Flashback Friday: Goofs

“Mistakes are the inevitable lot of mankind.” — Sir George Jessel

Photo by Denise Jans on Unsplash

Last night I started watching A River Runs Through It, a film directed by Robert Redford based on a novella by Norman Maclean, who also co-wrote the screenplay. I’ve read the book several times, and seen the film a few times as well, albeit perhaps 10 or 20 years ago.

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Publicity still. A River Runs Through It.

Last night, though, I found myself questioning a couple details as they came up. For example, Norman, the storyteller, says he saw the great boxer John L. Sullivan fight while he was at Dartmouth College out East. For some reason I thought Sullivan fought around 1900, not 1920. (And when I checked just now, it was even earlier! Sullivan died in 1918.) A little after this there was a reference to Burma Shave, which I’d thought was a much later piece of Americana.

And when Paul does a Bogart imitation at the speakeasy, well, that is too much. I am watching a Bogart film tonight ( In a Lonely Place) and though it was shot in 1950 I remember when I was in college we saw Bogart’s first big screen film. (I just did a fact check, and yes he was in a small short film in 1928) but this scene in River Runs Through It was 1925, so I doubt he knew yer what Bogie sounded like since it was the silent film era..

All this is lead-in to the blog post I wrote 10 years ago this month called Goofs. In that instance I detailed the goof in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. Most films have them but I was surprised by the quantity of errata in this early Redford film. Here is a page itemizing what people have observed.

And here’s my original blog post from Thanksgiving weekend 2010.

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Painting by the author.


While watching movies I often like to read about the films in greater detail at Internet Movie Data Base is a great resource for getting background information about a film, or other viewers’ opinion before you check out a flick. In addition to reviews, you can select actors or actresses and review the span of their entire careers, including future projects they have signed on to.

One section that is fun is the trivia about each film. Another page highlights good lines and dialogue fragments. And in the event you are not a regular user of the site, there is still another section which I find interesting, titled Goofs.

While I was talking on the phone with my brother yesterday he said they were being attacked by a flock of birds while on the way to the theater. He was jesting, but said it felt like a scene from the movie by Alfred Hitchcock. Based on that trigger, I chose to use The Birds to give an example of the kinds of goofs for this film.

Revealing mistakes: When Melanie is climbing upstairs we see her shadow on the wall, even though the only light source is the flashlight she is using.

Continuity: Just before the gas station explosion, gas is shown running into the left rear tire of a red car. The next shot of that car, taken from a little farther back, shows gas running near the tail of the car but the area around the tire itself is completely dry.

Revealing mistakes: When the children are running from the school while being attacked, the birds attacking them cast no shadows.

Continuity: After the seagull attacks Melanie on the boat, her hair appears disarranged. The next shot shows her hair neatly arranged again.

Crew or equipment visible: When Melanie was driving her car to deliver the lovebirds, there’s a shot of the front of the car and the camera is reflected in the window.

These are just a few of the dozens of observations people have noted about this film.

If you go through the Hitchcock catalog you’ll see that the films are rife with goofs. But this is hardly a Hitchcock characteristic. Directors know that they must operate with seemingly countless variables while simultaneously making the story “work” and all within a fixed budget.

What prompted me to write about goofs today was, in part, seeing the quantity of goofs in Cameron Crowe’s films. As I investigated further, I discovered his films have neither more nor fewer errors of continuity than his peers. And as numerous as they were, I never noticed one of them in the three films I watched last week. Viewers only care that whatever happens makes sense in the context of the dream. It’s when characters themselves act out of character that we have real problems.

For what it’s worth.

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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