Laughing Gravy - Preservation
The original domestic abridged release was preserved in 1993. The nitrate conversion was made using a 35mm release print as the track source and the editor's work print for the picture. This element, also known as the cutting copy, was composed of the best takes struck from the camera negative and was the first print assembled as the fine cut by the editor.
The first choice would have been to strike a fine grain master safety copy from the original camera negative, providing it was not too patched, scratched, worn out, over-printed, or deteriorated into jelly and then dust. The first choice for preservation was not an option. By 1993 the camera negative was gone, having disappeared just as surely as Oliver Hardy vanished into a rain barrel of water covered with ice.
From 1931 through 1953 this lowest and best generation element was safely stored in vault number nine on the property of Hal Roach Studios in Culver City. On September 26, 1953, however, the negative was shipped to a laboratory in New York City named DuArt located at 245 West 55th Street. Nearby Regal Television Pictures Corp., operated by Moe Kerman, held a syndication license and printing authority, and they moved the negative. The material was never returned to the custody of Hal Roach Studios and its disposition cannot be determined at this time.
Regal was a successor to Film Classics. They conducted business by sending out 16mm optical reduction prints to television stations that had been manufactured directly from the camera negative instead of from some intermediate protection element. Such printdowns looked spectacular, but each pass through the printer jeopardized the life of the negative. Such careless, short-sighted economic expedients caused damage and desctruction for many irreplaceable master elements, possibly including the negative that that passed through the camera as certain performers enacted LAUGHING GRAVY in 1931.
The existence of the so-called "lift sequence" came to light in 1985. The following year it was used by the then current incarnation of Hal Roach Studios as part of a syndicated program called THE LAUREL & HARDY SHOW. The footage was colorized but typically no preservation was carried out. A less than optimum music score was added utilizing recreations by Ronnie Hazlehurst as recorded at BBC-TV Music Studio in London.
The vault record as of the Hal Roach Studios bankruptcy in 1960 contained this entry: " 'Lift' sequence work picture and track in V-7." So reel three of LAUGHING GRAVY travelled East with the rest of the film library physical elements to the Library of Congress, then back to storage in Los Angeles where the nitrate was finally converted to safety stock in 1994. the material was never lost, only that no one knew it was there, or no one knew it was ever made, or no one cared that it was ever made, or simply no one bothered to open those cans and investigate the contents. Such curiosity would have disclosed that on the leader for the reel itself is written, in the handwriting of editor Bert Jordan, "LAUGHING GRAVY - a lifted sequence."
Words to raise the dead among Cinéastes in France or anywhere else in the world! Unknown "new" lost Laurel & Hardy footage:
Since the domestic release was octs and overhead microphones by the Amsterdam-based Beau Hunks Orchestra. They did a fine job.
Preservation material has now been safely transported to Munich, where it is housed in vault number 316, using FICA cold - wintry, snowing cold - storage.