A Guide to the Lost Films of Laurel and Hardy - Update
Several years ago I wrote an article for this magazine on the lost films of Laurel and Hardy. That article contained not only details on the obvious films such as 'Now I'll Tell One', 'Hats Off' and 'The Rogue Song', but also some other familiar films such as 'Blotto' and 'Beau Hunks' and others which are missing scenes from their original theatrical run.
I have decided with the passage of time (and some recent discoveries) to update the list. I would also like to give some more history on what is perhaps the most sought after movie of all time - 'The Rogue Song'
We Faw Down Released December 28th 1928
The original synchronized music & effects track was missing for years from this film. Back in the early days of movie making at the end of the silent period a new method was devised whereby a music track with sound effects was produced and played on a separate disc to accompany the film. This method bridged the gap between the silents and the talkies, although talkies would also utilize a separate sound track disc for some years to come. Inevitably some films became separated from their music & effects track over the years, while this isn't a total loss when dealing with what are in effect 'silent films' it becomes more serious when the film was produced as a 'talkie'.
Not long after I wrote the article the original synchronized music & effects track was discovered and I might add without any 'fanfare' amongst the serious film collectors. I heard through the grapevine that the German release version of 'Sons Of The Desert' DVD had as a bonus feature this 2 reeler with the original track. I purchased this film with the help of Bram Reijnhoud and was delighted to hear this 'silent' film come to life.
Brats Released March 22nd 1930 (not 1927 as per the original article!)
Hal Roach re-issued several L&H shorts in the late 1930's to fill a gap in the market when L&H 2 reelers were no longer in production. Some of these films had newly remade titles, the gag introductory title was dropped (except for Berth Marks) and new background music was added (music from 1936's 'Our Relations' in this case). Brats suffered this fate and at the time I wrote the original article the original soundtrack discs had been located and restored to the movie but the original titles and introductory gag title had not. With the release of Universal's Laurel and Hardy The Collection on DVD 'Brats' was available on a bonus disc not only with it's original background music but with it's original opening titles and introductory gag titles reinstated.
HATS OFF 1927
This film is still missing, but here is a nice reconstruction with stills and music found on the net:
Der Spuk Um Mitternacht (German phonetic version of 'The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case' Released 1930
This film was discovered in an archive in Moscow in 2004. When the Russians entered Germany at the end of WWII they took many films back to Russia. Recently the Russians have agreed to a 'repatriation programme' whereby films are returned to their country of origin (this case is an exception in that it was produced in the USA for the German market). The foreign language versions were longer than their domestic counterparts and this film also incorporated scenes from 'Berth Marks' although I doubt that these scenes were filmed at the same time as 'The L-H Murder Case', I believe that they simply went back to the 1929 copy of 'Berth Marks' and re-used the footage for insertion here. This print is however incomplete, footage is missing from the end of the train sequence (from Berth Marks) and from the earlier scenes at the mansion. I believe that this footage has been reinstated from 'Berth Marks' and 'The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case'.
For a more in depth page on this discovery and photo's go here: GERMAN LAUREL & HARDY MURDER CASE
The Rogue Song Released January 17th 1930 in 2 color-technicolor.
This movie was an Operatic vehicle for Opera star Lawrence Tibbett and filmed in the new 2 color-technicolor process. Laurel and Hardy were added to the movie at the last minute to lighten the mood of what was perceived to be a ponderous opera film. Laurel and Hardy were popular in Europe and other parts and were added to provide 'box office insurance'. Unfortunately this film was lost decades ago. Theatrical distributors were obliged to destroy prints of movies once their run was over and since home movies were relatively unknown in those days, they weren't reprinted for home consumption.
Many years ago one of the last known complete prints of this movie sat in a vault in the MGM Studios (MGM owned the rights to this film and not Hal Roach). Due to the volatile nature of early nitrate film stock, the films burst into flames along with 'The Rogue Song'. It was like the extinction of a species. Had someone known of the importance of this movie it might have been transferred to safety stock and saved but alas, no. Years went by before people started to search for the film and in 1967 it was included in the American Film Institute's rescue list, but it was too late.
The Lawrence Tibbett Estate held a color copy of the entire film for many years after his death in 1960. Tibbett liked the film and showed it frequently to his friends. The late Allan Jones was a regular visitor and friend and reportedly gained possession of the print, which his son Jack Jones had to junk because of nitrate decomposition.
Frustratingly MGM still had reel 4 until 1974 of the cellulose nitrate picture negative but it was not converted to safety film on time and crumbled to dust.
Then tantalizing, excerpts from the film began to surface in later years to tease us.
In the early 1970's the original complete soundtrack disc recordings were discovered in the MGM vaults. Thus the Laurel and Hardy sequences survive as a sound recording. Some of this was released by Pelican records on an album and you can still obtain a CD version on Amazon!
In 1981 Professor Lawrence Banaquist of Keene State College in New Hampshire discovered a 2 ½ minute extract from the film with it's track at a bookstore in Cambridge Massachussetts. A theatre projectionist had cut out this clip and saved it. This sequence is the scene where Stan and Ollie seek refuge in a cave during a storm only to encounter a bear. There is slight damage to the track where Stan says 'So can I', however, the full soundtrack which was discovered earlier is fine. They are hardly visible in this night sequence which has been restored and is in safe keeping at UCLA. It has recently been released as a bonus feature on 'The Devil's Brother'/'Bonnie Scotland' DVD in the US.
In 1989 Professor Bruce I. Miller of the Music Dept. at Holy Cross College in Worchester MA attended a record auction and bought the sound track to the trailer of the movie.
In 1993 a 3 minute long 35 mm mute cemented two-color technicolor print of the trailer was discovered. This had some damage in the first 30 seconds but amazingly a Laurel and Hardy scene was preserved in this trailer - the cheese and bee-swallowing gag! The picture portion and sound track disc discovered by Bruce Miller were restored and combined together. What a shame this was not included in Warner Bros. release of 'The Devil's Brother'/'Bonnie Scotland' DVD.
In 1993 Alison Grimmer (now Stevenson!) asked the Czech Archive in Prague if they had any footage from this film. Indeed they had a mute nitrate reel of assorted fragments out of sequence from the film. Unfortunately there were no Laurel and Hardy scenes among the clips but the color was better preserved than in the cave sequence.
The most recently discovered portion of the movie (recovered after my first article on the subject) was discovered in late 1998 by the Northeast Historic Film in northern New England. The 500 feet of film (approx 5 minutes) contains a ballet sequence. The clip was handed over to UCLA for preservation and storage and a clip was shown on Turner Classic Movies in December 1998. Neither Laurel and Hardy or Lawrence Tibbett feature in this clip. Dimitri Tiomkin, among the most versatile and best known film composers, wrote the music for the ballet sequence as one of his earliest screen efforts. The ballet was choreographed by Albetina Rasch, a well-respected ballerina, dance instructor and Broadway dance director credited with integrating ballet into musical theater and film. When MGM hired her in 1930 to lend her expertise to the new genre of musicals, the studio offered her husband - Tiomkin a contract to score 5 films. Film historian Alan Kattelle, a member of the NHF Advisory Board and a previous benefactor, gave the fragment which was in excellent physical condition to Northeast Historic Film with a collection of 28mm and 35mm films. It is believed that this sequence was cut out of the print because the theatre owner felt it was boring thus reducing the running time and eliminating a potentially yawn inducing sequence.
In 1998 I decided to follow up a lead from Bram Reijnhoudt who wrote that a German version of the film 'Das Lied Der Banditen' was dubbed into Russian and that according the DEFA (East German Film Industry) was shown on television to the Russian troops.
I contacted Vladimir Malyshev, Director General Gosfilmofond of Russia and on December 2nd 1998 I received the following response:-
'Dear Mr. Dorman,
We received your kind letter but unfortunately we cannot help you. We do not have in our collection the prints of interesting to you Laurel and Hardy films. The biggest specialist on DEFA films lives in Berlin. His name is Wolfgang Klaue. The number of his fax is (49-30) 246.56.21.49. We suppose he could reply to your question on the film SONG OF THE BANDITS. We know nothing about it.
We wish you success in your research,
I contacted Wolfgang Klaue and his response on March 3rd 1999 was:-
'Dear Mr. Dorman,
The DEFA-FOUNDATION can't help you in your research. The FOUNDATION has no historical archive, no collection of films. The East German filmindustry was liquidated after the unification of Germany. No files on the production of this studio survived. I have greatest doubts on your information. The studio dubbed exclusively from foreign languages in German. If your information s correct the order could only be given by:
Kalashny Pereulok 14, 103869 Moskau
Wolfgang Klaue Director'
I cannot remember if I ever contacted the Archive!
I also contacted the Bundesarchiv Filmarchiv in Berlin and asked about this movie. The response I got on April 6th was:-
'We got one copy of 'The Rogue Song' 1930, 35 mm, 2.662 m, very probably in German. This is an unique specimen.'
Naturally I was excited so I wrote back asking could I possibly obtain a copy on the 13th April. Their response on May 25th was
'Dear Mr. Dorman,
I refer to your letter of April 13, 1999, and apologise for the delay of my answer: I have been informed by Mrs. Schutz, head of our Dept. of feature films, Tel.: 49-30-86 81 216, that they see no chance to copy foreign films. In case our prints would be the only ones, they will be offered to the Library of Congress and may be rented there. I regret that this answer doesn't fit with your intentions.
A little frustrated I wrote back seeking confirmation of the contents of the film. Here is their final response:-
'Dear Mr. Dorman,
thank you for your letter dated January 12th 2000. Unfortunately the last information you have got about 'The Rogue Song' was not correct. Special evaluation made clear that this material does not exist in Bundesarchiv. Please accept our regrets and excuses (I was also looking for other foreign language versions also and they offered me a copy of the English version of Pardon Us) If you want to lend a copy of the film 'Pardon Us' you will have to supply Bundesarchiv with an agreement with the copyright-owner. I hope I could help you.
And there the story ends for my search. I sometimes wonder if they had it but there was just too much red tape for them to be able to assist and they simply went back and said they don't have it. Who knows?
Its' now been 9 years since any piece from 'The Rogue Song has been located and I wonder if these fragments are all that we will ever have from this 'holy grail' of long lost movies. Perhaps the movie is more intriguing for being lost than anything else. Maybe if it were located it would simply be dismissed as a relic from the past. The chance to see Laurel and Hardy in real colour is tantalizing, now all we have to do is find the movie
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