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"Well, here's another nice mess you've gotten me into -
Eine schoene Suppe hast Du mir da wieder eingebrockt!"
(Oliver Hardy, The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case / Another Fine Mess, 1930)
Another Nice Mess...
Taking Things too seriously in a life full of haste and stress is not only a disease (or may lead to some) but a necessity to survive in times of tight economical competition. Relaxation can be achieved in many ways, here is one: By entering a far away world, black and white, some seventy years ago, where things seem easy and two buddies fight with the little things in daily life, including misunderstanding and confusion. The very welcome distraction was originally created in times of economical crises, unemployment and war. In those days the line that is the most closely associated with the comedian duo - "Well, here's another nice mess you've gotten me into" - may have sounded like a relief from the everyday struggle to feed the family and find a new way to survive... just.
Today we look back with a Smile at those two pals with their bowlers, far away from us like a dusty, faded picture. The amount of their still existing popularity you can only guess when seeing that plastic masks of Stan & Ollie are still on display in toy stores during carnival season. Their golden times had been the 1930's and so it is almost unbelievable that kids after watching their movies decades later still tried to play "kneesy, earsy, nosey," in the US also known as "Ollie Watcha Doodlie-do," requiring some coordination skills. My grandfather used to show how he could rip his thumb apart and a late great uncle of mine used to lean against a door to miraculously move his hat, all tricks copied from L&H classics as I would later find out. Notably, they were based on scenes in "The Devil's Brother", "The Bohemian Girl" and "Towed in a Hole". My folks' favourite coin vanish trick, I would rediscover in the John Wayne movie "The Flying Tigers". During the Pee Wee game in "Babes in Toyland" Stan's finger play serves as silent response to Ollie's statement: "It's a certainty that anything you can do, I can do." Watching those Bogus Bandits on DVD, my boy really got into the finger wiggle, similar to us at his age after following the "Laugh with Stan and Ollie"-long film parade on TV. One day in Michigan I'd show the same to two Asian colleagues over dinner (or was it late breakfast?) at the IHOP, the International House of Pancakes. And they did very well, as did the waitress (no salad order this time), who knew the trick already, but not where it had originated from. In any case, the finger wiggle should not be confused with the hand folding-nursery rhyme "Here's the church, here's the steeple, open the door and here are the people."
In German speaking Countries Laurel & Hardy made their first appearance within silent movies, of course. Showing those films in a theater or restaurant needed to involve at least two local supporters. The projectionist, manually spinning the film rolls - the more exciting a chase should look, the faster the film rolls would be wound - and in his company ideally a good piano player to break the silence, which later also shellacs would do. One reel of film would last about 10 minutes and Laurel & Hardy shorts usually consisted of two or three of such reels. With the invention of the sound track some stars on the Hollywood sky suddenly disappeared, for the actor's voices did not always match the expectations of the audience, as documented in the musical classic "Singing in the Rain (Du sollst mein Gluecksstern sein, 1952)." In the year 1929 the Laurel & Hardy comedies - in German referred to as grotesques - already played very well with the new sound elements. Scenes could indicate by sound that something else had happened out of sight, like Stan had fallen downstairs, and funny noises accompanied Ollie bending over. Unlike those enormously popular silent movie stars like Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, who gave up the silent tramp character around that time, Laurel & Hardy caught up quickly with the new technology and used it cleverly to even better transport their skills and stabilize their own fame, finally making them immortal through their lifework and known to future generations still to come.
RIGHT - FRAME I: 1. With pants down cop Edgar Kennedy in Leave ‘Em Laughing (1928), 2. Up on a construction site in Liberty (1929), 3. Playing checkers in Brats (1930), 4. Gag Photo with Dog (early 1930's), 5. Dancing scene from Way Out West (1936), 6. Jailbreak from The Second Hundred Years (1927), 7. Riding a steel girder in Liberty (1929), 8. In striped overalls and a cut bowler in Tit for That (1935). FRAME II: 1. Gypsies with The Bohemian Girl (1936), 2. Doing laundry in Flying Deuces (1939), 3. Bogus bandits in Fra Diavolo (1933), 4. In overalls from Busy Bodies (1933), 5. Burning Thumb still after Way Out West (1936), 6. The Austrian Grand Coalition by Gerhard Haderer (1995), 7. Reading the paper in Pack Up Your Troubles (1932), 8. Adopting a baby in Their First Mistake (1932), 9. Scene of destruction from Busy Bodies (1933). FRAME III: 1. Signed Photo, 2. With apples in A Chump at Oxford (1940), 3. With mule Dinah in Way Out West (1937), 4. Autograph Card, 5. Looking at an old picture of Their Purple Moment (1928), 6. Blowing up the hat in Bonnie Scotland (1935), 7. Arabs in A-Haunting We Will Go (1941), 8. Wheelchair from Blockheads (1938).
Dick & Doof: More than Fat & Stupid
The Boys did speak German after all. To maintain their international popularity, the comedians started doing movies in other languages, where their pronunciation added another comic element to the plot. In 1999, a promotional clip of first full length talking picture "Pardon Us" back in 1932 was rediscovered in Denmark. The same trailer was added as a bonus feature to the 2002 Kinowelt-DVD release "Hinter Schloss und Riegel (Locked up behind bars)." However, the long film was contained in its synchronized version from 1950. And then a real surpise happened: In 2004, their very first German talkie "Spuk um Mitternacht (Spook at Midnight)" from 1931 was recovered from an archive in Moscow. The foreign language version of the short "The Laurel and Hardy Murder Case" had been combined with some train footage from "Berth Marks." Shooting the picture separately for another market also left room for localization. A good example is found in the scene, where Ollie mistakenly points out the Laurel family resemblance with a painting that differs among the film versions. In the US original, he instantaneously improvises parallels from old University days with the words: "Why, of course it's General Grant. His son and I belonged to the same Alma Mater. Meaning Delta Phi Delta." After composing a fraternity name of three Greek letters, he goes on imitating a typical American fraternity cheer: "Ra Ra Ra Sis Boom Ra!" In the German language version however, pointing at a painting supposedly portraying Julius Caesar, Ollie would refer to a local colour carrying student organization: "Jaja, sein Sohn war mein Korpsbruder - Yes, yes, his son was my corps brother." To support his claim, he intonates the traditional Latin student song "Gaudeamus igitur, iuvenes dum sumus - Let's enjoy ourselves, as long as we are young!" Following restoration by the Munich Film Museum and insertion of missing scenes from the Spanish and American versions, in 2010 the spooky film was released on DVD with the tagline: "Dick & Doof sprechen deutsch - Fat & Stupid speak German." The dialogue would feature for the very first time Mr Hardy's most famous line: "Du hest mer ja schoeen dee Suppe versalzen!" - "Ech Der, wieso ech?" - "Nun, ist Den Namen nickt Laurel?" - "Ja, aber nur ouf mainer Muter-Saite..." Which back-translates into English as following: "Well, here's another nice mess you've gotten me into!" - "What do you mean, I got you into?" - "Well, your name's Laurel, isn't it?" - "Well, only on my mother's side..." What it exactly translates to in proper German remains a mystery...
German Movie Imports of the 1930's were well documented by censorship, at first just deciding whether the films contained elements only to be shown to adults, later imposing import quantity restrictions and total banishment of American movies by the Nazi regime. This is when single comedies saw their first display to German speaking audience in Austria, before this country got incorporated into the expanding German Reich as well. An early example is "The Bohemian Girl," banned from public performance in Germany for transporting a too positive image of gypsies, tramps and thieves. Which was no problem at all in then still free Austria, where it premiered in late 1937 under the German title "Lustig ist das Zigeunerleben - Merry is the Gypsy Life." Even after the war, deliberately distorting German synchronization changed Ollie's film-wife to his sister, to ensure suitability for the economically important general audience release. Omitting the scandalous extramarital affair from the plot, dialogues like "I just saw Devilshoof kissing your wife" were changed into a more harmless "This Sandor kisses your sister behind the wagon." All in all, between 1927 and 1937 only about half of the Laurel & Hardy comedies had made their way to a German speaking audience. And that even before their films got dragged into American war propaganda, climaxing in "Air Raid Wardens (1943)" with their "Store closed to fight the Japs." To the words "You've got to get up early in the morning to fool us," Ollie would raise the pointed finger at a picture on the wall showing the German Fuehrer, which in a Wilhelm Tell-act gets an apple shot into the open mouth. Scenes coincidentally missing, when the film was for the first time playing in German theaters in 1958.
The Saps leaving Roach. As small short films, humorously depicting and examining everyday situations, were superseded by animated Fleischer and Disney cartoons with their unbeatable surrealism, economic circumstances lead Hal Roach into the production of feature films. The shorts had been Laurel's preferred film format, where he was allowed to freely experiment for with twenty minute long two-reelers one could neither earn nor lose much money. With the production of more expensive long films, the producer demanded more say, and the resulting differences with Hal Roach over time drove the boys into the arms of the big studios Fox and MGM. Initially, Hal Roach had kept Laurel and Hardy under separate contracts with different run times, so that the boys could not leave for another studio as a team. The situation escalated in 1938 during retakes for "Block Heads". Oliver Hardy was put on the film "Zenobia" with Harry Langdon, also known as "An Elephant Never Forgets", which failed to establish them as a new comedy team. Eventually, Stan got his way, and Laurel & Hardy were both signed to new contracts to make "Flying Deuces", one of their most popular films. However, in 1940 after "Saps at Sea", a cheaply made B-movie, the boys left Roach.
Nothing But Trouble with Big Studios. In retrospect, Stan Laurel summarized: "I didn't always see eye to eye with Roach, but for the most part he left us alone, and I'll always be grateful to Hal for that. But those Fox people! We surely had no say in those films and it surely looked it." "All in the name of economy", the actors were initially not allowed to improvise or contribute to the scripts. However, "Nothing but Trouble" by Twentieth Century Fox involved Buster Keaton as gag man and would become one of the Laurel & Hardy's most popular films ever. As chef and butler they prepare the hilarious "Steak a la Oliver." A prime cut (if you manage to cut it) of dubious origin, or as the madam of the house puts it: "You certainly got the lion's share, Stanley." His answer: "How do you know?" Despite ongoing commercial success, their star had started to fade after leaving Hal Roach and doing movies at the big studios, where their comedian talent was limited by certain boundaries for spontaneous acting. In "Jitterbugs" car trouble in the desert-like terrain of Joshua Tree National Park preceded the sale of the miraculous gas pill. The duo went on quoting gags from their early days in the big films. In the MGM movie "The Bullfighters", which is often regarded as the best of their late films, the water-fountain scene and the egg-smashing routine, reprised from "Hollywood Party", were even directed by Stan Laurel, unofficially and uncredited of course.
In the Stage 8 English Reading Book "Key Trouble", hero-boy Kipper watches an old film about two men moving a piano…
International Nicknames. Other films were shown with subtitles, before the dubbing started getting industrialized and more wide spread, adding a not insignificant additional cost element, which caused e.g. former Eastern European countries to stay away from synchronization of English movies up to the most recent past (and by that giving their youth an additional free training in foreign languages on TV). Stan and Ollie gained quite some popularity under the names "Dick & Doof" (the latter misspelled "Dof" in the early days), until those were prohibited by the American film distributors for obvious reasons. And also the actors themselves are said to have been actually depressed by hearing that they were labeled "Fat & Stupid" among the German speaking population. In Spain they would be referred to as "el Gordo y el Flaco" standing for "the Fat & the Thin," which at least did not mean they had no brains.
Happy Fruits. In China on the other hand being brainless has made it to an own entertainment style called "wu li tou" - ridiculous behavior, typically mixing unrelated things without making much sense (intentionally, which is harder). "Happy Fruit" is what they were supposedly called in Korea, while in Poland they got the new names "Flip & Flap," the latter for Oliverek (as you would say there). Ollie was nicknamed "Bran" in Romanian language (supranumit pe romaneste "Bran"), making them "Stan si Bran" as a duo. Just another name as in "Castelul Bran," the Transylvanian castle that became famous as "Castelul lui Dracula," in German unspectacularly called "Toerzburg."
Duo Italiano. In Italy they were known as "Stanlio e Ollio" - just as in their movie "The Devil's Brother," which was based on the Italian opera "Fra Diavolo." Another one of many variations of their names, which only further documents their international popularity. While in today's world generally regarded as harmless, possibly even naive, that perception had not been generally shared in the past, in times of much tighter moral standards, often politically motivated.
Caption from a teen magazine: "Their best trick: In 'Knirpse - Brats' they concurrently played parents and children. Ollie always had the father role, Stan the mother part." And the boys look at a family picture of its own kind.The English name Oliver was quite unusual in the early 1970's in German speaking countries. But it was well known. Wonder why... "We're different, we're the same" by Bobbi Jane Kates (Random House, New York, 1992) is a Sesame Street picture book which really gets different from the time you discover that smile… Too bad there may be kids that don't even recognize the boy's cameos any more. I guess in one way we are really unique, individuals with a certain reason for living, in another we may be exchangeable in what we do or talk.
Unaccustomed Revival: 100 Year Celebration
After World War II, in the destroyed cities of central Europe those comedy movies were perfect for diversion and bringing back happy moments to the suffering population. Slapstick comedies proved ideal for this purpose for being based on practical jokes, strong mimic and physical action in form of clashes, crashes and chases, while harmless in spirit and without hidden propaganda. Their name originates from a wooden device, the "slapstick" (Italian: battacio, German: Pritsche), a noisy bat, still used in Punch & Judy puppet shows, locally known as "Kasperltheater." Freed from the Nazi regime and still under allied military occupation, in Austria among others French versions of Laurel & Hardy movies could be followed with subtitles, before dubbed versions were being produced again in Germany, especially in the early 1950's. The Laurel & Hardy revival in German movie theaters lasted no shorter than from 1949 to 1959, and by 1956 had shifted mostly into afternoon performances for kids. More synchronization efforts were made in the 1960's, and a number of the duo's classics found themselves newly dubbed and titled, each title starting with their reactivated German names "Dick und Doof" now. As so often also over-synchronization happened, adaptation to local mentality by adding forms of the German "Kalauer - lame puns" wherever possible. Corny jokes were introduced as part of localization rather than sticking to the often more laconic, slow burning English version. A good example for the fine irony can be found on the original title card of "Be Big (1931)": "Mr Hardy is a man of great care, caution and discretion - Mr Laurel is married too."
Shredded Footage. With their movies still shown in afternoon performances at local theaters, Laurel & Hardy shorts came out on 8 millimeter film (Super-8), as part of the upcoming home movie business, and in the 1960's had their first regular appearances on public TV, even at Prime Time. These efforts were intensified in 1970 with the first Friday early evening show only dedicated to the comedy duo "Dick & Doof," and continued in 1975 with their long film parade "Lachen Sie mit Stan und Ollie (Laugh with Stan & Ollie)," presented by the popular German comedian Theo Lingen, and broadcasted as highlights of lazy Sunday afternoons. What followed was business with video tapes in the 1980's, in the end even colorized, leading to events like the 100 year celebration of Oliver Hardy's birthday by the private German TV Station SAT1 in 1992. Finally, restoration and preservation work was carried out in a DVD collection by Kirch Media between January 2000 and August 2004, not even stopped by bankruptcy of the parent company. For the first time, Laurel & Hardy's comprehensive works with the Hal Roach studios would be collected, with missing scenes mostly reinstated and complemented by supplementary production notes.
A Laurel and Hearty Handshake. Becoming part of a pun themselves, they were mentioned in the Mel Brooks' genre spoof "Blazing Saddles (Der Wilde Wilde Westen, 1974)" in a welcome speech to the new Sheriff: "As honorary chairman of the Welcoming Committee it is my privilege to extend to you a laurel and hearty handshake."
Silent Bellboy Moment. A homage to the silent film era as such is the movie "The Bellboy (Hallo Page, 1960)," Jerry Lewis' directorial debut. A few sentences spoken on the phone "Coffee shop, have you seen Stanley? Which Stanley? The only Stanley in the world!" are the keywords for a Stan Laurel impersonator to appear instead of the bellboy of same name. Unfortunately, when Jerry approached Stan Laurel to play himself, Stan gently turned him down, insisting that his aged appearance would disappoint his fans.
Western Childhood Memories. Stand-up comedian Steve Martin I do especially remember for his hilarious half-man-half-woman slapstick in "All of Me (Solo fuer zwei, 1984)." In his clumsiness pulling one face after the other, he could be regarded as an epigone of Jerry Lewis, but occasionally his innocent sweetness and vulnerability recalls Stan Laurel. Being the first comedy movie Steve had watched as a child, he found Stan hilarious in a scene from "Way Out West," where he smoked his own hand.
After so many years we were surprised to receive candy as a gift that still featured the so familiar faces of those immortal bogus bandits of the laugh muscle. The caption on the chocolate box read: "It's nice to have a good friend." How true!
Bogus Bandits: Attack at the Laugh Muscle
Confusion with German Titles on the other hand, as happening with "The Devil's Brother," can have a commercial background. As stated in Norbert Aping's "Das Dick und Doof Buch (2004)" the reason behind it had been a short term exchange of the 1967 release plan from "The Devil's Brother" to "Pack Up Your Troubles," for the latter meant lower synchronization costs with the new adaptation. As the German title "Die Teufelsbrueder" had been already announced for the next movie and contracts had been made by Atlas Films using that name, they simply relabeled "Pack Up Your Troubles" to get out of the resulting mess. Later, as a consequence of the already used title, the new German version of "The Devil's Brother" had to be released in 1969 as "Die Sittenstrolche" (immoral souls), a potentially misleading translation of the alternate title "Bogus Bandits," which rather describes them as charlatans or tricksters (German: "Die Scharlatane" or "Die Trickbetrueger"). Despite concerns about the speculative "immoral" German title, the Film Rating-Commission FSK released the "Devil's Brother"-movie for general audiences, instead of rating it PG. (The German abbreviation FSK describes the voluntary self control of the film industry, known as "Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle.") With the 1979 TV broadcast "The Devil's Brother" finally received the unmistakable title "Fra Diavolo," where "Pack Up Your Troubles" would be run as "Vergiss Deine Sorgen - Forget your worries," a good characterization of many of their masterworks. Nevertheless the 2001 DVD Release of "Troubles" was again called "Die Teufelsbrueder." But as a trade-off it contained an alternative end from the Spanish film version. What outstanding talents must they have represented, for still being remembered so well! Now digitally preserved for future generations (and aliens) to come, their DVD releases are making up for too little TV broadcast.
Hundred-And-Six Good Times Overall, statistics list the two comedians in 9 appearances together prior their first announcement as a duo in "The Second Hundred Years" (in the beginning as "Hardy and Laurel"), the first of 23 silent shorts they would star together. Then beginning with "Unaccustomed as We Are" they had 40 sound shorts, 23 full length feature films from the ambitious "Pardon Us" to the sad "Atoll K," 10 brief guest appearances in other works and 1 commercial. Within their 106 films altogether the duo did perform remakes of early sketches from their silent movies, which are mostly included as DVD extras for comparison. To some, revisiting those old movies may feel like revisiting the own childhood. One of these efforts to bring good times from the past back. And watching Stan and Ollie, we definitely had a good time. In the meantime, Laurel & Hardy remain so popular that they even feature a 2005 edition of Zewa tissues on Hollywood Legends! Probably for you may laugh so hard that you must cry. Blow your nose & have fun!
SLOH - An Abbreviation? Strange and funny at the same time is that the initials "Stan Laurel – Oliver Hardy" could also stand for their main characteristics "Steadily Laughing – Open Hearted." As such they are describing a gift and a blessing, only very few of us are meant to pass on in a world becoming more and more serious, consuming and upset… So let us pause for a little while and reflect on what we see and feel when we look around us.
Stretching to the Ceiling. When we look down, we see a floor, a place we kick all day by walking on. And usually we do not take that look down too often, for it feels below our level. In the same way we tend to treat each other… When we look up now, we see a ceiling, like a limit we are still not at. Stepping outside there is the endless sky above. Why do we want to go there, isn't the air pretty thin up there? Happiness can be defined by being pleased with what we have achieved. But how do we know that enough is reached and we need to stabilize on that level for the sake of our beloved ones and ourselves? Nowadays we have to organize and pay for temporary relaxation, instead of just doing the most obvious: Lean back and concentrate on true values of life, exchanging with each other two of the biggest presents to make: Happiness and time. (And this is definitely easier written than actually done!) Even if we do not feel like it sometimes, let us maintain a friendly relationship to the people around us, including those we'd rather avoid for having hurt us, and allow for a little fun in life.