured on film in the first place. This is how urban legends arise.
In this feature we'll look at some of the better-known legends surrounding famous films, from the 1939 classic, The Wizard of Oz, to Disney's 1994 animated blockbuster, The Lion King. Fire up your VCR and test hold your finger ready over the pause button if you'd like to play along at home.
The Legend: One of the actors portraying a Munchkin in the film hung himself from the branch of an apple tree during the shooting of the scene in which Dorothy and the Scarecrow discover the Tin Woodsman. The shot was left in the finished film and, although the Munchkin's demise takes place in the blurry background, his ill-timed final act can be seen by viewing the frames of the shot individually or in slow motion.
The Facts: There were no suicides on the set of The Wizard of Oz. There is some strange, out-of-focus movement discernible in the background trees during the scene in question, but it is neither a suicide in progress nor, contrary to what some have suggested, a bumbling crew member accidentally caught on camera. The moving object in the background is, in fact, a live bird - one of many borrowed by MGM from The Los Angeles Zoo to give the movie's "exterior" shots a more realistic feel.
The Legend: A stuntman was killed during the shooting of the famous chariot race sequence. The shot was left in the final cut over the protests of the stuntman's widow.
The Facts: No stuntmen died during the filming of the 1959 version of Ben-Hur. One stuntman was injured in a spectacular mishap during the chariot race, and that shot was left in the film, to the protestations of no one. This legend may have originated in rumors that surrounded the shooting of Fred Niblo's earlier 1926 version of Ben-Hur, during which at least one stuntman was indeed killed in an accident.