Props might be the most underappreciated aspect of the movies. They fill the screen in almost every movie. They are an essential aspect of art direction, an aspect of film that I care deeply about. And yet individual props rarely get the attention they often deserve. How important is Indiana Jones’s hat to our memories of him? And what became of the puppets that played ET and Yoda?
I recently got an interesting email from a representative of the auction site Invaluable.com. They have sold some very cool movie props in recent years on their collectibles page, and are surveying movie bloggers to see which specific props they love the most. It’s an interesting question: what is my favorite film prop?
A few obvious choices came to mind immediately. If it was simply what I’d like to own as part of a collection, well there are many contenders. I’d take any of the lightsabers from Star Wars in a heartbeat, for example. Charles Foster Kane’s Rosebud. The Maltese Falcon. These would all be incredibly fun to have. But as I thought about it, I realized that that line of thought made it less about the props themselves than the films they are in. It’s a subtle but important distinction. These aren’t props I have unique a personal attachment to, I’d want them because they are part of movie history. My favorite prop would almost certainly come from a film I love, but I’d have to have some sort of sentiment for it beyond that. If I owned it, I’d want to be able to say more about it than “this is from a movie I love”.
And with that, two props came to mind.
Inigo Montoya’s sword
I have written before of my love for The Princess Bride. It is, to me, a perfectly balanced comedy-adventure, a film with a wicked sense of humor to balance its deep well of sentimentality. And Inigo Montoya is an essential part of how good it is. Mandy Patinkin’s performance would slip right into an Errol Flynn swashbuckler. And his sword plays a major part in his film. A conversation between Westley and Inigo about its craftsmanship reveals its backstory, and in turn Inigo’s tragic backstory. It’s rare for a prop to be such a catalyst for the most interesting story in a classic film. This isn’t just a weapon from a movie; it’s a physical piece of storytelling.
The giant, bloody curtain from The Fall
Tarsem’s The Fall is one of the most stunning visual creations the movies have produced. And the image I remember the most from the movie is one of its most showboating, a shot of a massive white sheet in the middle of a desert, partially soaked in blood. It’s a gorgeous image in its own right, and it unapologetically calls attention to itself. This is not a special effect. This is a real, honest to god thing we built for this movie. Props are almost never this audacious and beautiful.