The upcoming movie “X-Men: First Class” continues the popular superhero franchise by showing audiences the first time charismatic psychic Charles Xavier gathered misunderstood mutants into a team of super-powered adventurers.
Set in the early ’60s, the picture goes a step further than the usual fantasy flick by suggesting that its characters played a previously unknown role in a major historical event.
According to the movie’s trailer, the X-Men intervened in the Cuban Missile Crisis, one of the most harrowing moments of the Cold War. Who knew that instead of diplomacy and the wise counsel of his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, what President John F. Kennedy really needed to resolve the crisis was a gaggle of mutants in matching superhero costumes?
But it turns out the X-Men’s involvement in a real-life nightmare isn’t the only gap in history that filmmakers have courteously filled. Here are a few more things you never knew about because they never happened. Or did they? After all, Charles Xavier, better known as Professor X, has the ability to erase people’s memories . . .
H.G. Wells and Jack the Ripper Were Buddies
In the fanciful 1979 thriller “Time After Time,” science-fiction novelist H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) makes the gruesome discovery that a member of his Victorian-era social circle is actually Jack the Ripper, one of history’s most notorious serial killers.
Even worse, Jack (David Warner) just escaped capture by stealing the time machine that H.G. built in the basement of his London flat.
So in short order, H.G. activates the machine (which conveniently returned to the Victorian era when Jack was done trekking through the decades), then chases Jack into the future for an exciting showdown in 1979 San Francisco. In other words, the most unbelievable element of the picture isn’t the premise or even the presence of time travel, but rather the idea that a writer could ever be an action hero.
The Guy in “Nosferatu” Really Was a Nosferatu
Loosely (and illegally) based on Bram Stoker’s deathless novel “Dracula,” the 1922 horror film “Nosferatu” is one of the most influential motion pictures of the silent era, a masterpiece of macabre mood created by the innovative director F.W. Murnau. But, according to a cinematic rewrite of history, the reason for the film’s otherworldly power over audiences has nothing to do with cinematic artistry.
E. Elias Merhige’s fun homage “Shadow of the Vampire” (2000) proposes that the wonderfully named German actor who starred in “Nosferatu,” the one and only “Max Schrek” (his last name is German for “scream”), was actually a vampire who used his supernatural powers to guide Murnau’s hand. In the actor/director dynamic, aren’t directors supposed to be the manipulative ones?
The Link Between Puppy Love and Watergate
Loyalists of disgraced U.S. President Richard M. Nixon have spent the years since Nixon’s death burnishing his legacy, trying to erase the shadow of the Watergate conspiracy that ended his presidency. He wasn’t a bad guy, Nixon defenders argue; he’s just misunderstood.
Well, apparently one of the people who really understood Nixon was the lovestruck teenager who worked part-time as the First Dog Walker, escorting Checkers around the grounds of the White House. Or at least that’s the story of “Dick” (1999), a charming comedy set during the apex of the Watergate crisis.
The movie’s funniest contrivance is its explanation of the infamous 18-and-a-half-minute gap on one of the secret recordings that Nixon made of conversations in the Oval Office. According to “Dick,” the reason for an erasure on the tape wasn’t Nixon’s attempt to conceal incriminating words. Instead, the missing minutes contained a puppy-love message to Nixon from his young admirer, Betsy (Kirsten Dunst), who quickly erased the tape out of embarrassment.
Why Woodward and Bernstein left this episode out of “All the President’s Men” is a mystery.
Turns Out Hitler Paid Dearly for Digging Movies
History tells us that Adolph Hitler died ignominiously, taking his own life in a fortified bunker when it was clear that the Third Reich had fallen at the end of World War II in the European theater. But according to Quentin Tarantino, Hitler instead died ingloriously in a different kind of theater: a movie house.
In writer-director Tarantino’s brazen war movie “Inglourious Basterds” (2009), Hitler buys the farm at the hands of Jewish-American commandoes while attending the premiere of a Nazi propaganda film in occupied France. There’s a long cinematic tradition of turning Hitler into a buffoon, stemming all the way back to Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” (1940).
But Tarantino gets points for the sheer nerve of presenting an alternative version of a demise acknowledged as historical fact.
Then again, if the spelling in the title of Tarantino’s movie is any indication, he paid as much attention in English as he did in history class.