Wednesday, October 21, 2015

to dub or not to dub / part two

Continuing the topic addressed in the previous essay, much more troublesome - for me, at least - than singing being dubbed in musicals are those players whose entire vocal performances have been dubbed.

Case in point: The charming singer Joanie Sommers who made her inauspicious film debut in the 1961 Don Taylor film, "Everything's Ducky," starring Mickey Rooney and Buddy Hackett.

Taylor, the affable actor who played the groom opposite Elizabeth Taylor in Vincente Minnelli's "Father of the Bride" (1950), directed a few episodes of several TV series before making his big-screen directorial debut with "Everything's Ducky," a comedy for Columbia.

It's about two sailors (Rooney and Hackett) and a talking ... duck.

Sommers had a distinctive speaking and singing voice - soft, velvety, with a slight tomboyish pull to it. She is perhaps best-known for her hit version of the song "One Boy" from the play and film, "Bye Bye Birdie." But her voice is unrecognizable - alien - in "Everything's Ducky."

For some bizarre reason, Taylor (or someone) decided to completely re-record her dialogue using another actress's voice. They even dubbed over Sommers' giggles in the film. It's an insane conceit - akin to replacing the singular voice of, say, a Debra Winger or a Zooey Deschanel.

It was never revealed exactly who dubbed Joanie Sommers in "Everything's Ducky," although Columbia did manage to credit the actor - Walker Edmiston - who provided the voice of the duck. Go figure.

This wasn't the first time that a studio did something drastic with an actress' voice. When Ingrid Thulin's voice in Minnelli's 1962 version of "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" was considered too thick and indecipherable for the average American moviegoer, Metro recruited no less than Angela Lansbury to read all her lines.

At least, Thulin was already an established actress - well, certainly in Europe. But Sommers was brand-new to acting.

And so was Jacqueline Bisset, who had one of her more memorable early screen roles in Stanley Donen's "Two for the Road" (1967) - and her husky, trained voice, also very familiar, was dubbed. Word is that Donen actually needed Bisset to reloop some of her dialogue but, as she was already off, working on another film and unavailable, another actress, also never identified, was brought in to dub her entire vocal performance.

Am I the only one who finds all this distracting and disturbing? I mean, a person's voice is a big part of a performance - nay, it's 100% of the performance. I don't know how it can be easily replaced.

Is any artistic excuse legitimate?

More troublingl is what director Hugh Hudson did to Andie MacDowell in her first screen role in his "Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes" (1984). He took MacDowell's charming, enticing twang and replaced it with the patrician tones of Glenn Close, his decision never explained.

It was a situation that humiliated both actresses. (I've never interviewed either MacDowell or Close but I spent most of my career dying to ask them about it.)  It's evident how MacDowell was humiliated but Close was also affected, put in a bad light.  At the time, she was brand-new to films, but successfully so:  She had received three consecutive Oscar nominations for her first films - George Roy Hill's "The World According to Garp"  (1982), Lawrence Kasdan's "The Big Chill" (1983) and Barry Levinson's "The Natural" (1984).  From that vantage point, Close was arguably the  biggest name attached to "Greystoke," but it was understood that her participation would be uncredited and, on-screen, she wasn't.

But someone attached to the production decided to leak the information to the press, possibly because Close was indeed its biggest name and perhaps also because the film had been plagued with problems.  The director reportedly changed so much of Robert Towne's script that the writer had his name removed from it; Towne is credited instead as P.H. Vazak (which, legend has it, was the name of his sheepdog.)

Anyway, Hudson's decision could have easily derailed MacDowell's acting career and ruined her reputation. But luckily, somehow, that didn't happen. She actually flourished in some very good films - among them, "sex, lies and videotape," "Groundhog Day," "Unstrung Heroes," "The Muse," "The End of Violence," "Green Card" and  "Four Weddings and a Funeral." Hudson, meanwhile, hasn't had a film in more than a decade. (He recently completed "Altamira" with Antonio Banderas and Rupert Everett.)

And get this:  Fifteen years later, in 1999, Close would do the voice work in another "Tarzan" - as the character Kala in Disney's animated "Tarzan" (encoring in the direct-to-video "Tarzan II" in 2005).

And according to Hollywood legend, James Keach dubbed the voice of then-newcomer Klinton Spilsbury in the "Legend of the Lone Ranger" movie - a move that I think may have aborted Spilsbury's career - and Lindsay Crouse came in and dubbed Lysette Anthony in "Krull."

Getting back to Sommers, she made out much better in her second film, 1964's "The Lively Set," with James Darren and Pamela Tiffin. Director Jack Arnold, always a pro, was smart enough to retain her seductive purr.


Rita said...

You know, I remember "Everything's Ducky" and I recall reading at the time that Joanie Sommer's situation was a lot like that of Jacqueline Bisset's. The reason they dubbed Joanie's voice was because she was doing a concert in Hawaii and wasn't available to loop some of the dialogue, so they decided to use someone else's voice. It would have been better if they had waited and used her own voice.

Tom said...

The unanswered question: Who dubbed Sam J. Jones in FLASH GORDON?

John said...

Interesting bit of dubbing was in "Star Wars", George Lucas had originally intended to use Richard Dreyfuss as C3-PO with something of New York accent, but Anthony Daniels convinced him to use his voice. I would love to see a version of the movie with Dreyfuss doing the voice and see how that works. Or with David Prowse doing Darth Vader instead of James Earl Jones. Prowse was not happy when he saw the finished film and his voice was not there.

Kent said...

I frequently listen to the "Singers & Swing" music channel on my digital cable TV. When I first started listening, I was surprised at the remarkable number of recordings by Joanie Sommers played there. As it turns out, she recorded several albums of standards for the Warner Brothers label over the first half of the Sixties, including an album of Brazilian music that predated Sinatra's famous one. It was pleasant to discover she had more to offer than "Johnny Get Angry" - although I wonder how many fans of that song knew of her parallel singing career.

joe baltake said...

Note to Rita: Thanks for the added insight. It was never explained why Sommer's vocal performance was replaced. I hope you are correct. -J

marvin said...

Truly fascinating piece. I knew about the "Tarzan" film (McDowell/Close), but I had no idea about EVERYTHING'S DUCKY; TWO FOR THE ROAD; THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE; KRULL.