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┬áJohn 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.

Citizen Kane (Amazon Exclusive 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition + The Magnificent Ambersons on DVD) [Blu-ray]

33 Responses to “The Squid Stays in the Picture”

  1. Positively the same dame! Er, squid!

  2. Shoulda called this post: The Squid Stays in the Picture.” In fact, I’m changing it NOW. I’m like Ridley Scott, with my manic revisionism, aren’t I?

  3. Brilliant find David!

  4. I guess mainly what it demonstrates is that Republic were so cheap they were carving up their serials into stock footage while they were still playing in cinemas. That, and that Welles had a sense of humour, which we already knew.

  5. That fake squid looks like Chthulu, are the Old Ones to be blamed for Kane’s tragedy?

  6. It also highlights the relationship between KANE and F FOR FAKE which also makes inventive use of B-Movie footage.

    And also MacBeth, made at Republic with stock footage taken from Borzage’s MOONRISE. No other low-budget movie studio succeeded in getting big names and being so important in their careers.

  7. Excellent find! Every time I see Steve, I think of Bela Lugosi. The prevailing rumor is that the octopus in Bride of the Monster was from Republic Studios, but somewhere in my misspent past I heard that it was used not only in Wake of the Red Witch but Reap the Wild Wind. I never bothered to even check into that until now, but Wake was Republic and Reap was Paramount. The safe conclusion is that there were a vast variety of octopi sitting in storage by the time Ed Wood decided to liberate one.

    I love that the first thing you hear Kane say in the newsreel is “Don’t believe everything you hear on the radio.” Orson, you scamp!

  8. Heh!

    “Was Steve the octopus an elder God?” would be the title of my PHd if I wrote one.

    If the Bride of the Monster beast really did come from Republic then it’s a safe bet he’s Steve. I must take a look and check for distinguishing features. The fictional meeting between Welles and Ed Wood in the Tim Burton movie gets a step closer to fact!

  9. Jenny Eardley Says:

    Hayley Mills, John Mills – what’s the difference?!

  10. “. . .for octupi are oversexed!”

  11. David Boxwell Says:

    One of Steve’s big brothers, Mike (he was nicknamed “The Huge Sucker”), killed John Wayne in DeMille’s REAP THE WILD WIND (42). I always appreciated what Mike did . . .

  12. I think I was thinking of In Search of the Castaways, which stars Hayley but not John. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’d just combined the two films in my head.

    I’m curious to check out which other squid films Steve played in. I know he’s not the huge guy in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, unless they put him on growth hormones.

  13. Hm. Wonder if Steve was in The Man Who Came To Dinner.

  14. Mark Sullivan Says:

    Excellent detective work!

    This is the kind of post that makes me enjoy Shadowplay so much.

  15. Thanks! Although a follow-up post analysing which movies used the same fake octopus might not have the same cachet, I’m still determined to investigate further.

    I remember the octo arriving in his crate in The Man Who Came to Dinner, but don’t recall if we get a good look at him… further research is indicated.

  16. [...] “In Xanadu Did Fu Manchu”: Footnoting Citizen Kane’s Bestiary [...]

  17. A fake octopus AND a pteradacty? No wonder Kane is the greatest movie ever made. Seriously!

  18. You get originality points for not calling the octopus “Otto”.

  19. “Steve” just makes me smile. I think I was influenced by David Lynch’s Bee Board, a cork board with fifty or so dead bees pinned to it, each with a name tag. “This is Steve Bee,” Lynch explained.

    One-syllable words are quite often funny.

    That pteradactyl/bat/thing really doesn’t seem to come from Son of Kong, as usually stated, so there’s another mystery still to be solved…

  20. Steve reminds me a bit of the football-predicting cephalopod Paul, now sadly deceased. The prosaic names seem somehow much funnier than something more obviously connected to the beast in question. And of course there’s always Bruce the giant rubber shark.

  21. Yeah, Bruce is kind of the progenitor — named after Spielberg’s lawyer.

    He was built by the retired artisan who made the 20,000 Leagues giant squid, and I think it’s a shame they claimed Bruce didn’t work. The truth seems to be that he generally worked fine (although he never looked too convincing), and delays were caused by several prominent crewmembers acquiring girlfriends on location and not wanting the shoot to end…

  22. So we can conclude that your lawyer’s name is Steve?!

  23. I don’t have a lawyer at present, but if I get one, I’m going to name him Steve.

  24. I was just watching The Passing of the Third Floor Back a few moments ago, on your recommendation, and was delighted at the mention – sadly without visual underlining – of an “eight-handed octopus”.

  25. Wow, that’s a fascinating coincidence. Tentacles across the ocean.

  26. I”ve heard of threads before, but this is more like a …

    …(wait)…

    tentacle!

    …(wait)…

    rimshot!!

  27. Jenny Eardley Says:

    In a sane world, Hayley Mills would be in Swiss Family Robinson, either as the love interest or in an octopus costume for an underwater chase scene.

    Good sleuthing, by the way, you’re setting the bar very high for writers on cinema. I don’t think this will ever be matched.

  28. Another possible Steve appearance: Allan Dwan’s Pearl of the South Pacific (1955) — a Benedict Bogeaus Production distributed by RKO. Hot squid action!

  29. There’s a Road movie (Road to Bali?) where Bob Hope fights an octopus of the right general size and disposition — the outcome is heroically hedged via postmodern narrative intervention. I suspect that might well be Steve.

    I’m also wondering if the Kane pteradactyl/animated bat might be from a Republic picture now. If I could trace that even I’d be impressed.

  30. Randy Cook Says:

    Pterodactyl/bat nothing.

    I believe it’s cel animation, on twos, of a flamingoes or storks…as opposed to the O’Brien Kong birds, 3D and animated on wires , one frame at a time (of course, Kane birds may have been originally animated on ones and slowed down by double printing, but their silhouettes are distinctly non-prehistoric). I do not know who did that animation, though,

    Cannot attest whether the jungle was a Kong re-use or re-vamp, but it’s probaly painted by Mario Larrinaga who worked on both Kongs and on Kane (Jungle clearing establisher in Son of Kong has birds on wires, and no principals in shot, so may have been used for stock shots in some films but not here).

    Tents are in the shot, of course, also painted, I believe. I am going to screen the KANE blu ray tonight and if something else comes to light I’ll pipe up.

  31. Cool!

    I was just looking at Republic’s late 30s features, and they did have one or two Everglades epics. But whether they’d have gone to the trouble of animating birds at Republic seems doubtful. But then, animating background birds was scarcely standard practice on ANY live action movie.

  32. The birds have always looked animated to me, larger than real birds and with a slightly choppy frame rate. I am reasonably sure I’ve heard that they were animated, perhaps in the “Battle Over Citizen Kane” or another extra with the DVD set. Ebert in his commentary says he thinks they are pterodactyls, though, possibly from a Kong film.

  33. See Randy’s expert testimony above: you’re right about the frame rate, they move every two frames rather than every frame, unlike the creatures in Kong. Ebert is following a line that’s been repeated a lot, but the fact is no such footage appears in either Kong film.

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