Laurel & Hardy Refilmings - Spanish Phonetic Versions

Found: unknown, lost, authentic, extraordinary, Spanish-speaking Laurel & Hardy movies, and which they made in their prime. Not dubbed. New to virtually everyone alive today!

 Long ago in the silent films era, it was an easy matter for Hollywood to simply translate written text title cards into Spanish, and then export what were instantly the foreign versions. But with the advent of talking pictures, Hollywood faced the possibility of losing lucrative distribution throughout all non-English speaking countries, unless new means of verbal communication could be determined. So Hal Roach pioneered an extravagant and exhausting method of simultaneously re-working much of his product for exhibition in important international markets – scene for scene he would re-shoot them, all over again, with everyone speaking other languages. If they could.

Before the film industry adopted the less expensive (and less authentic) procedures of cross-lingual dubbing and superimposed subtitling as standard practice, Roach was the first motion picture studio to actually re-film his comedies in different languages -- including French, German, Italian, but especially, Spanish.

“Those multi-lingual productions ran longer, and they took longer to make,” Hal Roach later recalled. “We made a real commitment there, installing the various Spanish, German and French departments at the studio. It cost us three times as much, but we wanted to do the thing right.” 

Although these export editions were extremely well-received, their costs were obviously excessive. And they represented an opportunity cost; they consumed too much time. Editor Richard Currier explained, “You’d start a scene, and it was probably half-an-hour’s worth of rehearsal time on each one of them, with each language coach, before the boys got their lines down, so that they could say them the way they should sound.” 

So this production experiment lasted only a little more than one year, and thereafter these generally longer-running alternate versions have been quietly hidden away, forgotten in storage – until now!

Hollywood trade paper ads proudly exclaimed at the time, “Laurel & Hardy habla Espanol ahora! … No os perdais de ver y oir a Laurel & Hardy en LADRONES! Hablan en Espanol!”

Without facing the more strict scrutiny of American censorship, these expanded and modified export versions were also more daring and risqué than their progenitors. Plus they featured new gags, as well as different supporting casts fluent in the respective foreign languages in order to help carry the story continuity.

Laurel & Hardy were coached by tutors, often with their translated lines written phonetically (“as they sounded to us,” Laurel told the LOS ANGELES TIMES) on movable blackboards just out of camera range. Watch closely in some scenes as Stan and Ollie’s eyes search hard for the words.

Pronunciation was a problem, but after all, these are comedies. Mr. Hardy seems to handle Spanish enunciation much better than Mr. Laurel. Roach said in 1930, excusing his stars, “If they mumble a couple of words in broken lingo, it’s usually amusing.”

A story in the NEW YORK HERALD TRIBUNE reported, “No attempt was made by Roach to achieve error-proof foreign dialogue. Preview tests convinced studio officials that a comedian is often funnier if he stumbles through a Spanish speech than if he is too glibly fluent. Spanish audiences took special satisfaction in seeing Stan Laurel or Oliver Hardy squirming under the burden of a difficult Castilian phrase. There was only one imperative requirement – sub-characters in the plot had to speak the foreign language perfectly.”

Did they? You be the judge. In any case, it was true that Laurel & Hardy endeared themselves in many non-English speaking countries because of the trouble they went to just attempting to speak French, German, Italian and Spanish. “So when we finally went over there,” Laurel remembered late in life, “they were all amazed that we couldn’t speak their language!”  

Perhaps half of these fascinating alternate editions survive, and until recently they have been completely out of circulation. As such they represent the Holy Grail of Laurel & Hardy fandom. It is as though the greatest of all movie comedy teams has magically returned to give us wonderful, brand new films. Now they have been preserved from the razor-sharp and near-perfect looking original camera negatives and dupe negatives. That is good news, in any language.

-- by Richard W. Bann --