A fragile, 500-foot piece of film from the 1930 musical “The Rogue Song,” long thought lost, was found in Maine earlier this year and has been restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive.
It shows a classical ballet sequence and does not include images of the film’s stars, opera singer Lawrence Tibbett, Catherine Dale Owen or, with third billing, Laurel and Hardy.
The sequence, shot on volatile nitrate cellulose film, is one of only a handful of fragments of the movie known to exist. There is another piece in a film collection in the Czech Republic. The musical’s trailer, which includes Laurel and Hardy, also survived and has been copied onto safety stock at UCLA.
The original 103-minute film, directed by Lionel Barrymore, was MGM’s first all-talking, two-color Technicolor motion picture.
“Purely a vehicle for Metropolitan Opera star Lawrence Tibbett, who was never to become a very satisfying screen personality, ‘Rogue Song’ was finished and ready for release when Laurel and Hardy were added as an afterthought to give the film both comedy relief and a measure of box office insurance,” according to the book “The Films of Laurel & Hardy,” by William K. Everson.
The dance segment, about 10 minutes long, was presented to UCLA by Alan Kattelle, a movie collector and board member of Northeast Historic Film, a video and film archive based in a 1916-vintage theater in Bucksport, Maine.
“Film enthusiasts have been looking for ‘The Rogue Song’ for a long time,” NHF exec director David Weiss said.
Composer Dimitri Tiomkin, in one of his earliest screen efforts, wrote the music for the ballet sequence. He got the job through his wife, Albertina Rasch, a respected choreographer and dancer on Broadway who was hired by MGM in 1930 to lend her expertise to the new genre of musicals; at the same time, the studio gave Tiomkin a contract to score five films.
“Rogue” was released in January 1930 in two versions — one with sound on the film itself, the other accompanied by a sound disc — to accommodate theaters that were still being adapted for talkies.
“Maybe someday the rest of it will be found,” Donna Ross, UCLA’s assistant motion picture archivist, mused. “Perhaps all the lost films in the world are under a polar ice cap or something. I can dream, can’t I?”