•  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  
We're campaigning for a Special DVD edition of "The Night of the Hunter": Join the cause!
•  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Two items of the lost & found type

One of the great things of the internet era is much more easier to come accross things which otherwise should have been missed.

As an instance of that, I'm bringing to the visitors of this blog two examples of rare Laughtonware of which I just came aware through Youtube.

Filmed Galileo, by Ruth Berlau
Laughton as Galileo, William Phipps as Andrea and Mickey Knox as the Little Monk, in a photo from the Los Angeles staging

"In describing Laughton's Galileo Galilei the playwright is setting out not so much to try and give a little more permanence to one of those fleeting works of art that actors create, as to pay tribute to the pains a great actor is prepared to take over a fleeting work of this sort". So wrote Bertolt Brecht in "Building up a part: Laughton's Galileo".

It is indeed a pity that great stage work is usually only enjoyed by contemporaries, leaving little, or no trace for the future. Nowadays many stage performances may occasionally be captured in video, but older events are lost forever. Still, one can try to figure, even if in a platonic way, an approximative idea, from testimonials, reviews and pictures, how a performance might have been.

In the case of the 1947 stagings of Galileo, we have Brecht's word, and also the photographs which Ruth Berlau took during rehearsals.

Time ago, I was lucky to see a documentary titled "My name is Bertolt Brecht, Exile in U.S.A." (produced in 1989), in a local film festival: and I was thrilled to see that it contained silent filmed excerpts of Laughton's performance as Galileo. The directors (Norbert Bunge and ChristineFisher-Defoy) were present, so I asked Mr. Bunge about the footage, and he told me that there were filmed bits of the stage production in the Brecht archives in East Berlin. Very interesting to know. however, i was led to think that those were just only a few short filmed bits.

But recently, I came across a one-minute bit from a documentary about Ruth Berlau in Youtube ( Click here to watch it), in which, apart from it showing bits which I had not seen in the other documentary, it is mentioned that Ruth Berlau's filmed record is more extensive than I believed: she shot the entire play. Albeit it was done with a domestic camera, in Black and White, and from a static position (in fact, as an spectator might have seen it in the theatre), well, the mere idea of it being available to be seen is mind-boggling.

Click here to learn more about the documentary containing these images, "Red Ruth: That Deadly Longing"

Stopover in Bombay

Another surprise foud in Youtube is a video from a TV programme hosted and starred by Laughton titled "Stopover in Bombay". According to the notes accompanying the video, the show was never aired! It seems that it was a pilot of a series to be hosted by Laughton, who would also play parts in some of the series' episodes.

The date seems to be 1958, which is interesting, as it shows that, even though Laughton didn't do much films after "The Night of The Hunter", he was certainly busy, albeit in other mediums.

Click here to watch the video.


Erich Kuersten said...

hey! What a delight is your Laughtonisms - especially as I'm in the middle of Callow's Welles bio and he's writing about Welles directing Laughton in Brecht's Galileo. I'm presuming as you must be clearly the well-informiedest (next to Callow himself perhaps, with his Laughton bio which I've yet to read) on the matter, that Welles eventually abandoned his hand in Galileo in order to focus full time on AROUND THE WORLD, which I have the feeling will turn out to be a disaster...

Gloria said...

Hi Erich... I have still to get "Hello Americans", but yes, the thought of a Brecht -Laughton -Welles combination makes the mind boggle!

I only wish I was as well informed as I want to about CL: Callow is the real number 1. His work on Welles is already monumental, and his book on Laughton is, IMHO, the best biography published about him... So very recommended, if you want to know about CL

Andy Rector said...

Luckily I discovered your post a few months ago and so got to see this precious footage of Laughton in GALILEO, including the sound of his line reading ... but now ... the youtube clip has been taken down - really too bad!

Regarding this GALILEO material, I was recently reading Ruth Berlau on GALILEO; the amount of material to bring to light on it is mind boggling: she claims to have taken some 3000 photographs of the Los Angeles production, and Brecht still pointed out some missing pieces, hence the 8mm filming of the play; worried about the changes Laughton was making, Brecht suggested Laughton make some phonograph recordings of what he was altering and why - Berlau says: "These discs containing Laughton's explanations are still in existence." ~!

On another note of rare Laughton recordings, I found this curious entry in Brecht's Work Journal:

"3 May 1945, help Laughton to rehearse the story of the creation for a record. his ear is attuned to the familiar, international parsonical tone, which spoils everything, since his voice seldom follows his gest and is clumsy when it does, ie has little mobility. i advise him to do a few exercises and we go to a recording studio and record the following: a) the creation as recited by a frenchman like jean renoir, b) by a yourkshireman (laughton's home), c) by a cockney (at the beginning mr. smith created the heaven and the earth), d) by a planter trying to make the natives believe he created the world, e) by a butler (in the beginning his lordship created...), f) by a soldier 'in the foxhole' (with 'so what' and 'much good did it do us' between the acts of the creation). now the whole thing sounds like a primitive fertility rite or phallic dance."

keep up the beautiful, ever lively and astute work on your blog!
andy rector

Gloria said...

Hi Andy,

Ouch! that's the bad thing about youtube: nothing seems to be permanent! Let's hope that the Ruth Berlau documentary gets a DVD release. (incidentally, this seems possible, certainly the official page of the documentary mentions DVD licensing at the bottom of the page: i'll have to ask them about it ;D)

BTW, here's the link about that documentary:

I'm awed at what you say... please, I want to know more! You seem well sourced: the statements by Berlau which you mention, are from a published source, or a non-yet-published, or archival one? Ditto about Brecht's Work Journal.

Wow, 3000 pictures: it seems that the play could be re-constructed scene by scene: what a book that could be! (not to mention the 8 mm film: I wonder if it only consists of a few clips or the whole play, as mentioned in the -disappeared clip).

Re the phonograph recordings of alterations, I recall listening to a BBC programme about Laughton (hosted by Simon Callow), which contained a recording which Laughton sent to Brecht with a reading of a scene. At the end of it, Charles made his own comments to it and gave regards to Brecht...

I have at home two commercial recordings of the New Testament by Laughton with music by Hans Eisler... I imagine they are contemporary with these exercises Brecht mentions. However, these are Christmas-related readings, not excerpts from genesis, as in the occasion mentioned by Brecht.

I wonder if the six renditions of the creation, as read and recorded by Laughton at Brecht's suggestion, are stored somewhere: I'd give something to be able to listen to them.

Andy Rector said...

Dear Gloria,

I apologize, that was cruel of me not to give a source on the Berlau material! It's from her beautiful memoir LIVING FOR BRECHT (edited by Hans Bunge), published by Fromm Int Pub Corp., 1987 (isbn 0-88064-071-5). I reccommend it for anyone even slightly interested in Brecht's working methods. There aren't a ton of references to Laughton in her memoir but, as you see, the ones that are there are precious.

There are MANY references to Laughton and his practical working methods in Brecht's JOURNALS 1934-1955 (edited by John Willet and Ralph Manheim), published in English by Routledge Press, isbn: 0-415-91282-2 (easily available for cheap on abebooks.com). In my opinion (admittedly from a die- hard student of Brecht) the JOURNAL is one of the greatest documents ever set down by an exile in wartime. A rich historical and artistic document.

Great to know about all the material you mention Gloria! I had no idea Laughton did a New Testament record with Eisler! Amazing. I will look for it.

I'm grateful for these documentaries (and would buy a dvd of the Berlau one in the drop of a hat!) but it's annoying when they only excerpt things.

As for the 8mm film of the play, Berlau indicates it came about like this: she was told to document the play by Brecht who fled the US by that time, so she began taking the photographs. Laughton was annoyed by the constant 'clicking' of her camera and Brecht found the photographs too 'incomplete' as a report on the play...so... Berlau (a true soldier in all this!) snuck an 8mm camera in against Laughton's wishes. She does indicate that she filmed the entire play...But for sound, I don't know.

A (complete) book on GALILEO is a great idea. The play was the coming together of so many well known, brilliant people: Brecht, Laughton, Joseph Losey (who directed the play and went on to become a great film director), Norman Lloyd (who produced the play in Los Angeles, was a great Hollywood actor for Hitchcock, etc), and many more less well known actors who were just as brilliant (according to most accounts).

all the best,

Gloria said...

Andy, thanks so much for the book details! They are already on my "to get" list (after that they will queue in ly "to read" list, LOL). So far my readings on the subject are the Play itself. James K. Lyon "Bertolt Brecht in America", Plus his "Building a role" on Galileo. (incidentally: it seems that before tackling Galileo, Laughton and Brecht had been considering "Schwejck in the second World War": mouth-watering, ain't it?)

Ah yes, what a grand idea for a book: the play accompanied by the photos, along a story of how the play came to be, and half a dozen related articles/essays. Hmm... if I were a filthy rich instead of a crummy pauper I'd put my money on it: not that printing is that expensive (and one can always resort to a limited edition), but because of getting the rights to use the pictures etc... (and of course, if I were stinkin' rich I'd also buy the rights for "The Night of the Hunter" and make the Special DVD edition myself: it would have two dozen disks at least).

I recall the bit of "Galileo" film in the German documentary as being silent (being an 8 mm fiml is very likely it was shot without sound). As for the "click-click"; I must say that Laughton was keen on silence for concentrating. Jean Renoir told that Laughton would visit him at his Hollwood home to read him Shakespeare, and he was worried as he had a couple of noisy dogs which would interrupt poor Charles on critical moments. And of course there's possibly the self-consciousness about being shot, too.

I'll send you the full reference about the Laughton Eisler record I have: it is a two-side 45 rpm disc (the printed info states: "With musical background directed by Eisler"). It probably wa sreleased earlier in 78 rpm format.

In case you might be curious about other Laughton-Eisler pieces of work, there was a recent re-release by Deustche Gramophon on Christmas stories by Dickens (with laughton and Ronald Colman): It seems that you can hear sound samples at its amazon page.

P.S. not entirely off topic: I went to BBC archives not long ago ago to check some information about Charles work in radio, and, among the many letters, it seems that the probability of recording "Puntila" in the fifties was considered, if eventually it didn't materialize ... sigh (This was in 1956)

Andy Rector said...


I thought long and hard about it and I've come to the conclusion:
Laughton would've made a horrible Schwejk (Peter Lorre was Brecht's other collaborator in that unrealized project) but had he directed the film version, it would've been enormous! I'm thinking of the deranged aspects of NIGHT OF THE HUNTER transposed to the crubmling Austro-Hungarian, the feeling for Depression era kids to the maids and scavengers of Schwejk, of the virulence of Robert Mitchum's Preacher transposed to the sanctimonious and tortuous Generals, the dry horror of the prison/hangmen in NIGHT OF THE HUNTER to the psychiatric wards of Schwejk. It's almost terrifying to imagine.


Gloria said...

Andy, I see your point. Laughton is known for "larger-than-life" parts, and maybe the Bohemian wise-fool seems in quite another chord... I'd still let Charles give Schwejk a try, as he would play "little men" quite Well asin "If I Had A Million" or "This Land Is Mine", and don't forget he worked on the part of Emperor Claudius, an intelligent man who maskeraded as an idiot to save his skin.

Though I think Lorre is agood call for the character, too ;D

As for your suggestion of Laughton directing Schwejk... well, It is terrific!! ... Aaah, If one had only a time -travel machine and a few bucketfuls of Dollars to finance it!

P.S.: Re the recordings I mentioned to you, let me know if you have located any, or if I could lend you a hand in finding them.