Wednesday, November 15, 2017

CMBA FALL BLOGATHON, BANNED AND BLACKLISTED FILMS: The Bohemian Girl (1936)


The Classic Movie Blog Association hosts its Fall 2017 blogathon, Banned and Blacklisted Films running from November 15th - 19th. Click HERE for the fascinating contributions.

Gypsies, or Roma, are a nomadic people whose roots extend to the eighth century when they left northern India and migrated to Europe. Europeans inadvertently believed the travelers to have come from Egypt, and thus the term Gypsy came into being. Comprised of all religions, and skilled labourers, Gypsies made up all classes of citizens from blacksmiths to entertainers. Nonetheless, their nomadic nature, and treatment as outsiders and untouchables gave credence to dangerous stereotypes as thieves, abductors, magicians and fortune-tellers.


Conversely, the perceived lifestyle of freedom made of the Gypsy a free-spirited hero for fiction. Miguel de Cervantes wrote a story La gitanilla (The Little Gypsy) in 1613 about a beautiful and wise gypsy girl called Preciosa and her noble born lover. Our heroine is independent and clever, and her plan brings about those attributes in her suitor. She demands as proof of his fidelity that her swain leave his family and live her life for two years.

The lovers then experience many trials and adventures, and truths are revealed prior to the felicitous happy ending. Throughout the story, Cervantes takes well aimed jibs at the romance poets of the era and the censors of the time who would hinder the growth of literature.



Irish composer Michael William Balfe was inspired by Cervantes story and the romantic image of the gypsy to compose his operetta The Bohemian Girl which had its debut in London in 1843. Probably the most popularly successful of his works, The Bohemian Girl contains the lovely and always welcome concert encore, I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls.



A 1922 version of The Bohemian Girl was filmed in Britain starring Gladys Cooper and Ivor Novello. It does not appear to have been bothered by censors upon its release. What remains of the film is currently available on YouTube for those curious about this early adaptation. Click on the title.


Roach Studio stars Laurel and Hardy came to prominence with their short subjects during the 1920s. When the popularity of shorts waned, producer Hal Roach looked for ways to move the team into feature presentations. Success was found early with the operetta adaptation Fra Diavolo (The Devil's Brother) and Victor Herbert's Babes in Toyland (March of the Wooden Soldiers). Drawing from that well once more, in 1936 they bent Balfe's The Bohemian Girl to Laurel and Hardy's unique comedy world.

Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy

A popular, old-fashioned musical combined with an internationally beloved comedy team should be a sure-fire hit free of controversy. Nonetheless, it is 1936, and The Bohemian Girl was banned in Nazi Germany as "the positive depiction of Gypsies has no place in the Third Reich".

According to a TCM article on the film, The Bohemian Girl faced censorship internationally. Malaysia banned the film for "depiction of Roma themes". Censors in Japan, Norway and Sweden deleted scenes of kissing between Gypsies. Hungary deleted a scene of Ollie's bungled robbery attempt. Italy decried the film as "subversive to Fascist themes".

Today we can look back on this entertainment and marvel at such censorship and outrage. The film played off the characterization of the Gypsy as thief, but it seems the Nazi regime saw only the romanticism, and perhaps the sympathy for the underdog as related by the association with the cherished Stan and Ollie. Nonetheless, it was forbidden for their citizens to enjoy the film. By the next year, the upcoming offering from Dick and Doof, Way Out West, was able to be viewed by any German movie-goer. As well, the Roach Studio was back to counting foreign revenue in their bottom line. Here is what the German audience missed in that long ago movie season.

Ensemble 

The Queen of the Gypsies (Zeffie Tilbury) leads her band to camp near the land of the hated Count Arnheim (William P. Carlton). The Count is displeased when he hears the news.

Darla Hood, William P. Carleton

Soldier: "Count Arnheim, there is a band of Gypsies encamped in the woods below the castle."

Arnheim: "Gypsies, eh? See that they are gone by high noon tomorrow. If by chance they are caught on my estate have them flogged within an inch of their lives."

Oliver Hardy, Mae Busch, Antonio Moreno

Stan and Ollie are misfits among misfits as members of this band. Stan wonders why Ollie puts up with his wife's (Mae Busch) obvious affection for the handsome Devilshoof (Antonio Moreno). Ollie patiently explains that when one is married these days, one has to be broadminded. Besides, there are other things to be concerned with this night.

Zeffie Tilbury

Gypsy Queen's Son: "The moon is very good to us tonight. The village will be in darkness and the pickings will be easy."

Gypsy Queen: "Splendid! Off with the rogues and fill their purses, and replenish our coffers. What I wouldn't give to go with them."

Oliver Hardy, Stan Laurel

Stan has a surefire gimmick as a fortune teller that works in the pickpocket line. Ollie's attempts to mimic the routine are somewhat lacking in finesse. Nonetheless, they finish their night successfully and enjoy a tankard of the tavern's finest vintage - with a wallop.

Mae Busch, Antonio Moreno

Devilshoof is not as successful as he is caught prowling the Arnheim Estate and is given the lash. The next day as  Ollie's wife tends to Devilshoof's wounds, she curses the Count.

Ollie's wife: "Curse you, Count Arnheim. For every whip stroke you have bestowed upon my beloved may you suffer a year of woe."

Opportunity for revenge presents itself when little Arlene wanders from her safe haven to be scooped by by Ollie's wife and Devilshoof. Naturally (?!), Ollie believes her lie that the little girl is his and she didn't want her to know who her daddy was until she was old enough to stand it. Ollie has nothing but pride at his new status as a father and proudly introduces the little girl to her Uncle Stan, and the rest of the band of Gypsies.

Thelma Todd

The role of the daughter of the Queen of the Gypsies was played by Thelma Todd. She was given a new song to sing called Heart of a Gypsy by Nathaniel Shilkret and Robert Shayon. While most sources relate that the song was dubbed, they do not give the name of the singer. The song remains and a few shots of Thelma in scenes of the encampment. Otherwise, Thelma's role was cut from the film, ironically to stave off any sort of scandal which might be attached to the film after her death, possibly murder, in December of 1935.

Felix Knight

Felix Knight who was Tom-Tom in Babes in Toyland here plays a Gypsy singer and is featured in the charming ballad Then You'll Remember Me. We can assume his to have been a larger role, perhaps truncated due to the other cuts.

Stan Laurel, Laughing Gravy, Oliver Hardy

Here's a treat for longtime Laurel and Hardy fans as Laughing Gravy, canine title star of the 1930 short, makes a cameo appearance near the end of The Bohemian Girl.

Oliver Hardy, Jacqueline Wells

Eventually, at the urging of Devils hoof, Ollie's wife steals the combined savings of Stan and Ollie and runs off with her lover, leaving a note with the truth that Ollie is not little Arlene's father. Nonetheless, Ollie is a doting parent to the little girl and after 12 years have passed, the Gypsies are once more in the shadow of Count Arnheim's castle. It is in this place that Arlene (Jacqueline Wells aka Julie Bishop) sings the showstopper I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls dubbed by Rosina Lawrence of Way Out West.

Stan Laurel

Drawn to the castle, Arlene is captured by the guards led by Captain Finn (James Finlayson). Daddy Ollie is out on pickpocket business. Uncle Stan is trying to bottle wine that has fizzled, and in the attempt has become guzzled. It is in that state that Ollie finds him when he needs help to save Arlene. The guzzled Stan goes berserk with the lash in the rescue attempt during which Arlene's true identity is discovered. It is too late to save Stan and Ollie from the torture dungeon, but they are released once more back into the world, misfits among misfits.










18 comments:

  1. "The ever popular Mae Busch!" (Just channeling my inner Stanley R. Sogg.)

    Nicely done piece on a most entertaining L&H film, Our Lady of Great Caftan! You wouldn't think an innocuous movie would cause so much controversy...but it did, and I learned something I did not know.

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    1. Thank you, sir. As if there weren't reasons enough to hate Nazis!

      Stanley R. Sogg! We would have been watching Gleason even if my Nana Nolan, who was living with us at the time, hadn't insisted. Nonetheless, the lady liked to take credit for the good things.

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  2. If I've seen this one, it was many, many moons ago. Thanks for a very interesting piece on the banning of what would seem a very "innocent" film. Not to mention a Stan & Ollie film! However, I'm not surprised the Third Reich banned a film that presented Gypsies sympathetically since this was another ethnic group it was busily working to eliminate.

    I had no idea where the term "Gypsy" came from. Egypt! The things we learn in blogathons...

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    1. One person's innocent entertainment is another's chance to create a controversy. There have been many controversial comics throughout time, but Stan and Ollie?!

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  3. Informative article about a L&H film I haven't seen yet. Fascists really have zero sense of humor, don't they?

    Now I know the origin of "I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls," which is one of my favorite Enya songs -- I'm listening to it right now ;)

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    1. It's true. No sense of humour whatsoever.

      So many charming versions of that lovely song through the years, and Enya's is a keeper.

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  4. Who would have thought anyone could have anything against Stan and Ollie? As always, you picked a great and entertaining subject. You're compelling!

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    1. Thank you so much. It is incredible to think of the backlash to this movie.

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  5. I didn't know this movie was banned by those governments. How ridiculous! What a cast, thanks for a delightful view of this "misfit" movie.

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    1. Roach was probably as surprised as we are today. You put a light entertainment out into the world and all heck breaks loose.

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  6. Like Jacqueline, I had not idea of the censorship problems with some governments. It's unbelievable that anything L&H did could be considered subversive. Nice background info.

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    1. It is the height of silliness to me that this attitude was prevalent, but the world is a silly place at times.

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  7. Banning a L&H film indeed inspires outrage! It was such an interesting period in film outside the U.S. The censorship spread from Germany to other countries. France even banned THE RULES OF THE GAME, now considered one of the greatest films of all time.

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    1. I don't understand banning creativity. People choose whether or not to view/attend/read. If you bring it to their attention that there is something they shouldn't view/attend/read, what happens? We know.

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  8. I love how you profile the various artistic contributions as background to this film—the story, the operetta, the silent film...obviously a rich history and one worthy of the L&H treatment. Not having seen very many of theirs, I think I would really enjoy this one.

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    1. Music and laughs. What's not to enjoy? Ask the Nazis!

      Thanks so much for reading. I'm crazy about the team. Laurel and Hardy are good for what ails ya'. And we got a lot things that require relief these days.

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  9. Fascinating! Censorship, history and film are some themes that really interest me. You wrote another wonderful review!
    Oh, and watch The Brave One whenever you can: it's a treat!
    Thanks for the kind comment!
    Kisses!
    Le

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    1. I will definitely follow your advice regarding The Brave One. Thanks.

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