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Watch Ladrones - Alternative Versions.
"Ladrones," which is Spanish for "Thieves," marked the first time
producer Hal Roach would have Laurel & Hardy appear in multiple
versions of a talkie short, re-shooting the film repeatedly in various
European languages for the international trade. Today it seems like an
incredibly labor-intensive way to make pictures, but in the early '30s
it was good business. Neither subtitling nor dubbing had been perfected
as yet, and Laurel & Hardy were very popular overseas, so Roach had
them remake their films in Spanish, French, and/or German. (The choice
of languages varied with each short.) This practice was followed by
Roach's other stars as well, even the Our Gang kids. Since Stan and
Ollie spoke only English they had to deliver their lines phonetically,
with the help of language coaches and an off-screen chalkboard.
Needless to say, their delivery of pidgin dialog was less than perfect,
but their slippery enunciation and weird accents only made their films
funnier for those viewers who did speak the lingo.
Ladrones is the Spanish version of Night Owls, which in turn was based
on a stage sketch Stan Laurel performed in the years before he teamed
with Oliver Hardy. In the screen version, Stan & Ollie are pawns in a
scheme concocted by dim-witted cop Edgar Kennedy, who is in trouble
with the Police Chief because he hasn't made any arrests after a rash
of burglaries. Kennedy finds the boys sleeping on a park bench, but
promises they won't go to jail for vagrancy if they'll agree to
burglarize the Chief's home. Kennedy promises he will arrest them
himself, and see to it that they won't get in any trouble. All they
have to do is break into the house, stuff a few valuables in a bag, and
allow Kennedy to apprehend them. What could possibly go wrong?
Night Owls is seldom cited among the boys' best comedies, but in
several respects it's pure Laurel & Hardy. The guys are permitted lots
of leeway for a whole slew of break-in gags, playing off each other in
extended sequences without any time-wasting subplots. Highlights: they
climb over a wall with typical finesse, Stan rips Ollie's clothes, they
imitate yowling cats, they get in the house and then lock themselves
out, and, best of all, they match wits (as it were) with the Police
Chief's butler Meadows, played by Jimmy Finlayson. Night Owls is a good
short and I happen to like it, but I enjoy Ladrones even more. What's
fun about the alternate version, first, is that Kennedy and Finlayson
repeat their roles, though both seem to be highly unlikely speakers of
Spanish. On top of that, Ladrones runs a full fifteen minutes longer
than Night Owls. For the English language version the filmmakers had to
trim the running time to two reels, but there were no time constraints
for the European market, so Ladrones offers a number of bits that were
cut from the other, more familiar version.
The noticeable differences in Ladrones begin with the very first scene
in the police station, as we learn that there has been a rash of
burglaries. When the Chief (Enrique Acosta) complains to Officer
Kennedy about it, he adds that, fortunately, there wasn't a burglary at
his own house. This line, which is not in Night Owls, helps plant the
scheme in Kennedy's mind. Later, when the boys are in the yard outside
the Chief's house, Ollie twice steps on a rake and whacks himself in
the face, a running gag cut from Night Owls. Stan also has a nice bit,
once he's in the house, when he nearly knocks a statue off its pedestal
but deftly catches it. And when Ollie finally gets inside he promptly
gets his head stuck in a vase. Stan smashes crockery over it without
effect, and finally has to bash the vase with a fireplace shovel.
Finlayson, whose butler is now called "Juan," is also allowed a nice
moment in the Spanish version. When told by his angry employer that
he's getting more stupid every day, he turns to the camera in shock and
addresses the audience: "Stupid? ME?"
A weak point of Night Owls is that the ending feels rushed: the boys
flee as Kennedy, stupefied after a conk on the head, is blamed for the
burglaries, arrested, and told that he'll get life in prison. But in
Ladrones the situation unravels in a more satisfying way. The Police
Chief confronts Stan and Ollie with a pistol, and more cops arrive. (My
favorite moment comes when Ollie eloquently tells Stan: "This is not
looking good.") Kennedy shows up, and denies that he knows the
burglars. But the boys spill the beans about their conspiracy, and all
three of them are arrested. Stan, Ollie, and Kennedy are taken away in
an open squad car while the Chief and his butler follow in another. In
a desperate escape attempt, Stan and Ollie grab onto a low tree branch
and pull themselves out of their car, but drop into the Chief's car,
which immediately thereafter drives into a lake.
In the best Laurel & Hardy comedies disasters snowball, and get bigger
and bigger until you just can't help but laugh at how awful the
situation has gotten. "Not looking good," indeed! Ladrones, with its
elaborate finale, is a richer experience than Night Owls, which in my
opinion is an underrated short in the first place. The Spanish version
is a real treat for Laurel & Hardy buffs.
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