I tend to think of picking out continuity errors in movies as a modern practice. It feels like the habit of nerdly-minded individuals who love knowing how movies are made, and love catching movie-makers in the process of getting something wrong. But in this classic piece, from My Ten Years In A Quandary And How They Grew, Robert Benchley teaches the uniformly unsettling rule of history: the ancients were not so different from us. Besides being a magnificent piece, this essay would lead to another wonderful follow-up.
One of the most popular pastimes among movie fans is picking out mistakes in the details of a picture. It is a good game, because it takes your mind off the picture.
For example (Fr. par example) in the picture called One Night Alone — for a Change, the Prince enters the door of the poolroom in the full regalia of an officer in the Hussars. As we pick him up coming in the door, in the next shot, he has on chaps and a sombrero. Somewhere on the threshold he must have changed. This is just sheer carelessness on the part of the director.
In We Need a New Title for This, we have seen Jim, when he came to the farm, fall in love with Elsie, although what Elsie does not know is that Jim is really a character from another picture. The old Squire, however, knows all about it and is holding it over Jim, threatening to expose him and have him sent back to the other picture, which is an independent, costing only a hundred thousand dollars.
Now, when Jim tells Elsie that he loves her (and, before this, we have already been told that Elsie has been in New York, working as secretary to a chorus girl who was just about to get the star’s part on the opening night) he says that he is a full-blooded Indian, because he knows that Elsie likes Indians. So far, so good.
But in a later sequence, when they strike oil in Elsie’s father (in a previous shot we have seen Elsie’s father and have learned that he has given an option on himself to a big oil company which is competing with the old Squire, but what the old Squire does not know is that his house is afire) and when Elsie comes to Jim to tell him that she can’t marry him, the clock in the sitting room says ten-thirty. When she leaves it says ten-twenty. That would make her interview minus ten minutes long.
In Throw Me Away! the street car conductor is seen haggling with the Morelli gang over the disposition of the body of Artie (“Muskrat”) Weeler. In the next shot we see Artie haggling with the street-car conductor over the disposition of the bodies of the Morelli gang. This is sloppy cutting.
In Dr. Tanner Can’t Eat there is a scene laid in Budapest. There is no such place as Budapest.
What the general public does not know is that these mistakes in detail come from the practice of “block-booking” in the moving picture industry. In “block-booking” a girl, known as the “script-girl,” holds the book of the picture and is supposed to check up, at the beginning of each “take”` (or “baby-broad”), to see that the actors are the same ones as those in the previous “take.”
The confusion comes when the “script-girl” goes out to lunch and goes back to the wrong “set.” Thus, we might have one scene in The Little Minister where everybody was dressed in the costumes of The Scarlet Empress, only The Little Minister and The Scarlet Empress were made on different “lots” and at different times.
It might happen, even at that.