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Thursday, February 11, 2010

One hell of an mp3

Well, I have good news Today! The 1952 Columbia recording of "Don Juan in Hell" has been re-released. Not in CD and not by the current owners of the rich Columbia catalogue who, I fear, are not particularly interested in re-releasing the many precious jewels in their vaults. Luckily, Saland Publishing considers that this recorded play will interest modern audiences, and has released the original two-vinyl set in two downloadable mp3 files, which are available at Amazon and iTunes at an irressistible price: let me tell you, these could be the best spent two dollars in your life.

"Don Juan in Hell" would deserve a real hugue post devoted to it, but today I'll just do a briefing.

The original Columbia cover of the recording

By the beginning of the fifties Laughton, through his association with Paul Gregory, was touring the States doing highly successful literary readings in whatever available space a stage could be improvised and an audience assembled. Laughton would mesmerize the public with words with just a bunch of books and a stool as props, declaring that "contrary to what I'd been told in the entertainment industry, people everywhere have a common shy hunger for literature", which was (and I fear, still is) a daring statement to make.

Gregory, seeing the box-office benefits of Laughton's literary crusade, wondered about the further possibilities of the act, and whether a play could be staged in such an economical (but effective) way with more performers. Discussing the matter with Laughton, they thought that the third act of George B. Shaw's Man and Superman, detached from the course of action of the rest of the play, would be a good choice for the experiment. This act presented a philosophical debate between Don Juan, The Devil, Doña Ana and the Statue (a.k.a. the Commander, Ana's father), and wasn't performed at all in most stagings of Man and Superman. Laughton and Gregory considered that the Don Juan in Hell act was long autonomous enough to be presented as a theatrical event on its own right.

They assembled three performers: suave Charles Boyer to perform the persuasive Burlador, the brilliant Agnes Moorehead to play Doña Ana, and Shaw veteran Cedric Hardwicke to play the Statue. Laughton would play the urbane Devil and direct the play. The four players would perform on a stage (bare save for the stools and microphones), wearing evening dress, apparently "reading" the play but under its minimal appearance there was a sophisticated dramatic work.

Hardwicke, Boyer, Moorehead and Laughton: The First Drama Quartette

George B. Shaw had clashed famously with a younger Charles Laughton when he performed professor Higgins while being a student at RADA: Shaw told Charles that he thought he was a dreadful Higgins, but predicted him a brilliant career "within the year". Shaw not only predicted Charles' quick ascent to lead parts, but also would, a few years later, consider him the best candidate to play Higgins of film (which sadly didn't materialise: I'd certainly would have liked to be able to compare such a performance with Leslie Howard's fine turn). When Charles asked Shaw for permission, the writer was still of the opinion that the third act was difficult to stage, but gave his blessings -and advice- to Laughton nonetheless. "Don Juan in Hell" is a compendium of Shavian themes, Hardwicke said it contained "the germs of virtually all his plays in one form or another", and Laughton considered it "a cathedral of ideas".

The play toured succesfully through many American cities and towns before its triumphant Broadway debut (a clever build-up characteristic of Gregory), and became a hit that revolutionized the American stage (1) and started Charles' -long delayed!- career as a stage director, a trade in which he would earn a remarkable and well deserved renown in the years to follow.

A few related links:
:: Terry Teachout reviews the mp3 and chronicles the First Drama Quartette's adventures in theaterland at Wall Street Journal
:: "The Happy Ham", an article about Laughton and the Don Juan In Hell tour (Time Magazine, March 1952)
:: A contemporary review of the play at "Time"
:: A post on Agnes Moorehead at Movie Morlocks, featuring an interview with Charles Tranberg, author of I Love The Illusion, a biography of the actress.

My paper copy of the abovelinked Time magazine, Simon Callow's seminal Charles Laughton, A Difficult Actor, Cedric Hardwicke's autobiography A Victorian in Orbit and Charles Higham biography of Laughton.

(1) There was a British interval of the Don Juan In Hell Tour during the Festival of Britain, in wich the four actors briefly toured the United Kingdom, but didn't play in London: The apparent reason being that someone in the British scene decided that, since a staging of the complete "Man and Superman" was played at the city, the London public wouldn't be interested in an alternative staging of the third act of the play, and one done by, *harumph*, "film stars". That someone obviously had a low consideration of the London's love for theatre or the fact that the play directed by Laughton had been sanctioned by Shaw himself, and sadly denied the Londoners the chance to enjoy both stagings.


David said...

Jo, Gloria. Qué post más estupendo. Y qué bien sabes vender. Pareces publicista: "podrían ser los dos dólares mejor gastados de toda tu vida". Uuuummm...
Laughton vs Howard. Pues otro uummm. Creo que estaba bien en la peli. Ahora que para mí el ideal es Harrison. Me encanta My fair lady (que se la están poniendo a mi hijo en música con las canciones dobladas!!!) En fin...
Un estupendo post. Pero bueno, casi todos los tuyos lo son.

Professional Tourist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Hi Gloria! I am a follower of
the Agnes Blog Aggie's Place.
I saw ur comments re: Don Juan,
I know it's been available at
Itunes and Amazon for a while now.
Is this the same version or a new one? I luv don juan. How Do u feel about it? I luv Agnes as Dona Ana.
Obviously u are a Charles fan, I think he does a marvelous job as the devil. Do u like the movie he is in with Marlene Dietrich "witness for the prosecution"?
one of me faves. C. U. on
Aggie's Blog
mandy :)

Josep said...

Molt interessant aquesta informació que desconexía referent a la peça de Shaw.

Llàstima que el meu anglès sigui tan pobre...

Em penso que faré un experiment i provaré de sentir-ho mentre vaig legint el text, per ajudar-me a entendre-ho millor.

Per cert: el àudio que cites, ¿es el que es pot trobar a internet?

Em sembla que sí, però segur que tu coneixes millor la veu d'En Laughton.

Et deixo enllaços de les quatre parts:

Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4


Gloria said...

David, te juro por lo más sagrado que no cobro comisión alguna por hablar de este mp3: simplemente, es mi opinión personal. Es un texto de campanillas por un grandísimo autor, servido de manera brillante por cuatro estupendos actores... Y además este Shaw es muy divertido, pero divertido con enjundia, se entiende.

Además, para el que esté estudiando inglés y ya tenga un cierto vocabulario es una audición estupenda, ya que está interpretado por actores pertenecientes a la tradición de la "dicción clara y precisa" (como opuestos a los actores de la tradición "dicción patata en la boca", más de moda en nuestros días y

Oye, que yo pienso que estaba Howard estaba bien estupendo en "Pygmalion"... Yo la hipótesis la planteaba para disfrutar de dos versiones del personaje por buenos actores: no me cabe duda que un Higgins por Laughtn hubiera sido diferente a la interpretación de Howard (me planteo que vendría a ser como un tema cásico de la pintura versionado por dos maestros distintos, pongamos la danae de Rembrandt y la de Klimt).

Por cierto, que si no he incluido a Harrison es porque no interpreta al Higgins original de Shaw, sino al de la versión musical, lo que no quita que esté estupendo en el papel, eh? espero que ti chico disfrute de la película... "La lluvia en Sevilla es una maravilla"

Gloria said...

Hi, Professional Tourist,

Well, thanks to you for writing such a fine post in the first place!

You're right about Mr. Teachout's article, indeed what started in 1949 was Laughton's one-man-literary-show, or well, at any rate, his association with Paul Gregory to do so on a regular basis, for of course, he had been reading for free for a number of years to friends, to wounded G.I.s and in schools.

But as you say, I've overlooked that, as his article in the WSJ is bound to bring the recording new listeners and new interest in both Shaw and his fine Drama Quartette performers.

I think it would be interesting if there would be a recording (that I know, that is) with Vincent Price doing the devil instead of Charles: I bet he must have been a good Devil, too.

As for the price of iTunes, there's actually a trick to get it cheaper there: buying the two separate tracks of the release (as when one purchases single songs pertaining to an album) instead of the "complete album" ;D

P.S.. I've added your blog to my links list of people who worked with Charles.

Gloria said...

Hi Pugabulls, Aggie's Place is an excellent resource on Agnes Moorehead ;D

The release is the same version that has been available already from a few months: it's only that I've been late to report it, he... And yes, I read everywhere that it is a re-release of the original 1952 recording (I haven't bought the mp3 as I have the old vinyl at home). As for my opinions, well I think it's a fine text exquisitely served by four magnificent (and intelligent) performers, and a text that gives food for thought while remaining a very entertaining listening. I could say "they don't make 'em like that anymore"

I very much like Charles' turn in Witness for the Prosecution: it's a film you see again and again and it's always hugely entertaining (even if you know how it ends already). And of course, the sub-plot confrontation between Sir Wilfrid and the nurse is very funny (and there's an extra kick to get as the nurse is played by Elsa Lanchester, Charles' wife)

Gloria said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gloria said...

Hola Josep,

si que et recomano fer el que has dit: seguir la grabació amb el texte (tot i que en Laughton va fer-ne una adaptació per a la representació, així que segurament hi haurá alguns canvis). Tot i que tu pensis que el teu anglés "es pobre", pensa que el meu nivell quan vaig escoltar aquesta grabació per primera vegada era més aviat patatero, però vaig entendre força coses, ja que, com li he comentat a en David, la dicció dels actors es molt bona i això fa l'anglès més facil d'entendre.

(Bé, en Charles Boyer té un accent francès que tira d'esquenes -gairebé d'"Allò, Allò"- però fora d'això el seu anglès es raonablement correcte).

i si, les grabacions a archive punt org que has enllaçat semblen ser transfers del mateix disc de 1952 que s'ha reeditat en mp3. No he sentit el mp3 de Saland Publishing (perque ja tinc els vinils originals), però imagino (bé, espero) que estarà fet amb cura des del master original.

Per cert, a mi els enllaços per separat em penjaven/tancaven el navegador, però si que els puc escoltar des de la pàgina previa: click, click )

Josep said...

Hola, Gloria:

Els fitxers mp3 que jo he trobat, seguint els enllaços de la wiki que tu recomanes, son de lliure distribució (m'els he baixat i tot), crec. Inclús a la pàgina hi ha la possibilitat d'insertar al blog un reproductor de tota l'escena, que ve a durar uns 24 minuts. Jo ho he probat i queda molt bé...

T'ho dic per si vols insertar-ho al final de l'entrada.

Ja em semblava que la primera veu era del teu estimat Laughton.

A la pròpia pàgina hi ha un enllaç a pdf amb el text en anglès de la peça sencera.

D'altra banda, i tot i sent fora de lloc, he de dir-te que la versió de My Fair Lady segueix quasi bé fil per randa el text (traduït, que jo tinc des de fa molts anys) original de Shaw més algunes frases modificades. Almenys en el doblatge i també en els subtítols.

I m'agrada més En Harrison que no pas En Howard, com a Higgins. Questió de gustos, es clar.


Arts and Crafts said...

Gracias Gloria por la información y a Josep por los links. Me encanta; esta era la época en la que actores americanos como la Moorehead hablaban un inglés tan estupendo como el de los thespian ingleses más clásicos y se agradece hasta el acentillo francés del Boyer... y por cierto, que si quieres oir un acento francés hablando inglés que "tira pa'tras" busca alguna entrevista en youtube a la Yourcenar... ya verás...

Bernard Shaw era un escritor fabuloso, un personaje con un sentido de la ironía finísimo. John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller y Patrick McGoohan hicieron una obrita basada en las cartas de Shaw a Sidney Cockerell y sor Laurentia McCalahan (y viceversa). Una piececita encantadora con 3 grandísimos actores, The best of friends se titula y ahí Shaw brilla por profundidad y sentido del humor. La recomiendo, y además verla en versión original porque el doblaje español le resta mucho encanto.

Qué más digo?, ah sí, que me gustan todos los Pygmaliones, que Wendy Hiller estaba fantástica en la peliculita con Howard y que My fair lady es divertidísima y que yo tambien could have danced all night......

Gloria said...

Hola Josep,

He estat provant de posar només una de les pistes de la gravació d'archive.org, però no em deixa fer-ho (només volia posar una pista per si les mosques i el "copirrai"). De totes maneres, gràcies per les indicacions.

No savia que My Fair Lady fós una adaptació tan fidel de Pygmalió, així que gràcies per l'aclaració. A mi ja m'estan bé els dos Higgins, tot i que també m'hauria agradat veure a en Laughton fent el paper.

Per cert, en un disc que es diu "The Storyteller" Laughton llegeix un parlament de l'industrial Undershaft de "Major Barbara" (obra que va dirigir a Broadway, fent aquest paper). Un disc molt recomanable que a veure si algun dia es reedita.

Gloria said...

Hola Eudora,

Pues es cierto que pese a la coña que hacen los ingleses sobre la manera de hablar de los americanos, antiguamente había muchos actores como la Moorehead o Orson Welles que tenían unas voces magníficas y una dicción estupenda... la pena es que ahora eso no parece estar tan de moda entre las nuevas generaciones: a ver si se pasa la moda esta que siguen tantos actoresde sólo seguir el sistema Méto(mento)do y hablar como si te acabaras de levantar de la cama

Gracias por la mención de "The best of friends"... no conocía la película, pero el repartazo y el tema resultan de lo más atractivos: estaré pendiente a ver si la pasan por TV (no hay muchas posibilidades, ya que las emisoras no parecen tenerle mucho cariño al cine y, más aún si trata temas literarios): veo que está en dvd pero descatalogada (aaay... a ver si encuentro un trabajillo pronto!).

Le comentaba a Josep que en el disco "The Storyteller", Laughton interpreta un parlamento del industrial Undershaft, en Major Barbara (obra que ya había interpretado y dirigido en Broadway). Creo que te interesará.