Subminiature Camera Cameos

This page lists movies, TV shows, and literary works that I've seen or heard of in which subminiature cameras play a part. Because I felt like it, I've also thrown in some instances where fake more-or-less "subminiature" prop cameras are portrayed. If you think of any candidates for this list, please send e-mail.

Note: The owners of the properties described here do not endorse and are in no way responsible for the content of this page. Images are included without permission, as quotations in the context of a review. Follow the link next to each title for credits, additional reviews, and availability.

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Movie Appearances

This list is limited to theatrical-release movies. For made-for-TV movies see TV Appearances.

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997, New Line Cinema) It starts with an "A," so it has to come first. Mike Myers (playing a man of mystery) pretends to use a HIT type toy submini to photograph evil plans. Obviously the whole scene is a joke, so this critique is not to be taken seriously. But... Besides the simple infraction of using a toy camera, Myers presses the top of the camera, while its shutter release is on the lens barrel, and he never winds the film. That's OK, though, because we hear the shutter click anyway. What's more, we hear the whirr of a motor winder! All the while, he's whipping the camera back and forth (focus? what focus?) and talking to the plans as if they were a live model, and a pretty one at that. Sighting by submini list member Charlie Trentleman.

A Bullet for Joey (1955, United Artists) No kidding, in this '50s spy movie William Bryant (playing a henchman) uses another HIT toy submini to photograph workers leaving a strategic plant. He actually trips the shutter lever once, but not the other two times we hear it click. The resulting photo looks surprisingly clear for a HIT, but it's a plausibly small enlargement, viewed through a magnifier. Earlier in the movie, Ralph Smiley (playing an organ grinder) conceals a 16mm movie camera in his barrel organ, with an inexplicable view camera lens sticking out the front to make passing constables suspicious. Sighting by my brother Randy.

Call Northside 777 (1948, 20th Century Fox) James Stewart does a very convincing job of operating a Minox A/II or Riga. He pays attention to lighting. He checks shutter speed and focus, and in one scene even sets them. He holds the camera rock steady (at one point using an odd "Kilroy" technique, seen in the third image at left). The only hitch is he mixes his movies and measures for focus by dead reckoning. The movie even shows a fake finder view, complete with (by all accounts) a thoroughly imaginary crosshair. I found this title in Michael Goldfarb's list.

Chances Are (1989, TriStar Pictures) In this reincarnation comedy, Christopher McDonald (playing a lawyer) uses a Minox B to photograph a judge taking a bribe, then his character dies and comes back in the body of Robert Downey Jr. Twenty-three years later, a divine accident leads Downey's character to meet his former self's widow (Cybill Shepard), remember his past life, and eventually remember the Minox, which Shepard had been keeping in a box all the while. The photo turns out amazingly well, the bad judge gets caught, and the main plot's romantic and metaphysical entanglements manage to sort themselves out. Sighting by submini list member Tom Irving.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977, Columbia Pictures) In a typical Spielberg touch, a guy pops up between rows of huge automated cameras to take a snapshot of UFOs with his 110-format pocket camera. I can't identify the 110; also don't ask me to identify all those other cameras! Elsewhere in the film there's a Rollei B35, a full-frame 35 that could pass for submini, and also a 126 Instamatic of some sort. Like "Call Northside...," this movie plays tricks with the viewfinder: we see a view of aliens that blacks out momentarily each time the Rollei's shutter clicks, just like an SLR view, but the Rollei 35 isn't an SLR! Sighting by my brother Bill.

Company Business (1991, MGM-UA) In a brief opening vignette, Gene Hackman (playing an ex-agent reduced to industrial espionage), uses what looks like a Minox B with a flashcube attachment to photograph cosmetics formulas. Hackman and his covert methods are portrayed as worn and old-fashioned in this post-iron-curtain on-the-run buddy movie. Sighting by submini list member James A. Jones.

The Domino Principle (1977, AVECO Embassy Pictures.) In this conspiracy thriller, Richard Widmark (one of "them") uses a Minox B to take a passport photo of Gene Hackman (convict and prospective assassin) in a San Quentin conference room. Sighting by James Jones. The movie is an average '70's thriller with a familiar cast. The Minox scene is brief, and Widmark has the usual trouble keeping his fingers out of the picture.

Don't Raise the Bridge, Lower the River (1968, Columbia Pictures.) Jerry Lewis hams it up with a Minox B. I haven't seen the whole movie yet, but you can tell some things from the preview. For example, notice there's a finger placed firmly in front of the taking lens!

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964, Columbia Pictures) In Stanley Kubrik's classic Cold-War black comedy, Peter Bull (playing the Soviet Ambassador) is caught with a prop subminiature camera. In the ensuing scuffle, Peter Sellers (playing the President) shouts, "Gentlemen, you can't fight in here, this is the War Room!" That "camera" appears to be a matchbox stuffed with parts from a lens/shutter combo that I don't recognize. But perhaps it is meant as a decoy, because the ambassador is seen later in the movie taking snapshots with some sort of pocket watch camera. Sighting by submini list member Charlie Trentleman.

Enemy of the State (1998, Touchstone Pictures) There are no visible subminis in this movie. A Minox TLX was scripted in one scene, but the producer was seduced by more "modern" video spy gadgets. I include this title because submini list member Steve Uhrig (who was behind the counter in the spy shop scene) confirms that he had his black Minox LX in his pocket during shooting.

The Falcon and the Snowman (1984, Orion Pictures Corporation) In this dramatization of a true story, Timothy Hutton uses a Minox LX to steal CIA secrets. The LX is probably an anachronism, as it was released in 1978 and Christopher Boyce (the real-life spy played by Hutton) was indicted in 1977. The Russian operative who recommends the camera calls his a Minox B, but it looks like he's holding an LX too (perhaps even the same one). More viewfinder tricks: the film shows a document going in and out of focus as if you were focusing through an SLR: pure fantasy. If Boyce didn't use his measuring chain, he should have. (Charlie Trentleman says there's more and better submini info in the original book.) I found this title in Michael Goldfarb's list.

5 Fingers (1952, 20th Century Fox) This film has no submini cameras. In it James Mason (as a British valet/Nazi spy) uses a black Leica 35mm camera (II or III, I guess) to photograph British WWII secrets. Sighting by Al Doyle via James Jones. It's a great spy movie with a cool camera, but no subminis.

Fletch (1985, Universal Pictures) Chevy Chase (as a wacky grit journalist) photographs his finger and then a Doberman pinscher with what looks like a Minolta 16-II. The finger shots were supposed to be of a real estate document. Amazingly, the document is visible (if not legible) in a print we see later in the show.

The Foreigner (2003, Columbia TriStar Home Video, distributed as video only.) In this pointless action film, Steven Seagal (pointless messenger) takes pointless pictures with a Minox B. The scene is brief (and pointless), but there's a nice close-up of the camera's parallax-corrected viewfinder and older "grid" photocell. (Later B's had a honeycomb style cell, ). Sighting by John Carman.

For Your Eyes Only (1981, United Artists) Roger Moore as 007 uses a Tasco Bino/Cam to scope out a payoff. The Bino/Cam combines a 7x20 binocular with a 110-format camera and 112 mm taking lens. All this is wasted, however. Bond either doesn't take any pictures, or he loses the camera in the ensuing fight and chase. I assume as much because later he spends hours making a computerized identa-kit drawing of a villain he'd been viewing through the Bino/Cam.

Glass Bottom Boat (1966, MGM-UA) In this cold-war spy romp, Dom DeLuise (as a goofy Soviet spy) uses a Minox IIIs to photograph his nose, and then an equation that Rod Taylor (playing a space genius) scribbled while plotting to seduce Doris Day (tour guide and part-time mermaid). DeLuise is absolutely hilarious. Sighting by Al Doyle via James Jones.

Grosse Point Blank (1997, Hollywood Pictures) John Cusack (hired killer) makes good use of what looks like a Minox A/IIIs or earlier; not for any of the movie's "black ops" style action, but to take a snapshot of a cute baby. At first I thought Cusack was holding his finger over the lens, but maybe not. Another odd thing, we see a flash when he takes the picture, but there's no flash on the camera! I found this title in Michael Goldfarb's list.

Honeymoon In Vegas (1992, New Line Cinema) Nicolas Cage (private eye) uses a Minox C or later to gather divorce evidence. Unlike Stewart in "Call Northside 777," Cage's style is almost frenetic: he fires frame after frame in rapid succession, whipping the camera from horizontal to vertical and back, right after bragging about his inconspicuous looks. I found this title in Michael Goldfarb's list.

Hopscotch (1980, AVCO Embassy Pictures. The video appears to be out of print.) OK, there are no subminis in this movie, but it is one of my favorite flicks, and in the opening sequence Walter Matthau (playing a wily American spy) recovers a Minox cassette from Herbert Lom (Russian agent). But wait! Notice the notch on the side of the film? That means the roll isn't exposed! Maybe Lom pulled a switch, but the movie doesn't say, so we'll never know.

Hot Shots (1991, 20th Century Fox) No subminis! The entry on Michael Goldfarb's list was incorrect. Also checked Hot Shots Part Deux (1993, 20th Century Fox), and saw nothing like a submini camera there, either. I can't say I recommend either film, because I'd be embarrassed to admit I thought they were hilarious.

The Ipcress File (1965, Rank Organisation [uk] and Universal Pictures [us]) Michael Cain (as Harry Palmer, reluctant spy) plays with a Minox B that he's handed by his old British Military Intelligence boss, who asks him to microfilm the Ipcress file behind his new boss's back. Notice Cain's finger is planted neatly in front of the lens. Charlie Trentleman says there's no scene like this in the original book. Also no Harry Palmer, the book's protagonist is not named.

I Spy (2002, Columbia Pictures Corporation) In a preview of this movie, I spotted Owen Wilson (spy) waving what looks like an Aiptek PenCam, a small digital camera. I don't much want to include digicams here, but this one is in a spy camera role, so...

It Could Happen To You (1994, TriStar Pictures) In one of at least four films with this name (although perhaps only the second with a similar plot), Isaac Hayes (as a news photographer posing as a homeless person), uses an unidentified wrist-strap submini (apparently not a Chadt M1 or P950) to photograph Lotto Samaritans Nicolas Cage and Bridget Fonda "in their darkest hour." Sighting by Paul Spangler.

JFK (1991, Warner Bros.) Submini list member John <palmtop@...> testified to the presence of a Minox C in this movie, where it is glimpsed as part of a background sequence implying a government connection to, and manipulation of, Oswald's past. Later in the movie, I spotted a brief clip of a purported Army Intelligence agent holding something up to his eye. Although there is no direct evidence, it is clear from the position of the agent's right thumb and index finger in frames 1-15 of the clip, the downward motion of his right index in frame 46, and the lifted index finger in frame 64 (shown here), that there was indeed a second Minox presence, in Dealey Plaza, during the filming of JFK!

Kate & Leopold (2001, Miramax Films) Liev Schreiber (as a time traveler) is glimpsed using what might be a Minox MX to take photographs in the 1870s. Sighting by David Green via Martin Tai and Steve Uhrig.

The Man With One Red Shoe (1985, 20th Century Fox) One of Tom Hanks' earlier efforts, and one of my favorite movies despite several poor takes. Siren spy Lori Singer (who also appeared in The Falcon and the Snowman) uses what looks like a Minox EC for some close-up photography. The EC is fixed-focus so this normally isn't feasible, but to be generous we could assume this one was rebuilt for close-up work. We also see a couple of fanciful prop cameras, which I include in the submini spirit of concealment, and at least one 35mm SLR.

Moonraker (1979, United Artists) Roger Moore uses two fanciful prop cameras that somehow emit light from ther lenses. Sightings by myself and submini list member James A. Jones.

Mothra, aka Mosura (1961, Columbia Pictures) In this Japanese creature feature, Kyôko Kagawa (as a news photographer) uses an Echo 8 (or derivative) lighter camera to photograph a shy scientist, and then later to photograph telepathic fairy twins who were kidnapped from a nuclear test site. This kind of movie is often called "so bad it's good," but some of the camera work really impressed me, especially in the air-to-ground battle scenes. Sighting by submini list member Dan.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969, United Artists) George Lazenby (in his only 007 role) uses a probable Minox A/IIIs, held upside-down in heavy ski gloves. That might work, but although he winds through frame after frame, none of his fingers get anywhere near the shutter release. I found this title in Michael Goldfarb's list.

O.S.S. (1946, Paramount Pictures) Contributor Peter Martin generously provided these images. The first picture shows Alan Ladd (as a spy in training) demonstrating how to photograph your finger with a Riga Minox. The picture makes the camera's contours look a bit odd, but it's just a trick of the light. The other two pictures show Richard Benedict (spy in the field) snapping a document. There are some great close-ups of the camera in action, including a cassette being unloaded, and finally somebody measures for focus! Unfortunately the technique was calculated to show off the camera rather than hold it steady, so the pictures were probably blurred anyway. I found this title in Michael Goldfarb's list.

Pretty Poison (1968, 20th Century Fox.) In this weird thriller, Anthony Perkins (as a nutty pretend spy) uses a Minox B to photograph his finger near a chemical plant that he intends to sabotage. We get to see him load the camera, but his winding technique is brutal! Sighting by Donald Ingram, who reports that the 1996 TV remake is inferior and omits the Minox.

Ransom! (1956, MGM-UA. Anoter title never released on video. It is shown occasionally on TCM.) In this original of the 1996 remake, Leslie Nielsen (as a journalist) flashes what must be a Minox A/IIIs or earlier and tries to talk Juano Hernandez (as the butler) into sneaking pictures of a kidnapped boy's bedroom. The butler didn't do it. Sighting by Peter Martin.

Ready to Wear, aka Prêt-à-Porter (1994, Miramax Films) In one of the film's many subplots (I don't think it has a main plot), Stephen Rea (playing a fashion photographer) whips out his Minox B for some candid shots of, well, that would be telling! I found this title in Michael Goldfarb's list.

Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins (1985, Orion Pictures Corporation) In this tongue-in-cheek action hero movie, a guy uses what looks like a Russian coat-button camera to photograph Fred Ward (martial arts assassin) and Kate Mulgrew (Army major). The rather elaborate camera appears to consist of a lapel-pin lens linked by a cable to a separate control unit. It all looks plausible, but I don't know offhand if it is genuine. The movie was the first of a not-to-be series based on the pulp "Destroyer" books. Sighting by James Jones.

Roman Holiday (1953, Paramount Pictures) Eddie Albert (playing a photographer) uses an Echo 8 lighter camera to get candid shots of Audrey Hepburn (incognito princess) for a scoop story by Gregory Peck (reporter). Albert also uses a 35mm camera that I don't recognize, and there's a terrifically funny routine in which Albert and Peck work together to sneak a shot with a huge press camera (Speed Graphic?). I'm sure there are many technical quibbles to be made, but this is one of the few films in this list that even tried to portray photographic technique. Sighting by several Submini list members.

Shaft in Africa (1973, MGM-UA) Richard Roundtree (as private eye John Shaft) is roped into fighting modern slavery in Africa, where Marne Maitland (as an Ethiopian colonel) equips him with a Minox B stashed in a fighting stick. This rather elaborate enclosure blocks the meter, but that hardly matters because there's no way to adjust the settings or press the shutter button. Never mind, there's an authentic-sounding shutter click when Shaft rubs the side of the stick. (Sounds like he used 1/20th in bright sunlight, about right for ISO 1.5 film!) Later he used the stick for fighting, so I imagine the camera turns up on Ebay now and then: "L@@K! MINOX B SLIGHT RATTLE METER INOP." Sighting by Ken Trettin.

Shining Through (1992, 20th Century Fox) Melanie Griffith (playing an American spy) uses a Minox EC to take pictures of rocket plans in WWII Germany. Aside from being inappropriate unless modified for close-ups, the EC is anachronistic; portrayed in a period 40 years before its time. The movie beats one rap: Al Doyle made a comment about Griffith draping her fingers over the lens, but I don't see it. Sighting passed on by James Jones from Al Doyle.

Soapdish (1991, Paramount Pictures.) I sensed it would be there, and there it was. Something like a Kodak Disc camera floats above a sea of SLRs outside of a television awards show. Sort of a stretch for inclusion, but I like the show—although I don't know why. Perhaps it's the theater in my blood. More likely it's because I was brainwashed in childhood by Latino-beat TV theme songs. Also, I can't tell if Sally Fields' acting is bad, or if she's perfectly portraying a soap actress who just can't turn it off (the acting, I mean). Everybody else is great, though, and the script is hilarious.

The Society Schemer (1907-17?, Kalem Company. Title missing from database.) The book The Unseen Eye—A History of Detective and Concealed Cameras by Eaton S. Lothrop, Jr. and Michael Auer (1978, ISBN 3-7763-5140-3 LW) contains the an intriguing statement: "The use of the Expo [a.k.a. Ticka] as Detective-camera was shown in the film The Society Schemer of the Kalem Company, in which it played the role of the most important evidence." This film is something of a mystery, as it does not appear in the IMDB list of movies by the Kalem company (or anywhere else that I can find). However, considering Kalem's production rate of up to one silent short film per week for about ten years, they might easily have lost or renamed this one. Don't hold your breath waiting for a screen shot! Sighting and translation by John Mourikis.

Spy Hard (1996, Hollywood Pictures.) In this Leslie-Nielsen-warmed-over spoof of James Bond, and any other movie that gets in the way, Stephanie Romanov (as a spy, of course) uses what looks like a Minox MX (or Acmel equivalent) to snap evil plans. With the camera's smallish aperture and flash, it's even possible her shots came out. That's is a shame, because she immediately falls into the artificial clutches of the warmed-over Andy Griffith (General Rancor, evil guy). Not a laugh riot; more like a milling-about of forced smiles.

Spy Kids (2001, Dimension Films, Miramax Films.) In this to-the-hilt kid's spy flick (filmed partly in my hometown, Austin, TX) Antonio Banderas (spy dad) is seen briefly holding a Minox LX variant while looking at a baby. I say "variant" because I've never heard of one colored like this, and what is that thing attached to the flash socket? Later, spy mom Carla Gugino unloads a Minox B (with chain) when she and Banderas empty their pockets after being captured by bad guys. Sighting by James Jones, who says don't blink, because the scenes are very short.

The Tall Blonde Man With One Black Shoe (1972, France: Gaumont, USA: Cinema 5 Distributing. The video appears to be out of print. You might find a used copy, and it's been seen on America 1 TV.) This is the original French version of The Man with One Red Shoe. A flurry of spies use a Minox B and what appear to be two fanciful submini prop cameras while stalking an innocent musician. One prop looks like a Copal-type shutter stuffed in a cigarette box. The other looks like a butane lighter with a lens glued on the side. The lighter is rather convincing, but the focal length seems improbably short. The action also implies use of a lapel-pin camera, but it's not really visible. A variety of 35mm SLRs are also used.

13 Rue Madeleine (1947, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.) Frank Latimore (playing a U.S. spy in training) uses an elaborate match box camera, probably fake, to photograph a detonator in a training exercise. A British "match box" camera did exist, but it was much simpler, and the Minox was more commonly used. There is a picture at the Museum of World War II website.

Topaz (1969, Universal Pictures) In one of Hitchcock's more forgettable films, the very smooth Roscoe Lee Browne (as a spy pretending to be a reporter) uses a nondescript (ahem) Tessina to distract a Cuban bigwig while a cohort snags some papers. The bigwig is then surprised to find the papers missing, and Browne photographing them with the same camera. Later another spy snaps Russian ships in Cuba with what looks like an Olympus Pen F, which gets hidden in a sandwich, a bridge railing, and a chicken! For some reason when the resulting film is smuggled out of Cuba (by Frederick Stafford, yet another spy), it is no format I can identify, and not even all the same width. Finally, there's no sign of anyone in the film using the huge, elaborate, remote-controlled, blinking SLR (included here for laughs) that Stafford smuggled into Cuba. Sighting passed on by James Jones from Al Doyle.

Top Secret Affair (1957, Warner Bros. This title apparently was never released on video.) I still haven't seen this movie, but contributor Peter Martin generously provided an image. I've queried him for details, however it looks like someone is using slight of hand to get a candid photo with a Minox A/IIIs or earlier. I found this title in Michael Goldfarb's list.

Troop Beverly Hills (1989, Columbia Pictures) In this fluffy comedy, Mary Gross (as an assistant troop leader) uses a Minox B hidden in a Wilderness Girl manual to photograph leader Shelly Long's antics. The book disguise leaves no easy way to set or wind the camera, but we hear a motor winder when Gross clicks the shutter. Later, she has a change of heart and (horrors!) drops the Minox in a trash can! Let's hope the prop master half-filled the can with foam peanuts first. Sighting by Minox maven Steve Uhrig's wife.

Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988, Lucasfilm Ltd.) In this Francis Ford Coppola-directed docu-drama, John X Hart (as the agent of a senator owned by the Big Three automobile makers) uses a Minox A/III or earlier with a Binocular Clamp accessory to photograph Tucker's innovative automobile at a test track. Submini list member James A. Jones points out that the clamp's portrayal in 1947-48 might be an anachronism, as its production appears to have begun around 1955. The agent and Minox also make a brief appearance, sans binoculars, earlier in the movie. Sighting by list member D. Scott Young.

Up Periscope (1959, Warner Brothers.) James Garner (as a Navy frogman in World War II) uses what looks like a Minox A/II or III (but should be a Riga) to photograph Japanese radio codes. Garner's character makes the common movie mistakes (hand held in bad light with guess focusing), and the scene doesn't really show off the camera. Sighting by submini list member Rob Mossefin.

What Planet Are You From? (2000, Columbia Pictures.) John Goodman (as an FAA inspector) uses what looks like a Minox ECX and flash while stalking alien Gary Shandling. The Minox is pretty hard to see, because Goodman might well have set a record for number of fingers in front of the lens. It's pretty amazing he got that picture of... well, I won't give it away.

You Only Live Twice (1967, United Artists) No subminis! The entry on Michael Goldfarb's list was incorrect. Maybe there's a Minox in the book?

TV Appearances

In this section I try to list any TV sightings that are reported. I won't try too hard to get images for these. Also, if the topic snowballs I might have to get selective.

Literary References

This is a new section devoted to literary references to subminiature cameras. Like TV, I might eventually get selective, but for now I'd like to hear about subminis in literature, news, or other media.

Back to Subminiature Cameras.

Marcus Brooks — 24 March 2003 [Change History]