The Spanish-language versions of Night Owls and Blotto included on the Laurel and Hardy Essential Collection seemed like promising extras, but in practice they're little more than interesting curiosities.
Filmed at the same time and on the same sets as their "official" versions, the shorts were made prior to the advent of dubbing. Stan, Ollie, Jimmy Finlayson and Edgar Kennedy all reprise their roles, while the rest of the supporting cast are replaced by Spanish-Speaking actors. Because Stan and Ollie are actually speaking Spanish spelled out for them phonetically on a nearby chalkboard, the dialogue is rudimentary and long silences abound. Laurel and Hardy were capable of linguistic flourishes on occasion, and that aspect of their comedy is completely lost in the translation.
Add to the problem that the Spanish versions have been dramatically extended, always by a full reel and sometimes by two or three. In Blotto, this is largely accomplished by the insertion of three -- very tedious -- nightclub acts. I challenge anyone to stay awake for them. I couldn't. Night Owls is more inventive. There are lengthier and additional comedic scenes for Stan and Ollie, plus the whole ending of the film is changed, and opened out in the process.
In the American version, Stan and Ollie make a hasty getaway over the back fence, Stan landing butt-first in a trash can with his legs sticking straight up. This makes for rather a surreal fade-out as he runs off down the alley on all fours like a strange metal beast. It's quick, it's elegant, and very funny.
In the Spanish version, they're arrested along with Edgar Kennedy. As the police car (inexplicably a convertible) speeds off into the night, Stan and Ollie manage to grab hold of a low-lying tree branch and pull themselves out of the vehicle -- only to drop into the police chief's car bringing up the rear. As William K. Everson reports that "all three are arrested" in his description of the short in his book The Complete Films of Laurel & Hardy, you have to wonder which version of the film he saw, or if indeed a third, hybrid version was made for release in England, Everson's native country.
The problem with the Spanish version of Night Owls is that what seems breezy and light in the American original is ponderous and protracted throughout the Spanish version. The boys' timing seems completely off. By trying to squeeze an extra reel out of the material, they pretty much kill it.
There are more foreign versions coming up in the set, but I'm thinking of skipping them for now, and coming back to them at a later date. I was going great guns through these shorts and loving every minute of it -- until I hit the Spanish versions. They have an effect just like an old Laurel and Hardy gag: you're running down the street and suddenly you disappear into a six-foot deep pothole. They stop the show.