Laurel and Hardy

Meet the Polyglots: Laurel and Hardy

A single Laurel and Hardy film will suffice to convince viewers of the predictability of the comedy duo’s slapstick humor, but a rare discovery in Moscow proves they had some surprises up their sleeves.

“Dick und Doof” (fat and stupid), as the American comedians were lovingly dubbed in Germany, were apparently men of greater talent than their on-screen antics would suggest. Not only did these household names hurl, hit and shout their way around the world to international success, they did so with a linguistic flair which would boot most modern film stars right out of the limelight.

An employee at the Munich Film Museum has uncovered a Stan and Olly rarity at the Moscow film archive, which will have German fans tripping over themselves to get a glimpse. The film, “Spuk um Mitternacht,” which would translate to “Spook at Midnight,” is thought to have premiered in Berlin on May 21, 1931 as the first “German Language” Laurel and Hardy film.

Back in those days, synchronizing films was so complex that directors would sooner shoot their work in several different languages, tailoring not only the lingo but the gags and innuendos for the target market, than have to fiddle with putting new voices on top of the originals. And while supporting actors were expected to gracefully hand their roles over to native speakers of the language in question, the likes of big stars such as Greta Garbo or Laurel and Hardy had to twist their tongues into the intricacies of foreign languages to meet the demands of their international audiences.

“Spuk um Mitternacht” is one of very few such ‘foreign’ versions to have survived.

The 40-minutes of slapstick will screen on August 14 at the Bonn Sommerkino film days, and then on October 26 and 27 fans will have a chance to see their heros bumbling and grumbling across the screen at the Munich Film Museum.

The question is, just how fine a mess will they get themselves into with the German language?

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