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14 Unusual Facts About The Usual Suspects

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Before he directed X-Men, Bryan Singer made a name for himself with a movie about a different batch of heroes, with a different set of super powers. The Usual Suspects premiered at Sundance in 1995, played Cannes in May, and hit theaters exactly 20 years ago today, entertaining almost everyone (though Roger Ebert famously disliked it) with its twisty, humorous criminal caper. You already know who Keyser Söze is, but here are 14 things you might not have known about the film. 

1. KEYSER SÖZE WAS NAMED AFTER A LAWYER. 

Screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie once worked for a lawyer named Keyser Sume (pronounced Sue-may), whom he told: “You’ve got a great name. You’re going to be the villain in a script some day.” When it came time to write The Usual Suspects, McQuarrie figured that, for legal reasons, he’d better not use the exact name, and so he replaced it with part of the Turkish expression “söze boğmak,” which means “talk too much” (literally, “drown in/with words”). Considering that the movie also has a character nicknamed Verbal because he “talks too much,” Turkish audiences might not have been as surprised by the movie’s ending as other viewers were.

2. KEVIN SPACEY ASKED TO BE IN THE MOVIE BEFORE HE EVEN KNEW WHAT IT WOULD BE. 

The actor met Bryan Singer at a screening of the director's first feature, Public Access, which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 1993. Spacey liked the movie so much that he told Singer he wanted to be in whatever he made next. “I took that as an assignment,” Singer told Charlie Rose. “Because I worship this man as an actor.”

3. MCQUARRIE THOUGHT UP THE TITLE AND POSTER IMAGE BEFORE HE CAME UP WITH THE STORY.

The satirical news and entertainment magazine Spy had a regular feature called “The Usual Suspects” (taken from a line in Casablanca), which McQuarrie thought would make a good movie title. What would it be about? Well, the usual suspects—a bunch of guys in a police lineup. It practically writes itself!

4. KEVIN SPACEY READ THE SCRIPT NOT KNOWING WHICH PART HE WAS SUPPOSED TO PLAY.

He liked the characters of Keaton and Dave Kujan, which eventually went to Gabriel Byrne and Chazz Palminteri, respectively. But Spacey was most drawn to Verbal Kint who, as it happened, was the part Singer and McQuarrie wanted him for anyway. In fact, McQuarrie later said he wrote the part specifically with Spacey in mind, “because he was lesser known at the time. I wanted the audience to dismiss him as a minor character.” 

5. AL PACINO TURNED DOWN THE ROLE OF DAVE KUJAN TO PLAY A COP IN A DIFFERENT MOVIE.

That would be Heat, which famously paired him onscreen with Robert De Niro for the first time. Pacino didn’t want to play a cop twice in the same year, so he opted for the more prestigious, Michael Mann-directed project.

6. THE DIRECTOR SAW THE FILM AS A PARALLEL TO THE WIZARD OF OZ.

Singer explained his theory in one of the DVD's making-of featurettes: New York is Kansas, where normal daily life happens; Los Angeles is Oz, where there’s a variety of adventures and colorful characters, including Kobayashi: “Is he the man, or is he the man behind the curtain?” Both stories also have endings that cast doubt on the reality of what the audience just saw. 

7. THE FILMMAKERS WANTED HARRY DEAN STANTON, NOT BENICIO DEL TORO. 

That’s quite a different direction for the character of Fenster, who in the film is known for his nearly incomprehensible manner of speech and not much else. Singer had an older actor in mind, someone like Stanton (whom he mentioned specifically), to give the partnership of Fenster and McManus an old guy/young guy dynamic. But on the page, the role didn’t have much personality to it, and Singer couldn’t seem to find an actor who fit. It was Spacey who suggested Del Toro.

8. FENSTER’S UNIQUE DIALECT WAS ALL BENICIO DEL TORO’S IDEA. 

As Del Toro explained it on Inside the Actors Studio, his character’s only real purpose in the story was to die. So to liven things up, Del Toro tried delivering Fenster’s lines the way the audience hears them in the film—very quickly, and with a thick, indiscernible accent. Nobody on the set could understand him. Singer later recalled, “At first I thought it was a joke, but I didn’t want to offend him if it wasn’t a joke.” Once he determined that Del Toro was doing it on purpose, as a conscious character choice, Singer embraced it. He gave Kevin Pollak a line (“What did you say?”) to let audiences know that the movie knew that Fenster was hard to understand. 

9. GABRIEL BYRNE TRIED TO DROP OUT JUST BEFORE FILMING BEGAN. 

The actor was dealing with some personal issues that made him reluctant to make the film (or any film) at the time. His agent, attributing it to cold feet, asked if he was sure. He said he was. She asked what it would take for him to do the film. He said, “If they shot it in Los Angeles, where I live, and it took no longer than five weeks, I’ll do it.” Singer and company readily agreed to those terms; it wasn’t until later that Byrne realized shooting for five weeks in Los Angeles was what they had planned anyway. (Yep, even the scenes set in New York were shot in L.A.) 

10. THE LINEUP SCENE WAS SUPPOSED TO BE SERIOUS, BUT BENICIO DEL TORO KEPT FARTING. 

Though the script didn’t play that scene for laughs, the actors were in a silly mood the day of the shoot and kept screwing around with the lines, cracking each other up. On the special edition DVD, Del Toro gave an additional reason for the hilarity: “All I remember is that someone farted … and no one knew who the guilty party was.” Kevin Pollak remembers it differently: “Del Toro farted like 12 takes in a row.” Frustrated, Singer chewed them out during the lunch break, which only made it harder for the actors to keep straight faces when they got back to work. Singer finally embraced the tone and used the scene to establish camaraderie among the characters, making it work to his (and the film’s) advantage. 

11. THE ENTIRE INTERROGATION SCENE, BITS OF WHICH ARE SPRINKLED THROUGHOUT THE MOVIE, WAS SHOT BEFORE EVERYTHING ELSE. 

Singer and the cast spent five days filming that sequence. Without all the flashbacks interspersed, it felt like a two-person play between Spacey and Palminteri. 

12. THE FILM’S EDITOR IS ALSO ITS COMPOSER.

Writer/directors are common. Even director/cinematographers aren’t unusual. But a composer/editor? John Ottman has been successful at both halves of that combination, largely thanks to Bryan Singer. The two met while working on someone else’s student film at USC, and Singer later asked him to edit his feature debut, Public Access. When that film lost its composer at the last minute, Ottman—who had been dabbling in music on the side—pitched himself for double-duty. The result was such that Singer wanted Ottman to do both jobs on his next film, too, which Ottman agreed to through “mutual blackmail.” “On The Usual Suspects, [Singer] says, ‘You’re not gonna score this movie unless you edit it,’” Ottman explained. “And I said, ‘Well, I’m not gonna edit it unless I score it.’” Except for the first X-Men, Ottman has been the composer/editor on all of Singer's movies.

13. IT WON EVERY OSCAR FOR WHICH IT WAS NOMINATED.

All two of them: Best Supporting Actor for Kevin Spacey, and Best Original Screenplay for Christopher McQuarrie. Spacey has since been nominated for another Oscar (Best Actor for 1999’s American Beauty), which he also won, so he’s batting 1.000. (So is McQuarrie, who has only been nominated that one time.) No losers in this crowd!

14. IT SUCCEEDS AT SURPRISING (MOST) VIEWERS BY MAKING THEM ASK THE WRONG QUESTION.

McQuarrie explained that instead of making audiences wonder “Who is Keyser Söze?,” the movie is set up so that the central question becomes “Is Keaton dead or alive?” Thus, misdirected, viewers are caught off-guard when the Keyser Söze question is answered. Of course, the marketing for the movie—which did emphasize the question “Who is Keyser Söze?”—might have undermined that a little.

Additional Sources:
Special Edition DVD features

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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.
iStock

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.
iStock

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.
iStock

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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