Esperanto
Author: David Poulson


Esperanto and Cinema: Goodbye Hollywood!

Author: David Poulson
Published on:September 17, 1999

In the four years which followed the appearance of Idiot's Delight and The Great Dictator three other films were made by Hollywood studios in which the Esperanto language appeared to a greater or lesser degree. In order of appearance, they are as follows.

1 Woman of the Tropics. This film was made in 1939 at MGM and starred Robert Taylor and Hedy Lamarr. The story tells of a party of wealthy visitors to French Saigon, where they meet lovely Manon deVargnes (Hedy Lamarr), who is not allowed to leave the country due to her part-Oriental ancestry. When the others leave, playboy Bill Carey (Rod Taylor) stays behind to woo Manon; but all his efforts to get her out of the country with him run into a brick wall. And Pierre Delaroch, (Joseph Schildkraut), her wealthy admirer, waits for him to give up.

2. The Road to Singapore. The first of the famous series of seven "Road" movies made at Paramount and starring Bob Hope http://www.taxpolicy.com/bobhope.htm and Bing Crosby http://www.kcmetro.cc.mo.us/pennvalley/biology/lewis/crosby/bing.htm This film, made in 1940, also starred Dorothy Lamour. The story is very simple: Bing Crosby runs away from his father and unloved fiancee, who both want to him to become a business excutive in his father's shipping line. He ends up in "Kaigoon," a mythical island somewhere between Honolulu and Singapore, accompanied by Bob Hope, who's trying to escape from a shotgun wedding situation. There, they meet Dorothy Lamour, and naturally both fall in love with her. The local residents of Kaigoon speak contemporary American with a phony French accent but sing in Esperanto. Well, it's suposed to be Esperanto but, having fortunately stumbled across a videotape of this film today, I must confess that during the film's big musical "production number," I couldn't understand a word! Johnny Burke was the film's lyricist, and the Esperanto version of this song, sung incomprehensibly during the festivities of a native wedding feast, were written by Joseph R. Scherer. Unfortunately, I haven't found a suitable picture from this film, but here are the three protagonists in a still from a later film in this popular series, The Road to Morocco.

3. The Conspirators. This film was made in 1944 at RKO studios, and it was directed by Romanian-born Jean Negulesco, who made 55 films, some of which are very well-known, for example, How to Marry a Millionnaire, and Boy on a Dolphin. The cast of this film included such wonderful actors as Paul Heinreid, Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre. The truly beautiful Hedy Lamarr appeared in this film too and, although she has little connection with Esperanto, I can't resist including a photograph of her. (In the film, when the conspirators speak in their own language, they use Esperanto. I wonder who wrote the dialogue: Jack (John C. Moffitt) is credited with writing additional dialogue, but he wrote for many films and it is unlikely that he could write in Esperanto as well. But who knows?)

That last film was the end of the story as far as Esperanto and Hollywood is concerned, but not, I'm happy to say, the end of the story of Esperanto and the cinema. In 1949 a film about the artist and poet Wilhelm Busch http://pressibus.org/bd/debuts/auteurs/frbusch.html and called Aventuro de Fraulo was made in Germany. I have also heard of another German film which uses Esperanto called Help! A child has fallen from the sky. Also there is a film made in Japan, called The Storm of Jan Arima (possibly Jan arima no shugeki, made in 1959 and directed by Daisuke Ito, ) which is set in the 16th century and which supposedly has Western (Portuguese?) characters speaking in Esperanto.

If anybody can add any information at all about these three films, I would be very grateful if they would contribute it to the discussion column for this article.

Finally, however, a feature film appeared which was made entirely in Esperanto. The title was Angoroj. I shall be telling you a little about this film, and about where to find information about a large number of documentary films in Esperanto which are currently for sale, and, finally, about Esperanto's cinematic triumph, Incubus, in the next Topic article. I hope you'll look in again in a couple of weeks time.

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