How to Make Duck Soup

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In the autumn of 1926 Stan Laurel began preparations to transform one his father’s sketches “Home From the Honeymoon,” written in 1908, into a 2-reel comedy. It is well documented that the genesis of the Laurel and Hardy team can be found in this film. What is less well-known is the extant footage which is absent from all commercially available prints today.

After 1927 the film apparently disappeared and became one of the ‘holy grails’ of lost L&H films. Very few stills survived from the production and little was known of the roles portrayed by Stan and Babe. Flash forward to 1974 when a 35 mm print, with French and Dutch titles, was discovered in a European archive by William K. Everson - author of ‘The Films of Laurel and Hardy.’ Since the cutting continuity which outlines both action and titles was not available, it was assumed that this was a complete print. This is the print which has been released in the U.S. under the ‘Lost Films of Laurel and Hardy’ series of DVDs, and in the Universal DVD box-set.

Then in 1980 another unexpected find – a 9.5 mm print with French titles was discovered. When this 9.5 mm print of “Duck Soup” was examined, it was discovered that it contained a number of sequences which were absent from the 35 mm print. It has long been documented that one of these sequences is the bathroom sequence with Stan and Madeleine Hurlock. Now it can be documented here for the first time that there are a total of five sequences missing from the 35 mm print which, thankfully, have survived in the 9.5 mm print. I have summarized the content and approximate length of each of these below.

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Laurel and hardy Duck Soup

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The first additional sequence occurs about 2½ minutes into the film, just before the close-up of the newspaper. It is a medium shot of Laurel and Hardy on the bench and runs for only a few frames.

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DUCK SOUP

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 The next sequence occurs about 10 minutes into the film, just after Stan, in drag, opens the door to the two prospective tenants. We see a shot of all three at the open door. This scene only lasts 2-3 seconds.

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Stanlio Ollio Duck Soup

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The next ‘missing’ sequence comes about 12 minutes into the film, just after Stan, disguised as Agnes the maid, sits on the couch with Madeleine Hurlock. She asks, ’And what’s your name?’’ Stan thinks for a moment and then quickly replies “’H’ Agnes!’’ and nods and smiles in confirmation.

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This then cuts into a sequence wherein Ollie, dressed as the owner, shows Madeleine Hurlock’s husband around upstairs. He points to some pictures on the wall, “Here, this is the family picture gallery. If by chance you have any, you will know where to hang them.” He points this out and, while the gentleman is studying the picture, Ollie quickly opens a door to check if it is the billiard room. The gent turns around and Ollie quickly dashes over to resume the conversation. He points to another picture and states, “It’s in this picture that the Prince, Mangematin, was cut into pieces by his shield bearer - Viscount Bouflesoir.” Then we are back to the more familiar Belgian 35 mm film which shows the gent studying the picture, while Ollie quickly looks in a couple of other rooms, searching for the elusive billiard room. (See screen capture No. 4). This whole sequence lasts approximately 38 seconds including inter titles.

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Dick und Doof Duck Soup

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Now comes the infamous ‘bathroom scene.’ This occurs about 15 minutes into the film after the couple have agreed to rent the place and retain ‘Agnes.’ As per the 35 mm print, Ollie and the gent walk out of the bedroom. Next mid-scene the 9.5 mm print takes over and Madeleine Hurlock closes the bedroom door and asks ‘Agnes’ to, “Draw me a bath.” Stan, as Agnes, is horrified and puts his hand to his mouth and looks at the camera wondering what he’s going to do. He quickly rolls up the tights which keep falling down and enters the bathroom alone. He closes the door and pulls his tights up again. He pauses, goes to open the door and puts his hand up to his mouth in confusion. Next he runs the bath. Hot steam comes out. Stan panics. The bathroom fills with steam, and he tries to blow it away. He opens the door and runs out for air only to come upon Madeleine Hurlock who is undressing for her bath, and is down to her underslip.

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Stan sees her and, embarrassed and frightened, runs back into the steam-filled bathroom, only to slip on the floor. He closes the door and fans the air. He puts his ear to the door and tries to think of what he should do next. He look through the key-hole and says, via a title that was found elsewhere in the US on a different 35 mm trim in a film censor’s office, “My Gawd - - She’s raw!” Evidently this title was too much for the French and they snipped it out!

Back to the 9.5 mm film, and a panicked Stan jumps into the sink! Madeleine Hurlock makes her way to the bathroom, having thrown on a bathrobe. She enters and sees ‘Agnes’ with ‘her’ head in the full bath! Stan splashes his rear with water and Madeleine begins to smack ‘Agnes’ in the rear! She smacks ‘Agnes’ again and drags Stan out of the bath. Stan comes up looking at the camera and gives us a ‘I give up look,’ and turns to face what he thinks is a naked woman. He turns and is relieved and acts all coyly and feminine trying to get back into the ‘Agnes’ character now the situation has stabilised. He tries to explain what he was doing in the bath, slips and falls into it!

Next comes an exterior shot of a taxi speeding down the road. And then we are back to the familiar footage via a close-up of the real Colonel in the taxi, returning for his bow and arrows in the 35 mm print. This ‘missing’ sequence runs approximately 1 minute 25 seconds.

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Stanley Laurel and Ollie hardy

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The last ‘missing’ sequence occurs towards the end, when the Colonel runs berserk in his own house. As per the familiar 35 mm print he goes to a trunk to get his gun and the tenant points a feather duster at the Colonel. The missing scene shows the tenant waving the feather duster at the Colonel. The Colonel points his gun at him and then the tenant appears in close-up and we can lip-read him crying out, “No!” The Colonel fires, and blows his feather duster to pieces. The tenant runs; his wife faints into Stan’s arms; and Stan drags her out of the room. The tenant dives under a table and the Colonel chases him around it. The Colonel kicks the tenant out of the room. The familiar 35 mm film resumes with the removal man ringing the doorbell. The missing sequence runs 10 seconds.

And there you have it - the missing ingredients from “Duck Soup.” Hopefully they will one day be released commercially so that everyone can enjoy this very amusing comedy film.

 

Trevor Dorman (Ireland)

 

With thanks to Peter Mikkelsen & Glenn Mitchell.

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