Our Search For The Rogue Song Goes On
Along with London After Midnight, The Divine Woman, and a complete Magnificent Ambersons, The Rogue Song ranks as perhaps the most sought after of all lost films. There have been discoveries over the years, frustrating ones in a way, because they only offer a glimpse of what this all-talking, two-color Technicolor feature might have been like for audiences in 1930. There were rumors as well. A print in the Soviet Union --- shown to military troops there as late as the 1960’s! And how about that listing in some of the early TV syndication source books? Could there have been one print made before it was withdrawn from the package? Most likely not. The fire that claimed MGM’s negative materials happened decades ago. If a complete Rogue Song surfaces, it will most likely be some renegade European print. In the meantime, there have been fragments --- jumbled pieces of a 103-minute jigsaw to tantalize us. First, a random sequence. Some dialogue with Lawrence Tibbett, followed by a truncated Laurel and Hardy routine involving a bear --- and wouldn’t you know it? Stan and Oliver run into a dark cave and we can’t even see them! There’s only the briefest glimpse of the two within this three or so minute clip, which was itself discovered by a New Hampshire collector in a used book store back in the eighties. Since then, another segment has turned up --- this one a ballet about ten minutes long --- and damn it all, Laurel and Hardy aren't in it. There’s also a trailer, and hopefully it’ll be on the L&H DVD that Warner plans to release soon. Original sound discs of the complete feature are also said to have survived. Does anyone know of anything else?
Everyone assumes that The Rogue Song was, as one modern day critic put it, a real stinkeroo --- but these trade reviews and columns would appear to tell a different story. Now I realize certain publications were compromised by their mutual back-scratching relationships with the studios, but these raves go way beyond the customary boot-licking policies maintained by the trades. You’ll note that MGM has laid out some very attractive color ads for the film, none of which emphasize Laurel and Hardy. Chances are they wanted to sell baritone Lawrence Tibbett to the highbrows for these flagship openings, and leave the push on the boys for the sticks. Interesting that even deluxe Broadway houses had sound problems during those first awkward talkie years, as you’ll see from the complaint about excessive volume during the Astor Theatre engagement. Otherwise, The Rogue Song seems to have wowed ‘em. But then again, maybe not. Like all the majors, MGM knew how to cook the books on new releases, using misleading figures and bought reviews to make all of them look like solid Broadway hits. That may well have been the case here, as The Rogue Song did ultimately lose money (note the figures). So where does the truth lie? Did people like this show? After seventy-six years, it’s unlikely we’ll ever know, and under the present circumstances, equally unlikely that we’ll ever get to see The Rogue Song for ourselves.