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Thursday, March 16, 2006



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 Could there have been one print made before it was withdrawn from the package?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.

4 Comments:

Blogger jtk said...

I'm pretty sure The Prague film archive has a black and white silent intertitled version, minus the musical and L&H scenes.

11:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Prague film archive has about 10 minutes of random clips of "The Rogue Song," color but silent and with chech intertitles. There is no footage that contains Laurel and Hardy. From what was reported to me, contained in the Chech reel are clips of Lawrence Tibbett singing, 'Sweet White Dove' and 'Once in the Georgian Hills.' The latter number precedes the 5 minute Swan Ballet that has been found recently. That ballet segment has been shown several times on Turner Classic Movies.
So, "The Rogue Song" soundtrack survived on shellac discs, the cutting continuity script of "The Rogue Song" is at the Library of Congress, the trailer footage and the soundtrack disc to the trailer have been married and restored. The American Film Institute did the restoration in 1982 of the 3 minute fragment from the end of reel 10 that showed the storm, and Laurel and Hardy confronting the bear in the cave. UCLA did the restoration of the Swan Ballet several years ago.
In 1980, portions of the film soundtrack and musical numbers appeared on Pelican LP record 2019. While the album is long out of print, I was lucky to have found a copy of it when I did. Lawrence Tibbett had a powerful voice, and in listening to the album, I was able to get some ideas of what the original film might have been like.
We can always hope for a miracle, but so far there is not enough film footage to make a complete restoration of "The Rogue Song" possible.
--Kay Lhota

10:12 AM  
Blogger jtk said...

Thanks for clearing that up Kay. I got my Rogue Song info from The All Movie Guide(www.allmovie.com): "a black-and-white print of the film was found in a Czechoslovakian archive — with all the musical numbers and Laurel & Hardy scenes removed"! Corrections can be made at their site.

5:11 PM  
Anonymous John Carpenter said...

I have a copy of the sheet music for one of the songs from this film by Clifford grey, music by Franz Lehar, published by Chappell and co It is entitled The White Dove wee you aware of this song?

9:33 PM  

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