A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California

Turtles In Movies

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Snakes in Movies
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Turtles in Movies
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Bye Bye Birdie  (1963)
Spoiler Alert !

Some of these pictures and descriptions may give away plot details that you might not want to know before watching the film.
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.

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