Forgotten Laurel &Hardy film emerges on French DVD

By Chris Seguin

In the past few years we've been fortunate enough to come across a handful of "lost" Laurel & Hardy rarities - even more fortunate is that most of these recently discovered pieces are available on DVD or CD.

But now comes the most recent find, on the latest edition of Serge Bromberg's DVD series, RETOUR DE FLAMME: an unknown promotional reel intended strictly for MGM exhibitors in Europe and Africa - not the general public. This print is dubbed in French, and represents the public's first opportunity to see the complete film. (Brief clips were included on German TV documentary.)

Laurel & Hardy's footage runs less than 3 minutes in the 8 ½ minute reel. Oddly enough, the films they're promoting don't include any of their own!

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[retour1.jpg] The film opens on Stan and Ollie as janitors in an observatory. Ollie is sweeping up while Stan dusts a giant telescope.

[retour 2.jpg] Stan peers into the scope and in doing so….

[retour3.jpg]… smacks Ollie in the head. He tells Ollie he's "looking at the stars… Metro Goldwyn Mayer! Look…."

[retour4.jpg] Ollie peers into the scope and in doing so…

[retour5.jpg]…smacks Stan in the head.

[retour6.jpg] Enter Finlayson, scowling and upset. Stan scurries away.

[retour7.jpg] Ollie returns to peering at the stars, but looks up Finlayson's proboscis instead. Fin is not amused: "What are you doing?" Ollie replies, "We're looking at the Metro Goldwyn Mayer stars."

[retour8.jpg] Fin tells them a thing or two: "But what you see there wasn't meant for you. It's reserved for our friends in Europe and Africa."

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Finlayson invites the audience to look at the upcoming attractions from Metro Goldwyn Mayer for 1936: Mutiny On The Bounty, Tarzan Escapes, A Night At The Opera, The Great Ziegfeld and Anna Karenina, among others.

[retour10.jpg] Returning to the boys, Stan's clumsiness breaks the lens of the telescope. Irate, Finlayson chases them away into an elevator.

[retour11.jpg]  Ollie puts a halt to Finlayson's bum's rush. He has something he'd like to say to the audience:

[retour12.jpg] "Goodbye, my friends. We really hope you enjoyed our visit to the stars. We'll be back soon…"

[retour13.jpg] Unbeknownst to Ollie, Fin's elbow has sent the elevator upward. Ollie turns, and plunges down the shaft for what seems to be an eternity. Fin - as always - takes it big. Finis.

READ MORE... by Trevor Dorman

The existence of this film was unknown until it was discovered around 6 years ago. The print that exists today was dubbed into French and apparently was destined for a French audience originally as several titles within the non L&H segment appear in French.

Undoubtedly it was dubbed into other languages. Both Ollie's yell and Fin's 'Doh!' are the actor's own. It was thought to date from 1933 but the giveaway to the real date (1936) is the fact that the narrator at one point refers to "Albertina Hash's enchanting ballet for the 1936 musical comedy Broadway Melody".

Although Ollie appearance is always hard to date, as his rotund face looked the same from 1930 - 1940 Stan on the other hand looks visually the same as the 1935 - 1937 period. Their jackets appear to be those they wore in 1929's "The Hoose-Gow"

The clip is of the utmost importance in that it features both Laurel and Hardy at their prime in 1936 in costume in a comedy routine with James Finlayson.

The only pity is that the English soundtrack is not extant; perhaps it too is awaitng rediscovery. There is no main title so I am a bit confused as to why it is being referred to as a "Galaxy Of Stars" but the phrase is used in the clip.

Some people are suggesting that the film was not destined for public exhibition but rather for theatre owner's own use. I find it hard to believe that MGM would commission L&H to film a routine merely for theatre owners. My guess is that it is similar in nature to a trailer, but a composite trailer. It would be interesting to find out what film set the L&H scenes were filmed on.

All in all it is one of the most interesting curios to emerge in recent years and certainly one of the most important. Lobster Films are to be applauded for bringing it out on DVD for us all to enjoy.

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