Friday, 14 October 2016

Hats Off!

from the collection of Peter Mikkelsen
On November 5th 1927 comedy producer Hal Roach released Hats Off! starring the newly paired comedy team of Laurel and Hardy. (It wasn't released in Los Angeles until March 8th 1928). Released by MGM as part of Roach's new distribution deal which promised a wider network of theatres to screen the Roach output and thus a better return. Earlier comedies in the series such as Sailors, Beware! were released by Pathé. The last in the series to be released was Flying Elephants which was filmed in 1927 prior to Hats Off! but released a year later in 1928.



Synopsis
The synopsis for this 2 reel comedy was thus: Laurel and Hardy are door-to-door washing machine salesmen. They climb a huge flight of steps with the washing machine in the hopes of selling it to frequent co-star Anita Garvin. When they approach her she tells them that she only wanted them to mail a letter for her. Annoyed the Boys begin to squabble amongst each other and soon end up on the street throwing each others derbies off. Soon passers-by are drawn into the melee destroying each other's hats and the scene ends when a tractor drives by and crushes their washing machine.

If this sounds familiar it should be, Laurel and Hardy re-filmed Hats Off! 5 years later as The Music Box (with a piano this time!)

I will shortly be adding stills and dialogue cards together with some re-created main titles to illustrate the film as below


recreated main titles courtesy Russell Babidge, stills courtesy Peter Mikkelsen





video
Re-created main titles courtesy Russell Babidge

Publicity

The original press sheets survive and offer a fascinating insight into how this film was promoted with images of the original posters and lobby cards.








Original press sheets

from the collection of Peter Mikkelsen

Released on unstable 35mm nitrate film, it was last publicly screened in 1930. By that time the silents were effectively old hat, having been replaced by the talkies. In order to register Hats Off! for copyright protection Hal Roach was obliged to submit 2 prints of it to the Library Of Congress which a letter asking them to ''send back one or both prints''. Both of these prints were unfortunately returned to MGM for general theatrical exhibition and disappeared along with all known prints. Frustratingly not one single frame has been located from Hats Off!.

My thanks to Ron Hutchinson for sending on this newspaper advert
This advertisement was not produced by Hal Roach Studios but instead probably by the Metropolitan in Los Angeles for the March 8th 1928 'Premiere' 




Sightings

There have been numerous sightings over the years but none have yielded the long sought after treasure.


  • One such sighting was when a film collector viewed a copy of Hats Off! which was for sale in the US. Liking what he saw he agreed to purchase the film and asked the clerk to post it to him instead of taking it with him there and then. Some time later when his parcel arrived he opened it and screened what he thought was the L&H comedy only to be dismayed to find out he had been sent the wrong film, co-incidentally titled Hats Off (the 1936 musical).
  • A 1940's catalogue from 'International Theatrical and Television Corporation' lists 60 Laurel and Hardy shorts that were circulated as rental prints all over the US for years. Among the titles offered were HATS OFF and THE BATTLE OF THE CENTURY (an unavailable film at that time). It has recently been determined that the person who compiled the list took note of all the shorts made by Laurel and Hardy and assumed they were still extant without actually viewing the films themselves. In 1944 George Hirliman, co-founder of 'Film Classics' also listed these 2 films and printed them in his own catalogue without checking to see if he actually had the films.
  • Another sighting reported by Randy Skredvedt in his excellent book 'Laurel and Hardy The Magic Behind The Movies' was on 9.5mm film in France in the home movie circuit. To quote Leo Brooks film historian from The Laurel and Hardy Magazine:''Rumours have circulated for years about the existence of a 9.5mm copy in Europe. During my long search for this film, I found evidence of it being shown at a film festival in Denmark in the late 1970's. I managed to trace the film to West Germany and correspond with a film collector there, about either buying the film or obtaining a video copy of it. At this point a fellow collector, who was doing some leg-work for me, for attempted personal gain, tipped off a representative of the Roach Studio of the find and they scared off my contact. I have not been able to pick up the trail since.''
  • Unconfirmed report that a print of Hats Off was sold on Ebay some years ago.

    'Gee Ollie recomember that washing machine?
  • While on their 1932 UK tour in Manchester the Boys were handed one of their old films on a reel. The story goes that the film reel was none other than Hats Off!Whether this is pure conjecture we may never know. The more likely theory is that they were handed a print of a then-circulating film of theirs such as Chickens Come Home. Why would the cinema retain a copy of a 5 year old silent film?





Remakes

There have been several remakes, among them It's Your Move in 1945 starring frequent L&H foil Edgar Kennedy. The Director of It's Your Move was none other than Hal Yates, Director of Hats Off! 18 years previously. What is unusual here is that in 1945 the 35mm negative of Hats Off! was sent by MGM to the Mercury Laboratory in New York for printing, perhaps to assist the production team on It's Your Move? After this Hats Off! was never officially seen again and the negative was presumably not returned to MGM.


Discoveries

Curiously at least 2 film canisters/reels have come to light as follows:


  • One bearing the title Hats Off as seen in the picture below which once (allegedly) contained a 35mm print of Hats Off!



Original ''Hats Off!'' film reel with different film title within. Ebay description: ''Here's an old unidentified silent double-sprocket 35mm film from 1927 or 1928. The can was labeled Hal Roach Comedy , ''Hats Off''



  • Another under a foreign title in Amsterdam. According to the purchaser - 


''I once bought an old and empty 35mm film can on the flea market in the Hague. On the lid is a sticker which reads: De dikke en de dunne, EEN KIND KAN DE WASCH DOEN. That means that the can originally contained a copy of Laurel & Hardy's lost film ''Hats Off''

and 

''gave it to a good friend and L&H collector in Amsterdam who has an (almost) complete collection of original L& H film prints. He hopes he can still find the film that was originally in the can but, as it was undoubtedly nitrate film, chances are slim indeed''.


Both sadly empty. 

Survival rate

Why is it that that the survival rate of the earlier Pathé films is much greater than the later MGM releases?
The reason is that Pathé were able to secure home distribution rights whereas the MGM output was strictly controlled and no home movie editions of the MGM films were licenced until decades later. That's why once missing titles such as Duck Soup (1926) and Why Girls Love Sailors (1927) were found within the last 30 - 40 years. Note over 75% of all silent films made are currently lost.

Robert Youngson who mined the L&H vault for their silent output for his compilations in the 1950's and 1960's failed to find any material on Hats Off!, it was long gone when he made The Golden Age Of Comedy in 1957. He did manage to locate a print of The Battle Of The Century from 1927 and last year the missing complete reel 2 was located amongst his collection of films used to edit his compilations.



Foreign Language Titles

Here is a list of foreign language titles under which Hats Off! was released overseas, courtesy of Peter Mikkelsen.

  • VASKEMASKINEN (Denmark)


  • HATTEN AV FÖR SANA (Sweden)


  • HUT AB (Germany)


  • FUERA SOMBREROS (Spain)
''La Vanguardia'' Spanish newspaper July 3rd  1928 courtesy Andrea Ciaffaroni



  • EEN KIND KAN DE WASCH DOEN (Holand)

  • AFUERA LOS SOMBREROS (Argentina)


  • Giù i cappelli (Italy)


You can read a fascinating account of the Roach films and their fragile nature by Richard Bann in the link below.

Film Preservation - Another Fine Mess

If you wish to join the Laurel and Hardy Appreciation Society you may contact the 'Helpmates' Tent who also publish the quarterly Laurel and Hardy Magazine, details here.



I can thoroughly recommend Randy Skretvedt's revised hardback edition of ''Laurel and Hardy The Magic Behind the Movies'' which details all 106 films plus more in what has to be the greatest book ever written about the Boys. You can order it here directly from the publisher and get the exclusive bonus CD which has excerpt from my interviews with L&H luminaries. Those in the UK might get a postage break by ordering through Amazon, but won't get the CD (or Randy's autograph!)



Also recently published is a very special book complete with a rare audio recoding on CD of the recently rediscovered Laurel and Hardy stage show 'On The Spot' by my good friends Michael Ehret and Nico Cartenstadt. You may order a copy via Kickstarter here.

Also available if a wonderful book titled 'Laurel and Hardy On Stage! with CD recoding of The Driver's Licence Sketch by John Tefteller with contributions from Randy Skretvedt and Peter Mikkelsen. This wonderful book and CD is available here.

''Why don't you do something to help me?''


If you do know where this elusive film is please let us know!