The Squid Stays in the Picture
After a conversation with ace animator and effects artist Randy Cook, I got intrigued about the CITIZEN KANE octopus. You see, I hadn’t even realized it was fake, which makes its inclusion in a newsreel hilarious –
Wait, what? OK, let’s backtrack. In the CITIZEN KANE News on the March fake newsreel sequence, as William Alland narrates “the FISH of the SEA, the FOWL of the AIR” in that booming manner of his, we briefly cut to a rubber cephalopod mollusc bouncing towards us on concealed wires. And I got intrigued.
I first started looking into the stock music in KANE after being startled to hear the News on the March theme played in NURSE EDITH CAVELL, but then I discovered that enterprising researchers had traced all the music used in that sequence. But I’m not aware of anybody having traced the stock footage (I could well be wrong, though). The octopus, who I’m going to call Steve, seemed a particularly interesting example, since he’s clearly not from a piece of news footage. Somewhere out there, I knew, must be a movie in which Steve gave his original performance.
My research wasn’t insanely extensive, but I did look at the list of RKO movies made between the late 1930s and 1941. A few titles looked promising, but as the films were often unavailable, I couldn’t be sure. THE SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON (1940), which Welles provided opening narration for, sounded like the sort of thing which, in Hollywood’s hands, might be persuaded to incorporate a rapacious sea beast, but when I eventually got a copy of the long-unavailable flick (I suspect Disney suppressed it to make room for their later
Hayley John Mills version), there wasn’t a sucker in sight, unless you count Freddie Bartholomew.
It was sheer chance that I came upon the Republic serial DRUMS OF FU MANCHU (1940), reading a review which praised the octopus-fight as a highlight. The date was promising, and a movie that definitely contained a wriggling sea creature had to be at least as likely as SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON which didn’t have any at all, so I acquired a copy and was delighted to see Steve in all his eight-limbed glory, gamely wrestling with one of the nefarious oriental doctor’s enemies.
“Thrash around, make it look like he’s killin’ ya.”
Alas, I’ve been unable to trace Steve’s movements after KANE. Presumably he hung out in the RKO scene dock with the other fake sealife. Was he abducted and used by Ed Wood in BRIDE OF THE MONSTER? I can’t be sure. I know that roles were few and far between. Effectively typecast as a cephalopod, Steve received no offers from the new generation of American filmmakers: Scorsese, Coppola and Bogdanovich had no use for his talents. And his moral scruples prevented him from accepting work in Japanese pornography. I fear that when his longterm contract finally ended, Steve probably wound up all washed up, drinking like a fish, on squid row.
In case anybody’s confused, bad jokes aside, there IS a fake octopus in the News on the March sequence of KANE, and it does come from DRUMS OF FU MANCHU, and nobody else seems to have traced this. I call dibs.