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In the 2004 movie, "A Series of Unfortunate Events", on the dashboards of both Olaf's and Poe's cars is what appears to be a small open reel tape player.

While I am sure they were never equipment in any real car, placed to help make the setting more surreal, I wonder about the artifacts themselves. Were these actual tape machines or studio art department/practical effects concoctions?

They look like they could be (or have at one time been) functional devices, yet the design seems to fit no real-world time or place.

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  • Well, they did actually have car record players in the 50s and 60s. Commented Apr 1, 2017 at 3:14
  • Interesting, but the depiction appears to be a reel-to-reel tape player, not a record player.
    – Anthony X
    Commented Apr 1, 2017 at 3:41
  • I haven't seen the show, but this did exist: youtube.com/watch?v=6XGN7DNI9LM And this: picclick.com/… More here: museumofmagneticsoundrecording.org/ManufacturersGrundig.html
    – BCdotWEB
    Commented Apr 1, 2017 at 7:24
  • @BCdotWEB Yeah, I remember all that sort of stuff. Since I can't make or find a screen cap showing what I am talking about, best I can do is a written description: side-by-side vertically mounted open reels, about 2 to 3 inches in diameter, made of metal. First of all, I've never heard of any car being equipped with an open reel type of tape player.. cassette or eight-track tape players, yes, but not open reel. Second: metal reels; every tape reel I've ever seen has been made of plastic, usually clear.
    – Anthony X
    Commented Apr 1, 2017 at 13:49
  • I could have sworn I remembered seeing a reel-to-reel in the 1966-ish batmobile. I finally found it, but it was simply a set piece used on set, and not in the car itself. Bummer.
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Jun 3, 2021 at 11:21

2 Answers 2

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Found it. Mounted in the dashboard of Poe's Tatra appears to be a Nagra SSN:

Nagra SSN c. 1971

In Olaf's Chrysler, it's something else, perhaps a made-up prop, where you can just see one clear plastic spool.

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Nagra units of this and similar series were not exactly props, but very common in film making industry (I've used them making commercial 16mm films with Arriflex in the 70s), and they were also used by intelligence agencies for portable audio surveillance, because they also recorded a separate timing signal which allowed (for film) synching with camera frame rates, and for spying, synching with time logs (long recording sessions) and for both, a control in the quality of playback sound. Most film studios still have them laying around, but modern systems are vastly superior... so what else to do with them, but use them as props, esp. spy films (such as The Anderson Tapes). Some models allowed multiple audio inputs/tracks, so you could do stereo, or the eavesdropping spies' commentaries recorded on the same tape.

The 1971 Tatra in the film (banker's car), was made in Czechoslovakia during the cold war, and was a favorite vehicle (in black) of the Stasi. It is highly possible the vehicle in the film was a Stasi unit modified with a portable recorder for mobile stake outs... a car following a car with microphones and transmitters hidden within, or perhaps someone on foot, or just a static stake out of a building. The Stasi would be using Uher (German) brand recorders (or Soviet copies) which, in the time frame were also popular for like uses — the Nagra (Japanese) in those days, was essentially a 'copy' of Uher designs (to my understanding). So the one in the car is probably a Uher/spinoff, if a Stasi vehicle. Likely, the director/producer of the film thought it a nice touch, and in style of the film, useful, and so modified the Chrysler (rather rare push-button transmission!) to have something similar, as well.

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