New Discovery

The Laurel and Hardy Murder Case


By Glenn Mitchell

Potentially exciting news from the German TWO TARS Tent, who have announced the rediscovery of SPUK UM MITTERNACHT (`SPOOK[S] AT MIDNIGHT'), the German-language version of  THE LAUREL-HARDY MURDER CASE. Reports claim that SPUK UM MITTERNACHT will be screened in public on 14th August, 2004, at the Rheinisches Landesmuseum in Bonn, and that further screenings will take place on 26 and 27 October at Munich's Filmmuseum. There are, reportedly, plans for the film to be restored and issued on DVD.

Laurel and Hardy Murder CaseFor those unfamiliar with the foreign-language remakes of the Laurel & Hardy films, it should be explained that, in the very early days of talkies, dubbing and subtitling for foreign versions had not yet become standard. Sometimes entire films would be re-shot in different languages, frequently with changes of cast and variations in content. On occasion the foreign editions of short comedies would be expanded to feature-length by the addition of deleted scenes and/or by the combination of two films into a single entity. Laurel & Hardy remade several shorts (and one feature, PARDON US) in this fashion, speaking their own dialogue with the aid of language coaches and off-camera prompting boards. Most of these remakes were in Spanish, though several were in French and a few others done in German. Many of these foreign editions are not known to exist today. Until now the only known survivor of the German editions has been a selection of short clips from PARDON US.

The print was recovered from an archive in Moscow, which points to one of the reasons why the German versions became particularly elusive. It is known that, when the USSR entered Germany towards the end of the Second World War, they seized huge quantities of film. Only in recent years has there been a programme of repatriating footage to Germany, and even then only films made in Germany itself. This, as an American-made production, makes for an interesting exception to that policy. It might be mentioned in passing that this subject - and much else besides -is explored in Norbert Aping's forthcoming book about the release of the L&H films in Germany, publication of which has been temporarily postponed pending the film's screening.

In common with its Spanish equivalent, NOCHE DE DUENDES (recently released in Universal's DVD series) and a still-missing French edition, SPUK UM MITTERNACHT combines MURDER CASE with footage from an earlier L&H short, BERTH MARKS. There has been some speculation as to the authenticity of the announced rediscovery, because of a running time that has been quoted variously as 31, 33 or 40 minutes, whereas a full version should run perhaps 47 to 49 minutes, as per the Spanish edition. Robert Dickson, who has previously written about the foreign-language versions for past editions of THE LAUREL & HARDY MAGAZINE, believes he has seen evidence to the effect that the German edition was indeed of similar duration to the Spanish. An announcement from the Munich Filmmuseum claims that the original running time was 40 minutes (probably an underestimate), citing a running time of 31 minutes for the present copy. According to the Munich statement, footage is missing from the end of the train sequence (derived from BERTH MARKS) and from the earlier scenes at the mansion.

American Version

German Version

French Version

The trainconductor is played by three different actors, who are native American (left), German (middle) and French (right) speakers. With special thanks to Blotto Online

What does seem certain is that this is the original German-language version, with at least some of the BERTH MARKS material included. Earlier speculation was that this might have been a dubbed English edition with perhaps extra footage added from other films (as has often happened with German revivals), or else that it was an abridged copy of the original German version with, perhaps, the BERTH MARKS footage excised. We hope to provide more information after the film has been screened publicly.


Since this article was first posted on our website, Bram Reijnhoudt's BLOTTO site has reproduced the main title cards for SPUK UM MITTERNACHT. These are of interest because, unlike the French and Spanish editions, they do not retain the domestic titling style. These title cards are of specific MGM design and were almost certainly made up in the USA, rather than by a German distributor. Instead of a first card saying `Hal Roach Presents Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy', followed by a second card giving the film's title, the first card translates to `MGM Presents the Hal Roach Comedy SPUK UM MITTERNACHT', with the second title billing the L&H team as `Oliver Hardy (Dick) and Stan Laurel (Dof)'. It should be noted that Stan's local name was altered to `doof' in later years. The use of these nicknames is particularly surprising given that, according to Norbert Aping, it was only a few years later that MGM strictly forbade exhibitors to bill the Laurel & Hardy team in that fashion. Perhaps someone at MGM discovered what those names actually meant!

The Laurel and Hardy Murder Case
A group portrait of most of the players who participated in the three filmings of 'The Murder Case'. Top left is the German interpreter, and next to him the Spanish interpreter. At left in the front row is Jean De Briac, the French interpreter who also appeared in many L&H films. Clustered around director James Parrott (centre) are the American players, Dorothy Granger, Frank Austin, Del Henderson (in drag), Tiny Sandford, George Binns, and Rosa Gore. Sitting between Laurel and Hardy is the publicity girl for the Roach studio. (source: The Laurel and Hardy Book by Leonard Maltin)


You can purchase this from Amazon's German web site. I hear you thinking...OK but that site is all in German. The good news is the layout and design is the same as the UK and USA Amazon web sites. Even better is that ALL amazon web sites are linked. So if you follow the same ordering pattern you will be able to buy this. PLUS, if you have already purchased from ANY Amazon web site, your user name and password will work on the German site, so no need to fill anything in.


Here is an interesting "Laurel and Hardy Foreign Scenes Compilation.   It lasts 25 minutes and includes some scenes of the Boys in English, Spanish, German and French.  Some are interesting, for example, where the English version is shown first, then is followed by the Spanish version, then the German version. 


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