Can You Hear Me Now?

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.

The Noir Stylings of Mr. Jack Delano

We don’t often share Shorpy photos because, well, they’ve got a huge online presence in their own right, so we figure plenty of you already see the images they share without us riding on their coattails.

But we couldn’t resist sharing this one. Though it was shot on the street, it looks like a still from a classic film noir that we’ve somehow not yet seen (though we’d happily line up to buy a ticket, if we could).

Here’s the info: December 1942. “Chicago, Illinois. An unusually heavy fog in the early afternoon.” Photo by Jack Delano for the Office of War Information.

Nice going, Mr. Delano. Nice going, indeed.

December 1942. 'Chicago, Illinois. An unusually heavy fog in the early afternoon.' Photo by Jack Delano for the Office of War Information.

Goodbye to Another Glorious Gal: Dorothy Malone

We were sorry to learn that Dorothy Malone had died, just days short of her 93rd birthday. She enjoyed a long career in motion pictures and television, mostly playing bad girls, but to us, she’ll always be the most memorable bookstore employee in the history of the movies, and if you doubt us on this, just watch this scene with Humphrey Bogart from The Big Sleep (1946).

Goodbye to Another Glorious Gal: Peggy Cummins

We were sorry to learn Welsh-born stage and film actress Peggy Cummins died at age 92 on Friday, December 29, 2017, in London. She began as a child star and worked in the United States for only a few years, but if she’d played no other role than the sharp-shooting, bank-robbing femme fatale Annie Laurie Starr in Joseph H. Lewis’ Gun Crazy (1950), she’d have made an indelible mark.

As noir expert Eddie Muller said of Cummins in introducing the film on Turner Classic Movies in July 2017, “Peggy’s performance, her Hollywood swan song, would galvanize the Gun Crazy production and earn her lasting fame as the tiniest, but most ferocious, femme fatale in the history of film noir.”

Peggy Cummins

The Drive-in That Ate the San Fernando Valley

Crime of Passion movie poster
Recently we watched (for the third or fourth time) Barbara Stanwyck‘s final picture that might be considered film noir: Crime of Passion (1957).

In it, she plays a columnist for a San Francisco newspaper who rather impulsively gives up her career to marry a Los Angeles police detective (Sterling Hayden). She moves into his home, which is situated, as a passage of dialogue reveals, in the San Fernando Valley.

In two or three brief scenes set outside the newlyweds’ home, we see in the background the hulking screen of a drive-in theatre towering over the neighborhood. So prominent is this screen tower that it seems almost ominous.

Each time we’ve watch this picture, we’ve been struck by this choice on the part of the filmmakers because not a word is said about the screen. No one refers to it in any way. But it’s such an imposing element in those exterior shots that we can’t help but wonder why director Gerd Oswald didn’t shoot from the other direction, so that the screen tower didn’t appear.

Mind you, we’re glad he didn’t—as a drive-in aficionado, we enjoy seeing the screen in the background when we watch the movie—but it’s undeniably a distraction.

It does speak, we think, to how relatively ubiquitous drive-in theatres once were that Oswald didn’t balk at including that huge screen in the scenes in which it appears. Who knows, it may be that someone viewing the film in 1957 wouldn’t have even given it a second thought.