Ten Things Laurel & Hardy Fans Wish to See Before They Die
So many movies have been lost forever. Nitrate film stock, which was used by the motion picture industry until the 1950s, tends to deteriorate over time. Most films made in the silent era and early sound era have disintegrated long ago with no known surviving prints existing. For some early movie stars this was disastrous. For some most if not all of their films no longer exist. Laurel & Hardy are considered the lucky ones. Most of their films still exist, and over time prints for many of their lost movies have been rediscovered. But for the Laurel & Hardy fan who is not old enough to have seen their films when originally released and wishes to see everything they did, there are still plenty of film footage they hope still exists and hope can be made public before they die. For them this is the top ten list of the most wanted missing or inaccessible Laurel & Hardy footage.
#10 The Complete Version of "Dancing Masters" (1943)
In general, Laurel & Hardy fans have little good to say about the movies they made for 20th Century Fox studios. Only recently have the complete Fox films been released to home video, this along with the realization that the Fox movies were actually pretty good. Nowhere as good as the average movie Laurel & Hardy made while working at Hal Roach studios, but of equal quality as the Abbott and Costello movies made around the same time, and with just as much laughs. The Big Noise (1944), once so detested by Laurel & Hardy fans that it was considered one of the worst motion pictures ever made, was now considered a minor comedy classic by some fans. But as the Fox movies were tentatively being re-evaluated, so came the revelation that one of the movies is incomplete. The Dancing Masters had been cut down by a few reels just prior to release. One of the casualties, an auction scene where Laurel & Hardy inadvertently get stuck buying an expensive grandfather clock, then end up having it destroyed by a truck while bringing it home. This scene was borrowed from an earlier two reeler Thicker Than Water (1935) and there you can see what Fox had edited out. While some of the other Fox films had scenes that did not make it to the release print, this was a case of the scenes being shot and making it to the director's cut, only to be cut just before release by the studio.
#9 The Original Version of "Swiss Miss" (1938)
They say that Rogue Song was Laurel & Hardy's only full color feature film. That may not be the case. There has been some speculation that Swiss Miss was originally shot on color film, and then a decision was made to distribute it on black and white film stock. The movie was originally planned as a color feature with sets and costumes specifically designed with that in mind. Reportedly some test shots in technicolor were even made. But there is currently no evidence that the entire feature was shot in color. What is known is that a longer version of this movie was cut by Stan Laurel, only to have the movie cut again by Roach just prior to being delivered to M.G.M. for distribution. The Stan Laurel edit included a longer mouse trap song in the beginning of the film, and more frustrating, a scene where the cook puts a bomb in a piano rigged to explode when a specific key was hit, this to do away with a composer he was not getting along with. The bomb sequence was to add more suspense to the scene that followed. The composer decides that he wants a more private room, and the concierge suggests that he use the hotel's tree house. This tree house is located on the side of a cliff an only accessible by a rope bridge and a cliff side path. Hardy and a very drunk Laurel are both asked to take the piano to the tree house, but once reaching the bridge, run into a gorilla who causes it to swing and eventually break. ( why a hotel in Switzerland has a gorilla is never explained. Perhaps another scene cut by Roach. ) Since these scenes involved a drunk Laurel carelessly banging on the piano keys, the presence of the bomb could have made them more suspenseful. There is no evidence that Stan Laurel's edit still survives, nor any evidence that it ever existed in color, but fans can only hope that the original negatives will one day turn up.
#8 The Missing Reel From "Any Old Port" (1932)
Have you ever seen the one where Laurel and Hardy attempt to remove an ostrich from a boat? Well, unless you were part of the preview audience for the movie Any Old Port then you never did. The audience there did not laugh at the first reel and Laurel decided to cut it, changing the film from three reels to two. Back in the '80s an entire reel edited out of Laughing Gravy (1931) was rediscovered and edited back on to the existing film. In retrospect the so called missing reel was actually an alternative reel. Laurel felt that the original ending to Laughing Gravy was weak and came up with a different ending, one where Laurel and Hardy are evicted, but at the last moment discover that the boarding house has been quarantined. The alternative ending, where Laurel inherits money under the stipulation that he leaves Hardy, was a rare and lucky find. Laurel & Hardy fans began to hope that if an entire reel of footage from Laughing Gravy could be found, then so too the edited first reel of footage from Any Old Port. In addition, some evidence exists that the scene may have been left in for the European release of the film.
#7 All the Foreign Language Films
And speaking of European releases, Laurel & Hardy fans have recently discovered the foreign language versions of their movies. When the motion picture industry switched from silent movies to sound, one unavoidable problem was that movies shot in English would not sell in countries like Mexico or Germany. With the silent movie there was no problem selling motion pictures to markets where the language was not English. Simply change the title cards to that countries language. In the same respect foreign films like Germany's Metropolis could play in American theaters with no problem. With sound there was a problem. The initial solution was to simply re-shoot the same scene but this time have the actors speak their lines in a different language. For example, after filming a scene in English then shoot it again in Spanish, and again in French, and yet again in German, and so on depending on what foreign markets the producer thought the film would be sold to. In many cases different actors were brought onto the set who spoke those languages. But with the major stars who could not be replaced, they had to learn their foreign language lines phonetically, speaking them without understanding what they were saying. It was known that Hal Roach had done this with many of the early Laurel & Hardy sound films, but as far as fans were concerned these films were of little interest. After all, they were nothing but duplicates of the sound versions. Perhaps a curiosity, but something only film scholars would be interested in seeing. That is, until 1986 when a lab technician cleaning out a vault at M.G.M. found canisters labeled "Laurel and Hardy Spanish". Instead of throwing them out he contacted the copyright holders to the Hal Roach film library and asked them if they wanted the films. They in turn contacted film historian Richard W Bann and asked him if it was worth their while acquiring the films. Bann advised them that the films were definitely important. To the surprise of those viewing these films for the first time in decades, there was extra footage or even alternative versions of these movies than what existed on the American print. For example, the Spanish version of Pardon Us (1930) had a different ending where Laurel and Hardy are outside the prison, as well as a scene with a fire at the warden's house that had been edited out of the American version. This began a search for more foreign language versions. In some cases it was as simple as contacting a foreign film archive where they never suspected that their copies of Laurel & Hardy films were any different than the American versions. Many were found, but many are still among the missing.
#6 The Full Restoration of all the Hal Roach Films.
Imagine seeing The Wizard of Oz (1939), only this time the familiar opening credits are gone, replaced with new, simple black and white credits. Some of the scenes seem to have been cut short, perhaps some songs are completely gone, and there is new corny music playing over much of the film. This is how you have been seeing the musical Babes in Toyland (1934) for the better part of 40 years as it was broadcast on television under the new title March of the Wooden Soldiers. It would not be until 1990 that this film was restored. While Babes in Toyland and most of the other Laurel & Hardy feature films have been fully restored, many others along with most of the shorts have not. The distributors who re-released the films in the '40s through '60s not only replaced the opening credits to remove the M.G.M. logos, but took the liberty of editing out a line or two, a gag here and there, the title cards, and added their own background music. Unfortunately while these later released versions are not only abundant but ended up being used as the masters for future releases and television broadcasts, prints of the original M.G.M. releases are very scarce and hard to find, making restoration near impossible. The recent release of Laurel & Hardy: The Essential Collection, fans got something that came ever so close to a full restoration of all their sound films. The silent films are still a work in progress, and current plans to release them on DVD are on hold.
#5 "That's That!" (1937)
For Stan Laurel's 47th birthday, Roach Studio film editor Bert Jordan gave him a movie made up of outtakes and bloopers from past Laurel & Hardy films called That's That!. The ten minute film has since passed to his daughter Lois who on special occasions has allowed it to be screened for Laurel & Hardy fans. She has so far resisted allowing it to be copied for distribution on home video or television broadcast. Laurel & Hardy fans are still waiting for this movie to become commercially available.
#4 First Reel from "Now Ill' Tell One" (1927)
Now I'll Tell One was a Charlie Chase feature film featuring Stan Laurel in a supporting role as Chase's lawyer, made only a few months before he and Oliver Hardy were officially a team. Still a solo act Laurel appeared as a supporting actor in many of the studios films. Lost for many years, the second reel of the Charlie Chase film was discovered in an archive, and as Stan Laurel was also in it was screened for the first time in over 60 years at a Laurel & Hardy convention. To everyone's surprise they recognized Oliver Hardy in the movie as well, playing a cop in a flashback scene. In other words a Laurel and Hardy film no one knew existed. While the second reel ( which is in poor condition ) exists, Laurel & Hardy fans are still hoping that the first reel can be found and the entire film can once again be viewed.
#3 Complete version of "Battle of the Century" (1927)
And yet another incomplete Laurel & Hardy movie. Although this one is even more frustrating. While Now I'll Tell One is only technically a Laurel & Hardy film because both actors are among the cast, there is no evidence their characters ever meet. Battle of the Century was made after both actors were teemed together and is a real Laurel & Hardy movie. Even more frustrating, the pie fight at the end of this two reeler is considered one of the iconic scenes of the silent era. And it could have been one of their lost movies. Producer Robert Youngson used footage from the film in his 1958 documentary The Golden Age of Comedy. The footage was an edited but nearly complete version of the pie fight. Years later when film historians tried to locate a print of Battle of the Century they asked Youngson what happened to the print he had used. Younson gave them the bad news. Most of the print he had was decomposing, and it was only a matter of good luck that most of the pie fight was still intact. For years only the pie fight was known to exist, when in the '80s the first reel featuring a boxing match between Stan Laurel and Noah Young was found at a television station. So now 70% of this classic still exists. Laurel & Hardy fans are hoping that the remaining 30% turns up.
#2 "The Rogue Song" (1930)
Battle of the Century is partially lost. M.G.M.'s 1930 technicolor musical extravaganza The Rogue Song is almost completely lost. A few decades ago there was no known print of this movie. Stories on it's disappearance vary from a vault fire at M.G.M. to it decomposing due to the highly unstable film stock used in early color films. Whatever the case, by the 1950s M.G.M. realized that the film simply no longer existed in their library. Nor did any other collector or archive have any known copy. Frustrating enough to know that the first technicolor M.G.M. musical is missing and possibly lost forever, but for Laurel & Hardy fans it meant the loss of their only color film. With the arrival of sound M.G.M., like most studios at the time, took advantage of the new medium by planning the release of musicals. Warner Brothers was making a fortune with their contract star Al Jolson. M.G.M. did not have a singer contracted to their studio, something they did not need during the silent era, so they sought out New York Metropolitan Opera star Lawrence Tibbett and signed him to do a screen adaption of the operetta Gypsy Love. Production on the film was completed when studio head Irving Thgalberg decided it was too bleak and needed a few changes. Aside from retitling the movie Rogue Song he decided it needed comedy relief, and asked producer Hal Roach to lend him his contract players Laurel & Hardy to shoot some additional comedy scenes to be inserted into the picture. Rogue Song was released with much fanfare and proved to be a major hit. After it's release all prints were returned to the M.G.M. vault, where it has since vanished. The search for the film began as early as the 1950s when everyone thought optimistically that although M.G.M. may have no longer had The Rogue Song in their vault, that a print of the film could easily be found elsewhere. One by one collectors and archives both in this country and abroad confirmed that they did no have a print. Technicolor said they had check prints of all the movies they processed, but after checking their library realized that the check prints were inexplicably missing. Lawrence Tibbett had a copy of the film, but did not realize how rare it was. No one thought of contacting Tibbett, and it was not until after his death that word spread about how he would screen the film for his friends that a call was made to his estate. The bad news, Tibbett's copy of the film ended up with a friend who did not properly store it resulting in it decomposing. Finally beginning in the '80s bits and pieces of the film turned up. Two separate reels were discovered, although neither featured Laurel & Hardy. A fragment clipped from the film was discovered which featured a scene where Laurel & Hardy hide from a storm in a cave and run into a bear. The soundtrack was kept on separate disk, and they two turned up. And so did a trailer for the movie. After the fall of the Berlin wall it was discovered the film still existed in East Germany as late as the 1960s and had been copied for broadcast on Russian television, although no one seems to know where either the German or Russian prints of the movie are.
#1 "Hats Off" (1927)
Hats Off is gone. Not a trace exists of it. Not even as much as a few seconds. The last confirmed sighting of this film was in the 1950s when one collector screened it to another collector just prior to the second collector purchasing it. The story goes, the buyer received two reels marked Hats Off, but a few years later when he attempted to screen the movie again discovered that he had been sent a M.G.M. musical short also called Hats Off. Since then there has been rumors of underground or private screenings of Hats Off, but this seems to be nothing but urban legend. Laurel & Hardy became an official team in 1927 with the movie The Second Hundred Years. They seemed content with the idea of playing new characters with each movie, such as Laurel as a skirt chasing Scotsman in Putting The Pants on Phillip (1927). But with the second film in the series, Hats Off, they came up with what would eventually be their permanent bowler wearing screen characters. It proved to be their first successful short and established Laurel & Hardy as motion pictures premiere comedy team. But while 1927 proved to be successful for Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, the year that their team evolved, it was not kind to their movies. Of the seven Laurel & Hardy films listed as lost, five were released in 1927. And while Lucky Dog (1921), Duck Soup (1927), Why Girls Love Sailors (1927) and most of Battle of the Century (1927) have been found over the years, Hats Off still remains missing.
As of June 2015 the complete second reel of Battle of the Century was found, which now knocks this list down to 9.
Wikipedia seems to suggest that another movie on the list was rediscovered in 2015. The entery for Rogue Song currently says the following:
A complete 104 minutes Technicolor print and 11 minutes of fragments of the extended version of The Rouge Song" were restored by UCLA.
In 2015, a UCLA team visited the Czech Film Archive in Prague to restore an original two-strip Technicolor print and 11 minutes of fragments of the extended version of The Rouge Song. Prior to this, despite extensive searches, no complete print of the movie had been found.
While it is possible a team from UCLA has been dispatched to Prague to investigate reports of an extent print of the film, the only record for this so far is on the not always reliable Wikipedia, and at the moment, nowhere else on the internet has reported the film being rediscovered. Even the only mention of Rogue Song on the UCLA website is an old entry on the restoration of it's trailer, and claims the rest of the movie is still lost. If in fact Rogue Song has been resdiscovered and reports are being held back until a print can be seccured, then that would make 2015 the year that two lost Laurel & Hardy films were rediscovered. But I will still consider the film's status as "lost", or at the least incomplete, until I see that Warner Brothers is releasing it on DVD.