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The Truth Behind 10 Movie Urban Legends

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clowSometimes, the myths surrounding movies are so strong that it’s hard to separate fact from fiction. Here are 10 movie urban legends, debunked.

1. The Wizard of Oz's Munchkin Suicide

The Urban Legend: As Dorothy, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man head down the yellow brick road, you can see a mysterious figure dangling from a rope in the background. For years it was believed that a lovelorn munchkin hanged himself while the cameras were rolling during production, unbeknownst to the director, various stagehands, and the actors on the screen.

The Truth: What's actually moving in the background is a large exotic bird on loan from the Los Angeles Zoo. The urban legend started when The Wizard of Oz was released on VHS in 1989, and persisted over the decades, until the most recent Blu-ray edition of the American classic reveals the myth as false.

2. Three Men and a Baby's Ghost

The Urban Legend: After Three Men and a Baby was released on VHS in 1990, a legend emerged—about an hour into the movie, Jack Holden (Ted Danson) and his mother (Celeste Holm) are walking through Jack’s house with his newly found baby girl. In the background, you can see a mysterious figure behind the curtains of one of the windows. It was believed that this figure was the ghost of a boy who used to live in the house where Three Men and a Baby was being shot. The most common myth is that the boy committed suicide with a shotgun, which is why the house was vacant for the movie shoot.

The Truth: The mysterious figure behind the curtain is a cardboard cutout of Danson's character wearing a top hat and tails; it was used as a prop for a storyline that was eventually cut out of the movie. The house is also not a real house, but a set on a soundstage in Toronto.

3. Back To The Future Part II's Hoverboards

The Urban Legend: After the release of Back To The Future Part II in 1989, children and teenagers left movie theaters across the country wanting the Mattel Hoverboards featured in the sequel film. The film’s star Michael J. Fox and director Robert Zemeckis even stated that the Hoverboards were real and the only reason why they’re not available to buy were parents’ groups were worried that children might get hurt riding them.

The Truth: Zemeckis later admitted that all the flying sequences from the sequel were made possible through various special effects.

4. The Lion King's Naughty Sky Spelling

The Urban Legend: When The Lion King was first released on VHS in 1995, many viewers discovered the word “S-E-X” spelled out in dust after Simba flopped down on a mountain’s edge. Conservative activists protested Disney claiming that the movie studio was promoting sexual activities through a subliminal message in the film.

The Truth: In reality, the letter grouping was intended to spell out “S-F-X” as an Easter egg for the animation effects team who worked on the Disney film.

5. Poltergeist's Ghost Director

The Urban Legend: Although Tobe Hooper is credited as the official director of the 1982 horror film Poltergeist, it is widely believed that the film’s producer, Steven Spielberg, directed a majority of the movie.

At the time, Spielberg's contract with Universal Studios contained a clause that didn’t allow him to direct another movie while preparing for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Some questioned Spielberg’s role on Poltergeist when reports emerged that Spielberg was a more vocal and active presence than Hooper while on set.

Spielberg always clarified that Hooper wasn’t a take-charge kind of guy and if a problem occurred during production, he would step in with Hooper’s consent. The actors in the film seem to be divided on who the real director was: Some would say Hooper played an active role, while others contend Spielberg made adjustments after Hooper set up camera shots and scenes.

The Truth: The fact of the matter is that Tobe Hooper is Poltergeist’s official director, while Steven Spielberg was the film’s creative force and producer.

6. Ben-Hur's Chariot Race Death

The Urban Legend: During Ben-Hur’s iconic chariot race sequence, it was believed that one of the stuntmen driving a chariot was accidentally killed while filming the race. The footage was left in the final version of the film against the wishes of the stuntman’s widow.

The Truth: The only record of someone dying during the production of Ben-Hur in 1958 was one of the film’s producers, Sam Zimbalist, who died of a heart attack at age 54 while on set.

7. The Day The Clown Cried's Shelving

  

The Legend: In 1972, Jerry Lewis directed and starred in a film about a German clown who was jailed as a political prisoner at a Nazi camp during World War II. Lewis never released the movie, and rumors swirled that it was because he was embarrassed of the final product. To this day, The Day The Clown Cried has never been released in theaters and has only been screened for a small handful of people.

The Truth: The truth is that The Day the Clown Cried has been in heavy litigation since it went into production in 1972; in fact, Jerry Lewis, the film’s producer Nat Wachsberger, and the source material’s author Joan O’Brien couldn't come to financial terms during the film’s production in Sweden that would allow the movie to be released. Wachsberger was unable to secure the film rights from O’Brien and ran out of money before the film could be completed, so Lewis had to put up the money out of his own pocket to finish The Day The Clown Cried.

The Swedish government seized footage of the film when O’Brien filed the lawsuit, but Lewis managed to smuggle the final reel of the film out of the country. A behind-the-scenes film from The Day The Clown Cried remains the only footage available to publicly watch. According to Lewis's official website, "The film has been tied up in litigation ever since, and all of the parties involved have never been able to reach an agreeable settlement. Jerry hopes to someday complete the film, which remains to this day, a significant expression of cinematic art, suspended in the abyss of international litigation."

8. The Shining's Director Also Directed the Moon Landing

The Legend: Since The Shining was released on VHS, there have been many conspiracy theories and urban legends surrounding the true meaning behind Stanley Kubrick’s horror film. The most interesting of them all is that Stanley Kubrick faked the Apollo 11 Moon landing in 1969 and his film from 1980 is his confession.

The urban legend suggests that the U.S. government approached Kubrick after the release of 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968. Kubrick’s realistic approach to space exploration impressed government officials, so they felt Stanley Kubrick was the right fit to fake the Moon landing. According to the urban legend, there are many clues in The Shining that “prove” Stanley Kubrick faked the entire lunar mission. A majority of these clues are included in the documentary Room 237.

The Truth: The reality is that NASA landed two astronauts on the Moon on July 20, 1969—they even left some reflectors up there—and Stanley Kubrick had nothing to do with the mission.

9. Goldfinger's Death by Gold Body Paint

The Legend: In 1964, the third film in the James Bond film series featured the death of a young woman by the hand of her evil employer Auric Goldfinger. The woman was covered in gold paint, which led to her eventual asphyxiation. It was believed at the time of the film that the woman, actress Shirley Eaton, died because she covered her entire body in paint.

The belief was that the paint would cover and clog all your pores and you would slowly suffocate because the body “breathes” through your skin. To prevent death, it was important to leave a small part of your body unpainted.

The Truth: The reality is that painting your body would not lead to death. If it did, you’d have to wear the body paint for a prolonged period of time, as your body would suffer from overheating rather than asphyxiation.

10. The Blair Witch Project was a real documentary

The Legend: Footage from three student filmmakers who went missing while making a documentary about the Blair Witch legend (supposedly found one year after they disappeared) was presented as a real documentary. 

The film’s distributor, Artisan Entertainment, played along with the urban legend and centered all the film’s promotional materials with the idea that it was an actual documentary and not a fictional film. The urban legend marketing worked—The Blair Witch Project grossed $248.6 million worldwide against a $60,000 production budget.

The Truth: After its release, it was revealed that The Blair Witch Project was a fictional film from the minds of the film’s writers and directors, Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez. The three student filmmakers were young actors Heather Donahue, Michael Williams, and Joshua Leonard.

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10 Regional Twists on Trick-or-Treating
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Walk around any given American neighborhood on the night of October 31, and you’ll likely hear choruses of "trick-or-treat" chiming through the area. The sing-songy phrase is synonymous with Halloween in some parts of the world, but it's not the only way kids get sweets from their neighbors this time of year. From the Philippines to the American Midwest, here are some regional door-to-door traditions you may not have heard of.

1. PANGANGALULUWA // THE PHILIPPINES

Rice cakes wrapped in leaves.
Suman

The earliest form of trick-or-treating on Halloween can be traced back to Europe in the Middle Ages. Kids would don costumes and go door-to-door offering prayers for dead relatives in exchange for snacks called "soul cakes." When the cake was eaten, tradition held that a soul was ferried from purgatory into heaven. Souling has disappeared from Ireland and the UK, but a version of it lives on halfway across the world in the Philippines. During All Saints Day on November 1, Filipino children taking part in Pangangaluluwa will visit local houses and sing hymns for alms. The songs often relate to souls in purgatory, and carolers will play the part of the souls by asking for prayers. Kids are sometimes given rice cakes called suman, a callback to the soul cakes from centuries past.

2. PÃO-POR-DEUS // PORTUGAL

Raw dough.
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Instead of trick-or-treating, kids in Portugal go door-to-door saying pão-por-deus ("bread for god") in exchange for goodies on All Saints Day. Some homeowners give out money or candy, while others offer actual baked goods.

3. HALLOWEEN APPLES // WESTERN CANADA

Kids trick-or-treating.
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If they're not calling out "trick-or-treat" on their neighbors’ doorsteps on Halloween night, you may hear children in western Canada saying "Halloween apples!" The phrase is left over from a time when apples were a common Halloween treat and giving out loose items on the holiday wasn't considered taboo.

4. ST. MARTIN'S DAY // THE NETHERLANDS

The Dutch wait several days after Halloween to do their own take on trick-or-treating. On the night of November 11, St. Martin's Day, children in the Netherlands take to the streets with their homemade lanterns in hand. These lanterns were traditionally carved from beets or turnips, but today they’re most commonly made from paper. And the kids who partake don’t get away with shouting a few words at each home they visit—they’re expected to sing songs to receive their sugary rewards.

5. A PENNY FOR THE GUY // THE UK

Guy Fawkes Night celebration.

Peter Trimming, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

Guy Fawkes Night is seen by some as the English Protestants’ answer to the Catholic holidays associated with Halloween, so it makes sense that it has its own spin on trick-or-treating. November 5 marks the day of Guy Fawkes’s failed assassination attempt on King James as part of the Gunpowder Plot. To celebrate the occasion, children will tour the neighborhood asking for "a penny for the guy." Sometimes they’ll carry pictures of the would-be-assassin which are burned in the bonfires lit later at night.

6. TRICKS FOR TREATS // ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI

Kids knocking on a door in costume.
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If kids in the St. Louis area hope to go home with a full bag of candy on Halloween, they must be willing to tickle some funny bones. Saying "tricks-for-treats" followed by a joke replaces the classic trick-or-treat mantra in this Midwestern city. There’s no criteria for the quality or the subject of the joke, but spooky material (What’s a skeleton’s favorite instrument? The trombone!) earns brownie points.

7. ME DA PARA MI CALAVERITA // MEXICO

Sugar skulls with decoration.
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While Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is completely separate from Halloween, the two holidays share a few things in common. Mexicans celebrate the day by dressing up, eating sweet treats, and in some parts of the country, going house-to-house. Children knocking on doors will say "me da para mi calaverita" or "give me money for my little skull," a reference to the decorated sugar skulls sold in markets at this time of year.

8. HALLOWEEN! // QUEBEC, CANADA

Kids dressed up for Halloween.
iStock

Trick-or-treaters like to keep things simple in the Canadian province of Quebec. In place of the alliterative exclamation, they shout “Halloween!” at each home they visit. Adults local to the area might remember saying "la charité s’il-vous-plaît "(French for “charity, please”) when going door-to-door on Halloween, but this saying has largely fallen out of fashion.

9. SWEET OR SOUR // GERMANY

Little girl trick-or-treating.
iStock

Halloween is only just beginning to gain popularity in Germany. Where it is celebrated, the holiday looks a lot like it does in America, but Germans have managed to inject some local character into their version of trick-or-treat. In exchange for candy, kids sometimes sing out "süß oder saures"—or "sweet and sour" in English.

10. TRIQUI, TRIQUI HALLOWEEN // COLOMBIA

Kids dressed up for Halloween.
Rubí Flórez, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Kids in Colombia anticipate dressing up and prowling the streets on Halloween just as much as kids do in the States. There are a few significant variations on the annual tradition: Instead of visiting private residencies, they're more likely to ask for candy from store owners and the security guards of apartment buildings. And instead of saying trick-or-treat, they recite this Spanish rhyme:

Triqui triqui Halloween
Quiero dulces para mí
Si no hay dulces para mí
Se le crece la naríz

In short, it means that if the grownups don't give the kids the candy they're asking for, their noses will grow. Tricky, tricky indeed

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11 Thrilling Facts About Dial M for Murder
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In 1953 Alfred Hitchcock was looking for a new project after a film he’d been developing fell through. Sensing a need to go back to his safe space of murderous thrillers, he opted to adapt a stage play that had already proved to be a hit on British television. Though he had no particular attachment to the project, Dial M for Murder would ultimately become one of Hitchcock’s best-known—and best-loved—classics.

From the film’s use of 3D to the debut of Grace Kelly in Hitchcock’s filmography to a pivotal murder sequence that made the director lose weight from stress, here are 11 facts about Dial M for Murder.

1. IT’S BASED ON A STAGE PLAY.

Dial M for Murder is, in terms of locations and number of characters, a relatively sparse film that barely leaves its primary set. This is because it was based on a stage play by Frederick Knott, which premiered as a BBC TV special in 1952 and later opened at London’s Westminster Theater and, eventually, Broadway. After seeing the BBC production, producer Sir Alexander Korda purchased the rights to make the film version, and later sold them to Warner Bros. for $75,000.

2. ALFRED HITCHCOCK THOUGHT HE WAS “COASTING” WHEN HE MADE THE FILM.

By 1953, when Dial M for Murder arrived at Warner Bros., Hitchcock was developing a project called The Bramble Bush, the story of a man who steals another man’s passport, only to find out that the original owner is wanted for murder. Hitchcock wrestled with the story for a while, but was never satisfied with it. When Dial M for Murder landed at the studio, Hitchcock knew the play had been a hit, and opted to direct it. As he later told fellow director François Truffaut, he found the film to be “coasting, playing it safe,” as he was already known as a thriller filmmaker.

3. IT’S HITCHCOCK’S ONLY 3D FILM.

In the early 1950s, the 3D movie craze was raging, and Warner Bros. was eager to pair it with the fame of Hitchcock. So, the director was ordered to use the process on Dial M for Murder. This meant Hitchcock had to work with the giant cameras necessary for the process, but there was also a trade-off that makes the film fascinating—even in 2D. In order to make the film look appropriately interesting in 3D, Hitchcock added a pit into the floor of the set, so the camera could move at lower angles and captures objects like lamps in the foreground. As a result, the film looks like no other Hitchcock ever shot, particularly for the infamous scissors murder that’s the film's thrilling centerpiece. Unfortunately, by the time Dial M for Murder was released in 1954, the 3D fad was dying out, so the film was shown in 2D at most screenings.

4. IT WAS HITCHCOCK’S FIRST FILM WITH GRACE KELLY.

Of all of the iconic blonde stars Hitchcock cast in his films, the most famous is almost undoubtedly Grace Kelly, the actress-turned-princess who first joined him for this film. Hitchcock once described Kelly as a "rare thing in movies ... fit for any leading-lady part,” and it was said he had the easiest working relationship with her of any star. They worked so well together that they went on to make two more films, Rear Window in 1954 and To Catch a Thief in 1955.

5. IT TAKES PLACE ALMOST ENTIRELY INDOORS.

Because Dial M for Murder is based on a stage play, the original script had very little in the way of outdoor set pieces. Hitchcock wanted to keep it that way, as he later explained to Truffaut:

“I’ve got a theory on the way they make pictures based on stage plays; they did it with silent pictures, too. Many filmmakers would take a stage play and say, ‘I’m going to make this into a film.’ Then they would begin to ‘open it up.’ In other words, on the stage it was all confined to one set, and the idea was to do something that would take it away from the confined stage setting.”

Hitchcock wanted to keep the confinement intact, so almost all of the action in the film takes place indoors, largely in the Wendices' apartment. This adds to the intimacy and tension.

6. HITCHCOCK PERSONALLY CHOSE EVERY PROP.

Hitchcock was always known as a meticulous director obsessed with detail, but on Dial M for Murder he was particularly detail-oriented, in part because the 3D cameras were going to capture objects in a way his other films hadn’t. As a result, he selected all of the objects in the Wendice apartment himself, and even had a giant false telephone dial made for the famous “M” close-up in the title sequence.

7. KELLY’S WARDROBE GROWS DARKER ON PURPOSE.

Grace Kelly in 'Dial M for Murder' (1954)
Warner Home Video

Hitchcock’s exacting eye also led to an elaborate “color experiment” to portray the psychological condition of Kelly’s character. As the film begins, the colors she wears are all very bright, suggesting a happy life in which she doesn’t suspect anything is wrong. As the film grows darker for her, to the point that she’s framed for murder, the wardrobe grows darker and “more somber,” as Hitchcock put it.

8. KELLY WON A PARTICULAR WARDROBE ARGUMENT.

For the scene in which Swann (Anthony Dawson) attempts to murder Margot (Kelly) by strangling her (until she manages to stab him with a pair of scissors), Hitchcock had another exacting wardrobe request. He had an elegant velvet robe made for Kelly, hoping to create interesting textural effects as the lights and shadows played off the fabric while she fought for her life. Kelly reasoned that, since Margot was alone in the apartment (as far as she knew) and was only getting out of bed to answer the phone, she wouldn’t bother to put on a robe.

“I said I wouldn't put on anything at all, that I'd just get up and go to the phone in my nightgown. And [Hitchcock] admitted that was better, and that's the way it was done,” Kelly later recalled.

9. HITCHCOCK WAS SO NERVOUS ABOUT THE PIVOTAL SCENE THAT HE LOST WEIGHT.

Dial M for Murder was shot in just 36 days, but the director took special care with one scene in particular: the murder sequence in which Margot stabs Swann with the scissors. Not only was it a key scene in the film, but it was also a moment that required particular care to make the 3D effects work. Hitchcock agonized over the scene to such a degree that he apparently lost 20 pounds during filming.

"This is nicely done but there wasn't enough gleam to the scissors, and a murder without gleaming scissors is like asparagus without the hollandaise sauce—tasteless,” he reportedly said after one take.

10. HITCHCOCK MAKES HIS CAMEO IN A PHOTOGRAPH.

Hitchcock became known throughout his career for making cameos in his films, ranging from the very subtle (you can see his silhouette in neon outside the window in Rope) to the more elaborate (missing the bus in the opening sequence of North by Northwest). In Dial M for Murder, his cameo falls somewhere in between. He appears in a class reunion photo in the Wendice apartment, seated at a banquet table among other men.

11. IT’S BEEN REMADE FOUR TIMES.

Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow in 'A Perfect Murder' (1998)
Warner Bros.

Dial M for Murder was a film adaptation of a stage play that had also already been adapted for television in Britain, and it proved popular enough that four more adaptations followed. In 1958, NBC broadcast a Hallmark Hall of Fame production, in which both Anthony Dawson and John Williams returned to play Swann and Chief Inspector Hubbard, respectively. A 1967 ABC television production of the play co-starred Laurence Harvey and Diane Cilento. A television movie starring Angie Dickinson and Christopher Plummer was produced in 1981, and in 1998 the play served as the inspiration for the film A Perfect Murder, starring Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow.

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