This is the original, unaltered release version, until recently unseen and unheard anywhere since 1930. Here the stars played double roles for the first time – themselves and their own sons. Later they would portray their own wives in TWICE TWO and their own brothers in OUR RELATIONS, but with the exception of EARLY TO BED, nowhere else are Messrs. Laurel and Hardy the only two actors on screen. In the script the alleged adults are referred to as “Laurel” and “Hardy,” while the kids are “Stan” and “Babe.” There is essentially no difference in the fathers and sons’ personalities and behavior, only their size. The residence shown throughout is that of the Hardy family. The Laurels, only visiting, according to the script, live elsewhere. Are we to presume from the framed photo on display in Hardy’s home that he is married to Jean Harlow? The inviting play-land set for the diminutive pair features gigantic props and furniture built exactly three times scale. Fifty-year Roach Studios veteran Herbert R. Gelbspan worked out of the New York office and remembered seeing those surreal props all around the lot on his first visit west in 1936, and up until the war.
Director Parrott’s brother, Charley Chase, both helmed and appeared in a 1918 King Bee Films Corp. two-reeler called PLAYMATES, also featuring oversized sets and furniture to foster the illusion that adults could pass for small boys. Hardy played one of them.
As a transitional early sound project, BRATS required Laurel and Hardy to enact two roles each, four times, out of which six different exhibition editions were created. Production extended from January 21 through February 7, 1930. The principal version was the English language domestic cut. A silent version was adapted for distribution to movie theaters not yet converted to sound. As any Cinefest audience knows, early talking pictures were not dubbed. So to continue serving overseas territories and not lose revenue derived from the lucrative French, German, and Spanish speaking markets, three separate export versions were re-filmed in those languages. Tutors coached Laurel and Hardy to speak their lines phonetically, sometimes with the aid of blackboards off-camera. That accounts for five of the versions. By 1937, Roach had ceased producing short comedies, owing to the exhibition curse of double bills crowding everything but feature films off movie screens. Still, there was sufficient demand among discerning bookers so that M-G-M conferred with Roach about reissuing a group of four shorts, BRATS among them. So as to disguise its “age,” however, the opening gag text title (a vestige of the by then scorned and antiquated silent films era) was removed. The main title card was re-drawn, and the original end title, displaying Metro’s reclining lion and torch insignia, was replaced with new artwork of two derbies hanging on a hat rack. More importantly, a new incidental background music score was commissioned. This more contemporary music, mostly recent stock tunes composed by LeRoy Shield, was not only mixed louder on the track, but used “wall-to-wall.” Doing so had the added benefit of masking the surface hash, hiss, pop, and crackling imperfections on the noisy, early sound, seven year-old dialogue track so as to conform more closely with improved expectations for sound quality by modern audiences of 1937. In order that the actors may be heard and understood in the reissue version, sound levels on the background music were actually turned down by sound editor Elmer Raguse when either Laurel or Hardy spoke. This is the only version of BRATS in active circulation since 1937 – the altered re-release cut everybody knows today. Thanks to locating lost Vitaphone disc recordings of the original 1930 dialogue, music and effects track, and synchronizing these elements with an old nitrate dupe negative struck from film editor Richard Currier’s work print picture portion, we’ll now have a chance to see and hear how different music scoring completely changes the movie’s pacing and character. BRATS was the very first film to employ T. Marvin Hatley’s KU KU theme song for Laurel & Hardy after Laurel heard it being played as a time signal over the studio’s radio station, KFVD. The film’s other incidental music, none of which was composed by LeRoy Shield, is mixed quite low. One caveat: while the preservation picture negative is full aperture, this 16mm derivative print is not.
Richard W. Bann