There are tropes and plot twists that are eternal in movies, but there are other familiar devices that have somehow faded away.
When was the last time, for example, that you saw a character in a movie of recent vintage place a handkerchief over the mouthpiece of a phone to disguise his or her voice?
If you’re young enough and aren’t an avid movie buff, you may never have seen such a scene.
But as any fan of pictures from the Golden Age of Hollywood can attest, it’s a device that was used over and over, in thriller after film noir after mystery picture.
And yet, we’ve never heard anyone question the validity of this practice. Since we were just a kid, we scratched our head over it, but we have wondered if we were alone.
What mystical property could a pocket handkerchief possess that allows it to magically alter a voice until it is unrecognizeable?
For those who really don’t have a recollection of seeing such a scene, we’re offering a snippet of a nice 1953 film noir, The Blue Gardenia. In the picture, Anne Baxter is the subject of a police dragnet on suspicion of murder (though they’ve not yet identified who she is, exactly). In this scene, she calls a newspaper columnist (Richard Conte), who has made an offer via his column to help the “Blue Gardenia” (as the papers have dubbed the unidentified suspect) to tell her side of the story, to exonerate herself of the pending charges.
And when Baxter calls, she uses—you guessed it—a handkerchief to disguise her voice.
When we watched The Blue Gardenia recently (for what must have been our fifth or sixth viewing), we decided it was time to put the handkerchief method to the test, once and for all. And we’ve done just that below.
Without the handkerchief
With the handkerchief
The first audio file was recorded without a handkerchief. We simply spoke a few lines of dialogue (that you will likely recognize) directly into the phone as we always do when making a call. We have a VoiP line, not an old-fashioned land line, and our phone is a digital one, but we think neither of those factors is particularly important in undertaking this experiment.
The second audio file was recorded exactly the same way, only we placed a cotton men’s handkerchief over the mouthpiece of the phone. You can judge for yourself by listening to the two audio files, but for our money, we can’t hear a bit of difference.
All those old movies, all those handkerchief-over-the-mouthpiece scenes. All those lies!
This Cladrite Classic was first published on March 16, 2011.