Sons of the Desert - Preservation
As one of the best Laurel Hardy films, printing negatives for SONS OF THE DESERT have sustained heavy demand and frequent use over the past seven decades. Wonderful 35mm theatrical revivals are still occurring, including one special event six years ago at the lavish Los Angeles Theatre, downtown. Built in 1931, it first opened with Charlie Chaplin's CITY LIGHTS. During the more recent evening in question, Leonard Maltin called this French Baroque style theater "the most magnificent, ornate movie palace I've ever seen -- anywhere!"
This gala affair was sponsored by PLAYBOY magazine founder Hugh M. Hefner, in order to benefit the efforts of the Los Angeles Conservancy to save spectacular old movie palaces so that future generations can continue to experience movie-going at its polished best.
"The film's premise tickles me," said 'Hef 'of SONS OF THE DESERT. "I have to smile when I think about Laurel & Hardy trying, but failing, to fool their wives! The idea is delicious, and so well done, I can fully understand why it's their most popular film, and probably their best."
To insure people could always see SONS OF THE DESERT at its best, we set out to secure preservation elements on safety film. We first converted a nitrate release print. The results were unsatisfactory. We canvassed the proliferation of Hal Roach Studios licensees through the years, checking storage depots, laboratories and archives to locate optimum nitrate to work from.
In 1994 we were able to manufacture an archival quality safety negative from the best (actually superb) surviving pre-print material, which happened to be the studio's original first trial lavender answer print, made from the camera negative. Two or three shots look a bit fuzzy, but they were photographed that way. Other minor flaws include four frames in reel one with blotches, and a "snow" effect in the main titles section. Curiously every now and then there are a couple seconds of dead track, but again that's the way it was made. Nothing is missing. Not a frame, not one word.
In 1987 there was some controversy over a suggestive line spoken by Charley Chase to his SONS OF THE DESERT "sister," Mae Busch, calling her, over the telephone, "you little organ pumper, you." Among alarming allegations made by an employee at the time of Hal Roach Studios (most of which were refuted by a representative of the Library of Congress) was that this line of double entendre dialogue was "irretrievably lost." Not correct.
If true, then how could we have found it? The line was missing from the badly beat up original negative, which had been over-printed and was worn out anyway. But other 35mm master elements, including duplicate negatives and fine grains, contain this portion of the soundtrack. Our 35mm protection negative and fine grain master are fully complete, assuring Charley Chase will continue insulting Mae Busch and that this great comedy film will long survive to delight future audiences.
The preservation material rests today in the company vault, located at 2222 Fairview Avenue.
That's our story, and we're stuck with it. In it.
-- by Richard W. Bann --