ERAN TRECE (1931)
The Spanish version of CHARLIE CHAN CARRIES ON, made several months later on the same sets.
Manuel Arbo: Charlie Chan
Juan Torena: Dick Kennaway
Ana Maria Custodio: Elena Potter
Rafael Luis Calvo: Inspector Duff
Raul Roulien: Max Minchin
Blanca de Castejon
Carlos Diaz de Mendoza
Sunday, August 28, 2005
Well, "gracias, muchisimas!" Thanks to some last-minute planning on my behalf, I'll be
off on a trip to sweltering Madrid, starting next Wednesday. It will be my first visit to continental Europe since I left
my native Germany for New York City in 1990; and it has been even longer since last I've traveled to a country whose primary
language I neither speak nor comprehend. Although I lived just below Spanish Harlem for many years and the majority of my
students at City University colleges were Hispanic, I never picked up more than the odd word or phrase. Indolence and impatience
aside, my main excuse is that I was too busy appropriating English and promoting it as a common language, the thorough knowledge
of which would benefit all who choose to live in the United States.
These days, resisting such study—and missing
out intellectually and economically as a result—is being celebrated as multiculturalism, I suppose. Aware that I would
miss out on Spanish culture unless I made a valiant if belated effort to train my tongue linguistically as well as culinarily,
I popped in a DVD last night and watched Eran Trece. What better introduction to a foreign language than a lesson delivered
by a Spanish re-interpreter of an American conception of the aphorism-peppered speech of a Chinaman! The aforementioned Charlie Chan, that is.
Eran Trece (1931) is the Spanish version of
Charlie Chan Carries On, a copy of which has not yet resurfaced. It was produced in the early days of the talkies, when recasting
rather than dubbing was being explored as a means of broadening the market for English and American films after the end of
the silent era threatened to fragment the movie industry and diminish the potential of major studios like 20th Century Fox
to generate global box-office successes. It was a costly enterprise that dubbing soon made redundant.
For anyone who
has been exposed to dubbed films and the consequent muffling of cultural differences, the advantages of recasting will be
readily appreciated, even though it meant that international audiences did not get to see the well-trained stars of Hollywood
or Elstree, unless these performers were multilingual. Claudette Colbert, for instance, acted in both The Big Pond and its
French version Le Grand Mer (1930).
Restaging also demanded a few rewrites to make an originally American or British
film more intelligible or palatable to the international audience. For instance, when remarking upon a photograph of Chan's
many-headed family, characters in the original are reminded of Birth of a Nation, whereas the Spanish commentators liken it
to a soccer team; apparently, not all silent movies translate quite so easily either. Eran Trece certainly has some Spanish
blood in it; and even though much of it is spilled, the scenario includes a cheerful party scene with a fiery musical interlude
that does not appear to be matched by the American original.
I neglected to mention that the copy I screened did not
have English subtitles; so, being only vaguely familiar with the novel I read ages ago in a German translation, I availed
myself of the scenario for the missing American film version, which is being shared online by the most generous and kindly
guardian of the Charlie Chan Family Home. Well, it was one of the most curious cinematic
experiences I had since attending a MoMA screening of the fragmentary British-German coproduction of The Queen Was in the
Parlor (1927), a silent film (neither scored nor accompanied by piano) . . . with Danish titles.
So, did I learn any
Spanish last night? Well, not really, apart from Charlie's frequently reiterated "Gracias, muchisimas"; but I'm sure I'll
remember the folly of this odd encounter with the Oriental hombre when confronted with the task of deciphering the dinner
menus next week.
By Harry Heuser at 6:05:00 PM 2 broadcasting thoughts
Filed under: Claudette Colbert, Film, Trips and Travels