A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California

Turtles In Movies

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Amphibians in Movies
Snakes in Movies
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Spoiler Alert !

Some of these pictures and descriptions may give away plot details that you might not want to know before watching a film.
Links lead to the IMDB page for each film where you can get information about the director and actors etc.
Bye Bye Birdie - 1963
Bye Bye Birdie Bye Bye Birdie Bye Bye Birdie
Bye Bye Birdie Bye Bye Birdie
Bye Bye Birdie Bye Bye Birdie
Bye Bye Birdie Bye Bye Birdie Bye Bye Birdie
This musical comedy is all about the young and beautiful Ann-Margret. It made her a huge star, with the help of her opening and closing treadmill performance of the title song. But I get to feature a less charasmatic actor here - Swifty the Tortoise.

The main character of the film, played by Dick Van Dyke, is a failed songwriter who was trained as a biochemist and is staying at the house of Ann-Margret's family in Ohio which includes a ten year old boy who keeps a pet tortoise and plays with a chemistry set. Van Dyke has developed a secret formula that increases the work output of domestic animals including increasing the egg production of chickens called "speed up." He needs to impress Ann-Margret's father so he grabs some of the boy's chemicals and quickly makes a pill of his formula that he shoves into the tortoise's mouth as an experiment to see what will happen. We hear a gulp when the tortoise swallows. After a few minutes and a song about Ed Sullivan, the tortoise's eyes roll wildly and it jumps off the table and races across the house and out the front door, about a hundred times faster than a normal tortoise. Later we see it race across the backyard grass, fly into an artificial pond, quickly swim to the other side and explode out of the water. I'm not sure how they did it but the fast-moving tortoise effects are very well done. They might have been done with fast-motion photography and some kind of artificial tortoise.

The tortoise is a live Desert Tortoise whose shell was painted with a yellow star-like pattern similar to a Star Tortoise. They also painted yellow on its face and legs. The entire movie was an explostion of bright colors so a plain brown Desert Tortoise probably would have looked too dull in context, but I can't imagine that painting it was healthy for it. There are some publicity photos of Ann-Margret "walking" the tortoise, which they say is named Swifty. There's an umbrella glued to its shell, supposedly because it was so hot at the studio. If that was true, the tortoise would have suffered a lot from the heat and hot pavement. They burrow deep underground in the heat of summer to keep from overheating. One online commenter says that the tortoise needed the shade because Ann-Margret was too hot. That interpretation makes more sense.
The Missing - 2003
The Missing The Missing The Missing
A man, his daughter, and his granddaughter and his two Indian friends are chasing some US Army deserters who have kidnapped young women to sell as slaves in Mexico. They stop at an abandoned adobe structure somewhere in New Mexico. The little girl sees a tortoise, picks it up, then sets it down. That's it. It's just a tortoise cameo. There are no tortoises native to New Mexico where this was filmed, so it's an import. The film shows other animals, owls, raptors, and snakes, that are used either in Indian witchcraft or are shown as part of the Native American view of the world where animals are guides of some kind, so maybe the tortoise was meant in the same light. We never get an explanation for it.
Lonesome Dove- 1989 TV Miniseries
Lonesome Dove Lonesome Dove  
At one point in this nine hour adaptation of Larry McMurtry's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, we see a woman, Lorena Wood, played by Diane Lane, bathing in a stream. Next to her is a rock in the middle of the stream with a tortoise on it (probably a Texas tortoise since it was filmed in Texas and New Mexico.) Her befuddled boyfriend (sick with fever from an infection caused by a mesquite thorn, and probably drunk, also) starts shooting at the tortoise but misses. Eventually it is very obviously dragged into the water by someone pulling an invisible string tied somewhere to the tortoise, because no tortoise can just suddenly slide into the water as fast as it does. I don't know if this scene is in the novel or if it was invented for the movie, but it's obviously an attempt to introduce a little humor and something sexier than looking at Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Duvall and watching herds of cattle crossing rivers. Lane's exit from the stream wearing little more than a large wet t-shirt is as close to a nude scene as you can get on network TV. Oops, I forgot to get a screen shot of that for you. My bad.
The Rum Diary - 2011
The Rum Diary The Rum Diary  
With Johnny Depp and Amber Heard and based on a Hunter Thompson novel, how could this film be so mundane?
A pet tortoise named "Harry" with jewels glued all over his shell roams around Aaron Eckhardt's fancy beach house in Puerto Rico. Eckhardt said he got the idea from a book. I don't know what book he's talking about, but I hope this doesn't catch on with turtle enthusiasts.
Cool Hand Luke - 1967
Cool Hand Luke Cool Hand Luke Cool Hand Luke
Paul Newman is Luke, part of a prison road gang cutting roadside weeds somewhere in the South. The head guard shoots a snapping turtle in a river with a rifle. Newman is sent to fetch it to cut it up for lunch. He uses a stick to pull it out by it's jaws. He says "Hey hey here he is boss, deader than hell but won't let go. Newman takes it to the truck, throws it in, then takes the opportunity to drive away in the truck to make his escape.
Male and Female - 1919
Male and Female Male and Female Male and Female
In a comic moment from this great Cecil B. DeMille silent movie, Theodore Roberts is a pompous aristocrat, Lord Loam, whose yacht sinks, stranding everyone on a deserted island somewhere in the south seas. After he lands on shore he wants to lie down to rest. He sees something he can rest his head on, so he lays down on it, then he discovers that it has a flipper and is in fact a sea turtle. He gets up and his glaring expression shows that he is disgusted with the turtle, which is the sort of self-centered reaction we expect from him. (You have to do a lot of interpreting of expressions in these old silent films because they use so few words.) It's hard to say what kind of turtle this is or if it is a native or an import.
The Wind Will Carry Us  - 1999
Male and Female Male and Female Male and Female
A man we know only as "the engineer" is staying in a small primitive villiage somewhere in Iran waiting waiting for an old woman to die so he can film the funeral ceremony. There is no cell phone reception in the village so he has to drive from the village up to a cemetary on a nearby hilltop to use his phone. We see him drive up again and again. On one of his visits there he becomes frustrated talking to his boss who has become impatient that he has been in the village over 2 weeks. He sees a tortoise crawling over a large cement grave marker and kicks it to turn it over on to its back. It rolls back onto its feet, so he kicks it again and leaves it. After he drives away we see the tortoise struggle and eventually right itself and crawl away. This act of emotion, of violence, comes as a shock to the viewer who has watched the film for over an hour with nothing even remotely this dramatic happening. Some viewers would say nothing ever happens in this very slowly paced film, but Iranian films of this era tend to be very subtle partly due to their low budgets and the heavy censorship of films by the Iranian government.

I don't know what kind of tortise is used. There are two tortoises native to Iran - Horsfield's Tortoise - Testudo horsfieldii, and Spur-thighed Tortoise - Tesdudo graeca, so it is most likely one of these.
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring - 2003
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring  
At the end of this remarkably beautiful Korean film, a young boy has been brought to live on a temple that floats in a Korean lake and train as a monk. The main story is about a different young boy at the temple who abused some small animals, causing him to carry a burden in his heart for the rest of his life. The new boy finds a turtle crawling on the deck, picks it up, and torments it as young boys do. Some things just never change.
Papillon - 1973
Papillon Papillon  
Steve McQueen escapes a penal colony in French Guyana and loads a boat with provisions. He puts a wooden cage full of small sea turtles on the boat, presumably as a food source for the sea voyage.
Fair Game - 1988
Fair Game Fair Game Fair Game
An evil electronics expert and video game programmer is so upset that his hot ex-girlfriend moved out on him (the actress, Trudie Styler, married Sting a couple years later) that he decides to kill her by locking her inside her apartment with a Black Mamba. You can see more about this on one of my snakes in movies pages. She has some pet tortoises in her ridiculously large cool studio somewhere in an isolated neighborhood of L.A. I don't know what kind they are, because I'm terrible at tortoise identification.
Rango - 2011
Rango Rango  
Rango is a pet chameleon who gets lost in the desert and becomes sherriff of a small town. The Mayor of the town is a desert tortoise in a wheel chair who is cheating and robbing the townfolk.
Frogs - 1972
Frogs Frogs Frogs
Nature has really run amock in this super cheesy environmental horror story where rich people are polluting the Florida wilderness and the animals are fighting back, mostly toads and snakes, with a few lizards also, and at least one Alligator Snapping Turtle. We see the turtle in the water and on the head of a human corpse covered with crabs in a laughable attempt to make it look like a monster.
Leolo - 1993 The Night of the Hunter - 1955  
Leolo Night of the Hunter  
Leo Lauzon is a young boy with a "bug collection" with jars full of bugs and animals in a small basement below his house that is lit with candles. His mentally unbalanced sister Rita is calmed by being near the bugs so she stays there as their guardian. Along with close-ups of some newts and a snake, we see some kind of map turtle in his collection. Robert Mitchum plays a religious fanatic murderer and con man who is chasing a young boy and girl. We see the children slowly floating downstream in a boat at night on a dark black river when they pass several animals, including a tortoise that is walking near the shore. The boy, who must be hungry says "They make soup out of them. But I wouldn't know how to get them open."  

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