Bilingual film-making

La Bamba (1987) was shot in two versions at the same time: one version in English, the other in Spanish. The cast was bilingual, and given the appeal that the subject matter (a biopic about Ritchie Valens) would have in Spanish-speaking countries, it was decided to have each scene shot in both languages so to not have to offer a dubbed or subtitled version to those markets. Alas, the filming of the same movie in multiple languages was not new.

The 1931 Dracula was shot by Universal in both English and Spanish, albeit with different personnel altogether despite using the same sets. The English version was shot during the day. After the sound stages were vacated by those persons, the Spanish cast and crew would come in to work until daybreak. The Spanish version tends to be vastly preferred, not least because of how younger generations are reminded of the Hispanic vampires in the Mexico-bound From Dusk till Dawn.

The Laurel & Hardy shorts of the early 1930s were shot in languages in addition to English, although the double act would not alternate between languages during principal photography (they would complete the filming and editing of the English version before resurrecting the sets to re-film whatever dialogue scenes remained in the final cut).

Some of the Spanish Laurel & Hardy versions are otherwise quite different than the English-language versions. In some cases, two different plots are conflated into one film (e.g. The Laurel & Hardy Murder Case and Berth Marks into Noche de Duendes). In another (Chickens Come Home remade as Politiquerias), oddball variety acts are inserted.

There were also French and German versions shot, but most of these seem not to have survived. In one, the French version of Pardon Us (1931), Boris Karloff plays the part filled by Walter Long in the English version.

The Blue Angel (a.k.a. a 1930 German film known as Der Blaue Engel) was shot in two languages, with large differences between the two versions (about 10 minutes in running time, for starters). Unfortunately, the English version is the short one, and all the prints which have been seen of the German version have lousy subtitles.

In the early days of sound films, it was fairly common to shoot films twice. They hadn’t perfected dubbing then, so if they wanted to show a film in another language, well, they had to shoot it again in that language.

Alfred Hitchcock shot Murder! (1930) twice, but the second version was in German. He said that he didn’t think the German one came out as well, because the actors didn’t understand certain specifically British aspects of the story. This is actually a revelatory comment for Hitchcock, since his famous actors are cattle remark would lead one to believe that he cared little about such fine points of their abilities. This turned out to be not true, as he made clear in later interviews.

Sofia Vergara should pull her act together to attempt a monopoly on the Spanish-speaking markets if she ever hopes of being the successor to Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayek.


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