Friday, July 10, 2015

The Joy Of Dubbing, Part 2

With the passing of the great Phil "Nick Danger" Austin from The Firesign Theatre last month, the art form of taking footage and dubbing new - and frequently both scandalous and hilarious - dialogue over everything and re-inventing it COMPLETELY in the process has arisen in this blogmeister's consciousness.

This is not Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog's first go-round with this topic. Two years ago, in a "sorry, can't think of a damn thing to write about" post titled The Joy Of Dubbing, the subject was films and TV shows that took an existing movie, recorded a new soundtrack over it and both razzed the original property mercilessly and emerged from the process with something else: a new work of art, pure schlock or, more accurately, both. Presented as Dubbing Exhibits A and B: The Cisco Kid, both Part 1 and Part 2, skewered by members of the Second City Television cast, and Woody Allen's egg salad espionage opus, What's Up Tiger Lily.

How, oh how, DID this idea of dubbing over found footage start? Ernie Kovacs, trying everything in his search for the perfect gag, certainly tried a bit of "dubbing" in hos dozens of inventive comedy sketches. While unsure what the first instance of The Joy Of Dubbing was, certainly among the earliest examples would be MGM's Goofy Movies series (1933-1934). In these 1-reelers, the inimitable Pete Smith added his wisecrack-filled narration to clips from early silent movies, most of them made before World War I. Smith's narration was and is clever and funny, and by the time these short subjects were produced, the clips looked like as if they had been made in a Victorian Era a century earlier - rather than just a couple of decades previously. Makes sense, as it remains tough to come up with examples, besides Alice Guy Blache's Solax films and the numerous films of The Thanhauser Studio, of early cinema featuring a more low-key, naturalistic approach to acting.

While What's Up Tiger Lily is considered the granddaddy of this genre, as the song goes, it ain't necessarily so. The ace writers of Jay Ward Productions (Bullwinkle, George Of The Jungle) in experimenting with the notion of dubbing a film with screwy dialogue, beat Woody Allen to the punch by several years with the TV show Fractured Flickers, created by Chris Hayward.

The series was a creative and irreverent use of public domain "found footage". No - let's make that HIGHLY irreverent. It is entirely understandable why Lon Chaney Jr. did not see any humor whatsoever in seeing clips of his father's bravura, epic, unbeatable performance in The Hunchback Of Notre Dame entirely recast, featuring the tortured Quasimodo as "Dinky Dunston, Boy Cheerleader.

What Mr. Chaney could never have known was that, in a most curious way, the series, along with The Funny Manns, Silents Please and Robert Youngson's comedy compilation features, introduced many "boomers" to silent movies. Some of those youngsters would become fans of silent movies - and EVERY MOVIE starring the incredible Lon Chaney Sr. - for life.

As is customary for a Jay Ward Production, there's inspired voice acting throughout by the stock company of Bill Scott, June Foray and Paul Frees throughout. That said, provided one doesn't regard the essential concept as throwing a few cans of Lucite paint on an original Rembrandt - the shows can be very, very funny. They are available on DVD, and this correspondent does find the series and ESPECIALLY Hans Conried, frequently hilarious.

Hans Conried had wonderful bits demonstrating snide flair as Fractured Flickers' very reluctant host. The guest stars, all buying into the premise that they were hornswoggled or tricked to be on the show in the first place, dig in with panache, clearly having a lot of fun spoofing their images.

Along with fellow Jay Ward Productions writers Allan Burns and Lloyd Turner, Fractured Flickers creator Hayward would go on to write jokes and stories for the 1968-1969 episodes of Get Smart.

Also before SCTV, Cinematic Titanic and MST3K (and concurrent with What's Up Tiger Lily and several subsequent wacky feature films by Woody Allen), the intrepid troupe The Firesign Theatre made a specialty of crawling inside a piece of found footage, an old time radio show or cheesy movie serial and fashioning their own distinctive comedy universe.

Undoubtedly, The Firesign Theatre, creators of "movies for your mind", were the inspirations for Mystery Science Theatre 3000 and easily the still unsurpassed jedi masters at "the joy of dubbing".

J-Men Forever turns a hard-boiled Republic serial inside out! B-movie genres, radio theatre and the psychedelic era itself are directly in the satiric cross-hairs throughout.

Other examples of The Joy Of Dubbing, in which a new comedy is created by taking someone else's movie and both dubbing the whole thing with new dialogue and ridiculing the hell out of it, include Mad Movies and this wonderfully brutal (and very NSFW) sendup of Dragnet 1967, specifically the "dated as the cameras were rolling" Blue Boy episode. The only thing funnier is seeing Henry Morgan as a "mug" in various noir B-pictures - but that does not involve dubbing!

Another 21st century film that gets into the 20th century "goofy movies" spirit, merging martial arts extravaganza with supreme ultra-silliness on an epic level, would be Steve Oedekirk's gag-laden Kung Pow - Enter The Fist.

Today's post finishes with a most creative variant on "dubbing" by the superb comedy team of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. The following sketch from their Not Only. . . But Also series presents a sendup of Gerry Anderson's extremely popular Supermarionation shows (Stingray, Supercar, Fireball XL 5, Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and Joe 90) titled SUPERTHUNDERSTINGCAR. Instead of just providing the voices for the square-jawed (albeit wooden) action heroes - Troy Tempest, Mike Mercury, etc. - Cook and Moore appear as the intrepid puppet protagonist and the villain.

Pete n' Dud of Beyond The Fringe weren't patron saints of British Comedy for nothing!


Anonymous said...

I think you mean Republic serial, not Monogram.

There was also "Mad Movies with the LA Connection" a syndicated series which took old PD movies (The Little Princess, The Inspector General, Decameron Nights) and redubbed their soundtracks.

Paul F. Etcheverry said...

Thank you, Anonymous -and the correction has been made!

I have heard about and perhaps they will be the topic of a The Joy Of Dubbing, Part 3 down the road. Didn't at least one of the Mad Movies writers also work on Kung Pow: Enter The Fist?