‘No Mr Bond, I expect you to die!’

In the summer, Drama staff get on with their various research projects. This feature by Vicky Lowe gives an insight into her ongoing work on film stardom and voice dubbing.

Look again at this clip from the 1964 Bond film, Goldfinger. The actor who plays the iconic baddie, Auric Goldfinger, is of course the German stage and screen actor Gert Fröbe. Yet the character is actually voiced by another actor, Michael Collins, apparently because Fröbe’s heavy Bavarian accent was too strong and he didn’t sound as the production team expected a continental style villain to sound! So Michael Collins, an English actor, constructed a vocal performance to match the visual image of Goldfinger and painstakingly dubbed all of Fröbe’s lines from the film in post-production.

This is part of a hidden history of vocal characterisations and performances that is only just coming to light. BBC4 recently aired a documentary The Secret Voices of Hollywood (2013) that exposed the ‘ghost’ singers of Hollywood, such as Marni Nixon and Bill Lee, who sung for the likes of Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady (1964) and Christopher Plummer in The Sound of Music (1965) but received no credit for their performances in the film or on the motion picture soundtracks that accompanied them. Of course we can see this in the context of an industrial practice dedicated to creating illusions and erasing any signs that a performance is ‘constructed’ through technological means.  Marsha Siefert (1995) argues that in fact that the practice became widespread in the 1950s because Hollywood was having to compete with the growth of television and so films, particularly musicals,  became more and more about the extraordinary; the impossibly beautiful image coupled with the out of this world voice.

But what about Britain? I’ve long been fascinated the sound of film stars, as much as their image, having written about how important Robert Donat’s voice was in the production of his star persona. However, this hidden history has got me intrigued. The difficulty of course is, in finding material that evidences these artists’ contributions because, of necessity, their work remained uncredited. So far, my research has taken me to uncover the work of performers such as Robert Rietty, who lent his voice to Adolfo Celi in Thunderball (1965) and often provided the voice for actors who were unavailable  to dub their own roles in post -production. An entertaining interview between Rietty and Barry Norman about this issue can be found here.

More recently, the young actor who played Heathcliff in Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights (2011), found to his dismay that his voice had been dubbed by another actor in the final film. It would be interesting to know why this was felt to be needed, particularly from a director whose work seems rooted in gritty authenticity.  I know from my research into Donat, that actors’ voices were subject to an enormous amount of scrutiny in the 1930s with production executives trying to find actors who would appeal to both British and American markets. So perhaps this actor’s natural Northern tones were deemed too local to appeal to transatlantic audiences.  I would be interested in hearing from anyone else working in this area, so if you have any information then please do email me at Victoria.s.lowe@manchester.ac.uk .

Perhaps the most interesting example of voice dubbing can be found, ironically, in one of the greatest films ever made about Hollywood, Singing in the Rain (1952). In that film, the Debbie Reynolds’ character, Kathy Selden is bought in to dub the high pitched, screechy voiced, Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) in her first sound film performance. In real life, Hagen was a trained Broadway actress who ended up lending her carefully modulated tones to Debbie Reynolds, whose real voice was thought to be too mid-western Hicksville for her character. So you have Hagen dubbing Reynolds dubbing Hagen!!

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