Multiple-Language Version Film Collectors’ Guide, Part 3

1933–1938 Films

  • The international solution to language-restricted talkies passes its peak years
  • However, many classics were yet to be made before the advent of WWII ended the practise

To get around the problems introduced with the advent of talkies, multiple-language version (MLV) films were the preferred choice of many studios. To make several different-language versions of a film, often at the same time, using the same sets, costumes, etc. but usually with different casts and crew. This expensive and ultimately less profitable practice was only popular for a few years, but in its time it led to hundreds of films being made using the process – some in up to 13 different languages! The MLV format is still invoked occasionally even now, for Eastern Asian blockbusters and the odd international release, but these are fairly isolated exceptions.

Here I’m listing the best early MLVs easily available to watch or buy in at least two of their different versions. There are lots more available on disc in only one iteration – usually the domestic – but in the absence of their siblings to compare them with, they’re basically just… films. I sincerely hope this series on MLVs will help in some small way to reawaken popular interest in this fascinating yet unjustly forgotten chapter in cinema history.

The Testament of Dr. Mabuse aka Dr. Mabuses testamente (1933) Danish poster

The Testament of Dr. Mabuse aka Dr. Mabuses testamente (1933) Danish poster


Contents


Don Quixote (1933)

Another G.W. Pabst-directed MLV, following The Threepenny Opera (1931), Don Quixote starred legendary operatic bass Feodor Chaliapin as the deluded windmill botherer. He got to sing four songs in all three versions, in French, English and German. It was the first sound version of Miguel de Cervantes‘ classic novel and Chaliapin’s only sound film.

Don Quixote (1933) starring Feodor Chaliapin, US film poster

Don Quixote (1933) US poster

The English and French versions have been released on a US R0/NTSC DVD as the Adventures of Don Quixote, the English version’s original UK title. It has English, French, German, and Italian subtitles.


S.O.S. Iceberg (1933)

The snow and stunning scenery are the real stars of this Artic-bound life or death drama. It was based on true events and is perhaps best known today for featuring future Nazi cinematic darling, Leni Riefenstahl. A German-US co-production, it was shot separately in both languages though such co-productions would imminently be curtailed by the Nazis. Although most cast members changed, Riefenstahl remained in both versions.

S.O.S. Iceberg (1933) Swedish film poster

S.O.S. Iceberg (1933) Swedish poster

Kino in the US have released both MLVs, in pristine condition, on an excellent region 1 DVD with English subtitles, while Germany’s Universum Film have released a DVD containing the German version only.


The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933)

This was the second of three films director Fritz Lang made about the titular character, the others being Dr. Mabuse the Gambler (1922) and The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1960). This one finds Mabuse locked up for the past decade in a high security insane asylum. He’s been incarcerated there since his failed attempt at world domination in the first film. However, this minor inconvenience doesn’t appear to be stopping him from having another go. Testament became part of a long running series of films starring the evil super villain that continue to be made to this day, almost a century since the first.

The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933) French film poster

The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933) French poster

Lang shot Testament simultaneously with a much shorter French version, which has so far only appeared in the US on DVD. The original’s been issued numerous times in different countries, but these are by far and away the pick of the bunch:

  • US: Criterion 2-DVD set – R0/NTSC; includes the 94min French MLV
  • UK: Eureka 4-DVD set – R2 PAL; contains all of Lang’s German entries in the Mabuse series and a disc of extras

All other releases contain the superior German version only, albeit usually with a generous helping of extras. You can write off almost every Dr. Mabuse-related release from Italy or Spain; as of 2018 only the latter has produced just two kosher releases of Dr. Mabuse the Gambler, here and here. Everything else from either country is a cheap bootleg.


The Tunnel (1933)

Der Tunnel, a bestselling 1913 German novel by Bernhard Kellermann about a subterranean Atlantic crossing, was a treatise on societal and technological progress, with a hugely ironic ending. It had spawned its first eponymous film adaptation by 1915, which was followed by a 1933 German-French co-production, shot separately in both languages.

The German version is unavailable on disc but you can see an extract here. The French MLV, Le Tunnel, starring disagreeable film icon Jean Gabin, has been released there on DVD. Following closely on their heels was a similarly-titled 1935 UK version, renamed Transatlantic Tunnel in the US; also released there on DVD. Directed by the prolific Maurice Elvey, though making extensive use of effects footage from the German MLV it is none the less noteworthy for its Art Deco-inspired futuristic production design and is something of a precursor to H.G. Wells’ Things to Come (1936).

Der Tunnel (1933) Vienna Apollo Cinema première poster, 1934

Der Tunnel (1933) Vienna Apollo Cinema première poster


The Merry Widow (1934)

Ernst Lubitsch’s sumptuous take on Franz Lehar’s oft-filmed operetta was simultaneously shot in English and French versions, both starring Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald with different supporting casts. Although the latter version, La Veuve joyeuse, isn’t available on disc, there is a small extract on YouTube, as well as a recording of Jeanette MacDonald singing The Merry Widow Waltz in French.

The Merry Widow (1934), starring Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald, directed by Ernst Lubitsch; Australian daybill poster

The Merry Widow (1934) Australian daybill poster

The English version has been released on a US R0/NTSC DVD, as well as a Spanish region 2 DVD. Watch out for several different poor quality knock-offs from China, Japan, Brazil and other countries. These are sourced from VHS tape and obviously to be avoided.


Amphitryon (1935)

Amphitryon, or to give it its full name: Amphitryon – Aus den Wolken kommt das Gluck (Amphitryon – Happiness from the Clouds), is a German musical version of Molière’s slyly satirical 1668 play, after Plautus. The latter’s original play was itself based on the incident-filled life of the Amphitryon of Greek mythology.

The director, Reinhold Schünzel, was Jewish but his work was deemed important to German culture and after being granted the status of Ehrenarier (honorary Aryan), he was allowed to continue making films under the Nazi yoke. Eventually though, his position became untenable and in 1937 he left for Hollywood. There, he continued directing and acting, eventually appearing in the surprisingly entertaining and hard-hitting US propaganda effort, The Hitler Gang (1944) as General Ludendorff. The film portrayed der Führer and his henchmen (rather accurately) as a bunch of jumped-up gangsters.

Amphitryon – Aus den Wolken kommt das Glück (1935) mit Willy Fritsch, Filmplakat (German film poster)

Amphitryon – Aus den Wolken kommt das Glück (1935) German poster

Amphitryon was originally released on a German DVD with German subtitles only, though downloadable English and Spanish subs can be found via several links. Later it also appeared as part of the aforementioned superlative Deutsche Tonfilmklassiker 10-DVD box set, with both German and English subtitles. The French version of Amphitryon, Les dieux s’amusent (The gods are having fun), is unavailable in its entirety, but both German DVDs contain a 23min featurette which features some clips in a comparison between both versions.


The Mountain Calls (1938)

The Mountain Calls (Der Berg ruft) was a late entry in the cycle of German mountain films, or Bergfilme, that saw its, ahem, peak during the 1920s and 1930s. It was a remake of an earlier silent, Der Kampf ums Matterhorn (The Fight for the Matterhorn, 1928). That film was based on Carl Haensel’s eponymous 1928 historical novel, itself based on the diary entries of Englishman Edward Whymper, who was part of the successful but disastrous first expedition to reach the Matterhorn’s summit in 1865. Luis Trenker, the star of the 1928 film, also co-wrote, directed and starred in the 1938 remake and its simultaneously shot English MLV, The Challenge. He was dissatisfied with the earlier film’s version of events and with increased clout later in his career, was determined to make another version that hewed more closely to the historical facts.

This marked the film début of prolific Austrian stage and screen actress Heidemarie Hatheyer, while The Challenge was co-directed by Milton Rosmer and an uncredited Vincent Korda, with Emeric Pressburger contributing the script. At the age of 79 Trenker went climbing on the Matterhorn again and made a documentary, Ich filmte am Matterhorn (I filmed the Matterhorn, 1971), charting both his latterday experiences and those of making the three films.

Der Berg Ruft (1938) Filmplakat (The Mountain Calls, film poster)

Der Berg Ruft (1938) poster

The Mountain Calls has been released in Germany as a 2-DVD set including several extras, such as the 1971 documentary and a second, providing a life and career overview of Trenker. It has also been re-released in a film-only edition. The Challenge has only been released on a long deleted UK VHS video but has been uploaded to YouTube in its entirety.

Trenker, nicknamed “Der König der Berge” after a 1940 short he made, was an avid mountaineer his whole life and was involved in numerous related film and TV productions, as well as authoring many books on the subject. Between The Fight for the Matterhorn and its remakes he also co-wrote, co-directed and starred in another of the most notable Bergfilme, Mountains on Fire (Berge in Flammen, 1931). It was based on his own novel which recounted his experiences as a soldier fighting on the Dolomite Front during the Great War. French and English MLVs, Les monts en flammes (1931) and Doomed Battalion (1932), were also produced though neither is available at present. The German MLV is on an excellent 2-DVD set which includes a feature length documentary, again made by Trenker, giving the historical and production background of the film. It has also been re-released as a single DVD, containing the film only.

Note that none of the DVDs mentioned above contain either German or English subtitles.


German cinemagoers loved their musicals as much as US audiences during the early sound era and UFA, as mentioned before by far the biggest producer of MLVs, cranked them out on a regular basis. Some of the top film stars of the day had entire second careers releasing songs that were often associated with the musicals they starred in. Indeed, many of them actually earned more from their huge record sales than even their stellar film careers. Today there are hundreds of extremely cheap but very high quality CDs available full of fine examples of Weimar era jazz and cabaret music. A quick search on Amazon, especially the German site, will turn up a multitude of albums featuring any of UFA’s top stars such as Lilian Harvey, Hans Albers, Willy Fritsch or Zarah Leander. Additionally, try searching for “Tonfilmschlager” (sound film hits) or individual film soundtrack albums. If you liked the music in The Blue Angel or The Threepenny Opera, there’s plenty more where that came from!


If you liked this, you’ll love:

See DVDCompare for more in-depth details of any of the discs mentioned.

If you’ve any questions or suggestions, post in the comments.

I started Brenton Film because I love film – quelle surprise! The silent era, 1930s and 1940s especially get my literary juices flowing though. So you’ll see a lot about those. For more, see this site’s About page.

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