Before the advent of dubbing–replacing the soundtrack recorded on set with another voice and/or actor and/or language in post-production–foreign language versions of movies had to be shot simultaneously with the English language versions. What a pain in the ass! It’s hard enough to shoot one scene correctly but then to have to repeat it in multiple languages all or which are no doubt phonetically learned must have driven actors and directors crazy. This practice was not necessarily widespread–only stars with great fan-base popularity overseas were subjected to it. And so great were Laurel and Hardy’s popularity in Europe in the early 30s that they were soon stuck having to doing multiple takes in multiple languages–French, Spanish, Italian and German.
The above reel shows excerpts of a number of L&H scenes in different languages. A few things to note: Ollie has a felicitous way with his phonetic pronunciations–he’s convincing and melodious–whereas Stan, whether by design or accident–is only passable at this odd craft. (I prefer to think that Stan, a perfectionist in his work, resented having to spend valuable time doing this stuff and chose to put little effort into it). Also interesting is the fact that most of the time other actors in the English-language version of the scene were substituted with actors of the nationality in which the scene was being reshot. This leads me to wonder how many Euro-transplants there were in L.A. in the 20s and 30s who were actors looking for work and getting their lucky break when a call from the Hal Roach studio came, offering them a couple of days work in their home language. (Likely, they were also the accent-coaches for the actors). Finally, note the title changes. My favorite is the Spanish translation for ‘Blotto’, which is ‘La Vida Nocturna’. How long do you think the translators labored over attempting to find an appropriate Spanish word to approximate the popular American 20s slang term for drunkeness before throwing in the towel and slapping ‘The Nightlife’ on the front titles? If you find this interesting, check out the Youtube comments below the video which are unusually scholarly and provide some other interesting facts about this odd slice of Laurel and Hardy and film history.