Wed, Sep 01, 2004 - Page 16 News List

Behind the German lines: Laurel and Hardy

A German audience was treated to a rare 1931 film featuring the comic duo, unearthed from Moscow archives


Oliver Hardy, left, and Stan Laurel, right, in a scene from their 1938 movie Block-Heads.


Film historians have found a rare Laurel and Hardy short that the famed comedy duo filmed for German audiences -- speaking their lines in phonetic German, according to the Munich Film Museum.

The 1931 short is being hailed as one of the rare examples of the fad in early talkies of having stars speak their own lines in another language for foreign audiences.

In this case, Stan and Ollie could not speak a word of German themselves and made a hash of reciting the German dialogue from cue cards, a museum spokesman said.

"You can't understand a word they're saying," said Klaus Volkmer, a spokesman for the Munich Film Museum, which unearthed the film in a Moscow cinema archive.

"That fact, of course, makes the film even funnier," he said.

The short was produced in Hollywood in 1931 -- the early days of the talkies -- when it was common practice for films to be cranked out in various language versions for foreign markets.

When Edward Robinson played Little Caesar, the studio forced him to repeat his performance speaking the same lines in Spanish, French and German for overseas audiences.

When actors baulked at speaking lines in a foreign language -- or their accents were execrable -- native-speakers were brought in to play the parts. Charles Boyer, already a big star in France, got his start in Hollywood by speaking French dialogue for stars whose American accents would have repulsed French audiences.

In the case of Laurel and Hardy in Ghost At Midnight, the two comics opted to speak the roles themselves for the German-language

production, entitled Spuk Um Mitternacht.

"They apparently figured they had nothing to lose by giving it a try," Volkmer said. "And at any rate, you couldn't replace them with two other actors. German audiences loved Laurel and Hardy and wouldn't have settled for anybody else in their roles."

The short debuted in Berlin on May 21, 1931, billed as "Laurel and Hardy's First All-German Talkie." In fact, there is very little actual dialogue in the film, as was often the case in very early talkies.

A few lines of German dialogue were thrown in between silent scenes, from two previous Stan and Ollie shorts, Berthmarks and The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case. The restored, 40-minute film was screened in Berlin two weeks ago prior to a retrospective showing at the Munich Film Museum on Oct. 26 and Oct. 27.

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