Sunday, October 01, 2017

whose voice is it anyway?

Something that runs in tandem with moviegoing for most buffs is the curiosity about how films are made - how this or that was done, how an effect was achieved, etc. But, sometimes, it's best not to know - not to have too much information. It can kill the glorious mystery of movies.

A personal case in point:

Back on July 29th, during a post-screening discussion of Billy Wilder's "Some Like It Hot" for TCM's "The Essentials," Tina Fey commented to host Alec Baldwin that, in her opinion, the revelation in the film in Tony Curtis.

She echoed an opinion I've expressed for years, Marilyn Monroe and Jack Lemmon notwithstanding. Monroe and Lemmon have the showier roles in the film and, reportedly, received more attention from Wilder - Monroe because she was disruptive (and because she was the star) and Lemmon because Wilder genuinely liked him. Tony was left to his own devices.

Or so it always seemed to me.

And it also seems that Curtis' work in "Some Like It Hot" has been generally overlooked by the critics and public as well - and for dacades. It's a terrific performance as the actor ping-pongs his way through the film as a randy musician (very much "a Tony Curtis type"), as a Cary Grant impersonator and as a very proper woman named Josephine who purses her lips like Eve Arden and speaks in a trilling voice through half the film.

But wait! I've belatedly discovered that the high-pitched voice that Curtis affects for Josephine may not have been his at all. He might have been dubbed for his cross-dressing scenes. That shrill may belong to Paul Frees.

Frees, a prolific voiceover artist in the 1950s and '60s known as "the man of a thousand voices," was brought in to dub several characters in "Some Like It Hot" and, apparently, one of his assignments on the film was to dub Curtis' falsetto dialogue. What? I learned this from Movie Dubbers, an exhaustive, alphabetical list of 711 movies in which a performer’s singing or speaking voice was dubbed. The list was compiled by Ray Hagen, Laura Wagner, Steven Tompkins et al. (and last updated on June 24th, 2015).

And while I can’t attest to its accuracy, it makes for incredible reading. In the case of "Some Like It Hot," Movie Dubbers additionally lists actor Tito Vuolo (who plays Mozzarella in the film) as someone who also did some dubbing for Curtis. What?! Fascinating stuff but also very disillusioning.

Having this information doesn't diminish my appreciation of Tony Curtis' performance in the film but I now wonder if I will be able to watch "Some Like It Hot" in the same way. The fact is, one can't erase knowledge.

The other "finds" on Movie Dubbers include Peter Sellers partially dubbing some of Humphrey Bogart's dialogue in "Beat the Devil"; Angela Lansbury for Ingrid Thulin in "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse"; Diane Keaton, Goldie Hawn, Bette Midler and Stockard Channing dubbing the actresses who played their characters as young girls in "The First Wives Club"; Richard Loo for Sessue Hayakawa in "The House of Bamboo"; Patricia Hitchcock for both Piero Giagnoni and Luisa Boni in "Land of the Pharoahs" and for Donna Corcoran in "Moonfleet"; Rich Little for David Niven in "Trail of the Pink Panther," and Ronnie McDowell who dubbed the singing of the actors who played Elvis (Kurt Russell, Dale Midkiff and Don Johnson) in TV movies. Needless to say, most of the list is devoted to the handful of ghost singers (apparently a cottage industry) used in movie musicals.

Fun reading. But did I really want to know all this? The answer: Probably.

Notes in Passing: Frankly, I'm surprised that some enterprising young documentarian hasn't devoted a film to Paul Frees; according to IMDb, the man has a whopping 356 credits, mainly in voiceover work, including narrations and cartoons. He passed in 1986, at age 66, from heart failure.

And finally, full disclosure: I came to Movie Dubbers rather circuitously - by way of the invaluable site, Vienna’s Classic Hollywood, which I check out regularly. Vienna devoted one of her posts to “Martha Mears: Queen of the Dubbers” (published October 22nd, 2016) and one of her readers, named Bob, provided the link to Movie Dubbers. Which piqued my interest.

Of course.
* * * * *
~Tony Curtis, in character, in "Some Like It Hot"
 ~photography: United Artists 1959©


Dorothy R said...

fascinating indeed!

Alex said...

When Hawn, Midler, Channing and Keaton dubbed the voices of their younger selves in "The First Wives Club," it wasn't the first time this was done. "Wives" came out in 1996 but, four years learier in '92, Genna Davis provided dubbed the actress - Lynn Cartwright - who plays her in old age in "A League of Their Own."

joe baltake said...

Alex- For some reason, Geena Davis' voiceover work on "A League of Our Own" isn't included on the list. -J

Tracy said...

And, of course, there was Glenn Close's voice used in place of Andie MacDowell's in "Greystoke," the Tarzan film.

joe baltake said...

Tracy- Yes, Close and "Greystoke" are both included on the list. I became immediately resistant to Close when she agreed to do that voiceover. Why would one actress do that to another? Plus, I find Andie MacDowell's charming drawl much more pleasing that Close's patrician intonations. But that's just me. -J

Bill from Philly said...

Interesting info about Curtis' female voice in "Some Like It Hot." I always found it curious that only Curtis used a female voice. Except for his first scene as Geraldine/Daphne, Lemmon doesn't alter his voice when in drag. He sounds like Jack Lemmon throughout the film.

v.h. said...

I'm curious why, if they were going to dub Tony Curtis's voice in the movie, they didn't simply get a woman to do the dubbing. Instead, they got another man!

joe baltake said...

V.H.- Good point! -J

John/24Frames said...

Curtis gave his best comedic performance in Some Lik it Hot, though I liked him a lot in the underrated Goodbye Charlie.

Mike Schlesinger said...

I'm a big Frees fan myself. For the American version of GODZILLA 2000, I swapped out a weather report for some of his dialogue from EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS, which also hat-tipped Harryhausen and added a nice bit of foreshadowing. And for TRAIL OF THE SCREAMING FOREHEAD, I hired the great Corey Burton to imitate Frees as the voice of the Foreheads. It worked wonderfully, especially given that the movie pretended to have been made in the late 1950s.

Joanne said...

I'd never heard of that site so it was fun to explore - thanks. Perhaps the most baffling one I saw was this - ROUTE 66 (TV - 1961): Marni Nixon for Ethel Waters

Vienna said...

I just hope it’s not true. I reckon Tony Curtis could do the necessary voices . I liked his Cary Grant tone.
Thanks, Joe for the mention

seth r. said...

I got to know Paul Frees's voice courtesy of "Fractured Flickers" and "Spike Jones in Stereo" where he provides about every male voice that George Rock doesn't. But he also did what to me is the most notorious dubbing display--and one of the worst--in "The List of Adrian Messanger." The worst example is his dubbing of at least half of Jacques Roux's (Le Borg) lines, sometimes even interpolated with Roux's own voice. He also dubs some of the "mystery guest" voices. His voice is so obvious it's almost embarrassing.