Kendra Steiner Editions (Bill Shute)

April 9, 2020

Stay-At-Home Film #2: KING THRUSHBEARD (presented by K. Gordon Murray, 1954/1968)

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KING THRUSHBEARD

released in the USA, probably primarily to TV, in 1968 by K. GORDON MURRAY, who created an English language dialogue track at his Soundlab in Coral Gables, Florida….Murray did not dub the songs into English–they were left in the original German

original source film , König Drosselbart , released in West Germany in 1954, directed by Herbert B. Fredersdorf, inspired by the fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm

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In the late 1960’s, K. Gordon Murray’s kiddie matinee empire was slipping. He could still re-release some of the better kiddie films for Saturday theatrical showings, but some of the later acquisitions (The Princess and The Swineherd, and also Table, Donkey and Stick) dated back to early-to-mid 1950’s Germany, and some were even in black and white, such as the film under consideration today, KING THRUSHBEARD, which has no verified theatrical showings in the US (not to say they weren’t any in some off-the-beaten-path areas….Murray used a lot of “filler” to complete playbills, and I could imagine this going out with one of the Santa Claus shorts to some backwater town, but I have not evidence of that), and went straight to TV.

He couldn’t advertise the “storybook color” of a B&W film, and in some of these German films from the late period, he did not bother to dub the songs into English (in some of the earlier films, new lyrics were written to match the lips of the actors and new performances were recorded, which could not have been cheap to do). Yes, the songs are in German!

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The fairy tale KING THRUSHBEARD by the Brothers Grimm is still popular, and you can find various adaptations from the last 30 years online. This adaptation is from a 1954 German film that Murray acquired. I’d imagine he got it for a song (an untranslated song in German!), being that it was a 14 year old foreign black and white film. Presumably, he was able to make money on the acquisition and the dubbing costs through TV rentals as part of children’s film packages. Other than dubbing (and there was an existing music and sound effects track, so all that was needed was dialogue) and some minimal and primitive beginning and end titles (which spell some of the names wrong), the only cost was striking 16mm prints for TV stations. If this did not play theatrically in the US, then no 35mm prints may have been made. My copy looks like a transfer from 16mm. I’d assume that in the 1968/69 period, Murray was making more money off of drive-in showings of SHANTY TRAMP and SAVAGES FROM HELL (both original productions, made in Florida) than he was making from films such as KING THRUSHBEARD, but Murray was the man who’d created the mystique of the great showman with his own “wonder world,” so he perhaps felt the need to keep the product coming, coasting on the fumes of his earlier success.

I was ten years old in 1968 and already had a taste both for older black and white films and for foreign dubbed films (I was already a fan of the sword and sandal films shown on my local UHF stations), but I don’t remember KING THRUSHBEARD playing on any station I had access to. I think I would have enjoyed it, though. As for the average child, I’m not so sure. It would depend on how sheltered and insulated the child was on the one hand (come into it with low expectations and be easily impressed), or how off-the-wall the child’s tastes were.

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Since no one reading this is 10 years old, and 1968 is now 52 years ago, how does the film hold up today? Well, just imagine you found in the bottom of a box at some junk store, below old copies of Life magazine and old gas station road maps, a dusty, yellowing 1954 book of stories from the Brothers Grimm, awkwardly translated into English, with black and white photographs illustrating the text. Then imagine  you start falling asleep while reading it, and in that netherworld between waking and sleep, you find the stories coming to life in dated black and white, with stilted translated dialogue and with dated, semi-classical “storybook” music playing in the background. It takes you to another world–not a “real” world (whatever that is), but a stylized replication of a fantasy world seen through the lens of a particular era (early 1950’s) in a certain culture (West Germany—-both halves of the then-Germany produced very interesting and unique and distinctive children’s films in that era), and then run through the meat-grinder, then on its last legs, of K. Gordon Murray’s Florida-based children’s film operation. Somehow, songs sung in German totally fit such a “storybook” film based on a work by the Brothers Grimm and I’d imagine that had I seen this as a ten-year-old, I’d probably have felt unconsciously something like “the characters are German, so they are singing German songs–no problem there.”

In today’s strange world, KING THRUSHBEARD, the K.  Gordon Murray import version, is oddly comforting and entertaining. Let’s hope a copy of it survives for future generations to gaze at in wonder….

If you’d like to read about another German children’s import “presented by” K.  Gordon Murray, this time a color film made in East Germany in the 1960’s, here a link to my review of THE GOLDEN GOOSE at BTC, originally published in August 2019:

Bill Shute review of K. Gordon Murray’s THE GOLDEN GOOSE at BTC

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