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10 actors who got dubbed out of their movies


Mmph, mum hmmh huh...

Mmph bee mckkk...

When it comes to foreign language films, fans are split into two groups; those who like them with subtitles, and those who prefer them dubbed into English. For a foreign movie to make any kind of commercial impact beyond the art-house circuit, they would need to be made, or at least be reasonably well dubbed, in English, since it’s the most common language for mainstream cinema entertainment. All too often dubbing tends to dampen the impact of a very good film, especially if the actors’ English voices sound completely wrong. Brilliant movies such as the French cop thriller La Balance (1982) and the Japanese social drama Battle Royale (2002) would never achieve their iconic status if they were released in badly dubbed English.

But dubbing can work to hilarious effect in the Godzilla movies and with some of the lesser spaghetti westerns. In some cases low budget American producers buy the distribution rights to a serious foreign language film and re-dub it into a comedy, even if the end result is not very funny.

Many English actors made a good living dubbing their foreign colleagues. As Britain’s best known voice over actor artist, Robert Rietty supplied his distinctive tones to several movies. He wasn’t just limited to foreign films; if a British actor’s own voice didn’t sound right, Rietty would re-voice the part, often without the actor's knowledge.

It certainly wasn’t common in the sixties. When Jack Hawkins lost his voice to throat cancer, the vocal duties in his later films were supplied by the similar sounding Charles Gray. Hammer Films often dubbed their foreign glamour girls and Eon Productions went further by re-voicing the Bond villains. That is NOT Gert Frobe’s voice in Goldfinger (1964), nor is that the voice of Adolfo Celli in Thunderball (1966). Mind you if you actually heard Celli’s attempts at English in the TV series The Borgias, it’s not difficult to see why he was dubbed!

Since movie dubbing is pretty commonplace, here is a restricted list of the more interesting efforts. The fact that most of these actors are well known adds to the camp value.

Arnold Schwarzenegger (Hercules in New York – 1969)

Arnie in 'Hercules In New York' (1969)Arnie’s film debut and certainly one that came back to haunt him! This lower than low budget Ed Wood style Z movie has the future governor of California billed as ‘Arnold Strong, Mr Universe’ (no doubt budget restrictions prevented his real surname from appearing on the credits). This probably caused some confusion because he’s billed alongside comedy actor Arnold Stang! What makes the film hilarious is Arnie’s thick Austrian accent getting replaced by a high and rather effeminate American voice. Along with ripping open his shirt at regular intervals and fighting a bloke in a grizzly bear costume, Arnie manages to maintain one facial expression – baffled! It’s a case of “I’LL NOT BE BACK!”

Barbara Steele (The Pit and the Pendulum – 1961)

Barbara Steele in 'The Pit and the Pendulum'. Kind of. She may have been the queen of Italian horror, but sadly the hauntingly beautiful Barbara Steele often had her voice dubbed by another actress when her films were released overseas. Playing Vincent Price’s faithless wife in this adaptation of the classic Poe story, director Roger Corman felt her thick working-class English accent did not conform to the other actors on the set, so he had her voice dubbed prior to the film’s release. It’s all very well, but considering she is British, and the character she played is British, why give her a truly atrocious American accent? Her career best performance in Caged Heat (1974) clearly shows nothing wrong with her voice.

Klaus Kinski (Codename Wild Geese – 1984)

Klaus Kinski in 'Codename Wild Geese' (1984)The loopy Polish/German actor is no stranger to appearing on film with someone else’s voice. In any case, most of his screen performances relied on his manic constant eye rolling (For a Few Dollars More (1966) being a prime example). Of course back then he wasn’t that well known. By the time he appeared in this cheesy Italian pot-boiler, he had distinguished himself in several critically acclaimed films for Werner Herzog, so his German accent was now well known. And then someone decided to dub it over with an “I say old chap” British home counties voice, the sort that was used on the Gaumont British News shows of the forties! For what it’s worth, it actually sounds quite amusing and remains the one stand-out from this dreadful action movie featuring listless performances from Lewis Collins, Ernest Borgnine and Kinski’s Dollars colleague Lee Van Cleef. Perhaps they should have had their voices dubbed too!

Robert Hoffmann (The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe – 1964)


Robert Hoffman as Robinson CrusoeThere are many (I hope!) British Shadowlocked readers of a certain age (me being one of them!) who spent their summer vacations in front of the TV watching the immensely popular French serial based on Defoe’s classic novel. Yes we all cried buckets when Crusoe’s dog died! There were also women of (ahem!) a certain age who wanted to be marooned on the island with the blonde, impossibly handsome Robert Hoffmann, in his first starring role as the eponymous hero. When the BBC bought the rights to the serial, not only did they specially compose one of the most famous pieces of music in history, they hired American singer Lee Payant as both narrator and the voice of Crusoe. Payant’s soft mid-Atlantic tones and impeccable diction perfectly match Hoffmann’s boyish good looks. The DVD of the serial is now available and one of the special features is the original French version of episode one. However, Hoffmann’s Austrian accent is nowhere near as distinctive in comparison to Payant’s evocative vocal delivery.

David Prowse (Star Wars: Episode Four: A New Hope – 1977)

Dave Prowse as the Sith Lord Darth VaderFor those who remember him on British TV as ‘The Green Cross Code Man”, it was quite clear that the actor’s Bristol twang would never be used for the voice of cinema’s most popular science fiction villains. Hired by George Lucas for his weightlifting physique, the director re-dubbed his voice with the deep Shakespearian tones of American actor James Earl Jones. Legend has it that Prowse, who also acted out all Vader’s dialogue, was unaware that his voice had been replaced until attended the film’s premiere. For the record, Prowse and Jones have never met in person.

Andre Morell (She – 1964)

Andre Morell in 'She' (1964)Hammer had many glamour girls, and it was usually the studio policy to dub them if their voices weren’t distinctive enough; the foreign actresses certainly fared worse if their English was poor. As the immortal beauty Ayesha, Ursula Andress’ thick Swiss accent was dubbed over by actress Nikki Van der Zyl, who also dubbed her in Dr No (1962). But in a strange twist, Hammer regular Andre Morell had his wonderful speaking voice dubbed by Cypriot actor George Pastell because he did not sound foreign enough to be an Egyptian, a situation made more confusing because Christopher Lee (also playing an Egyptian) used his own voice.

Mike Raven (Lust for a Vampire – 1970)

Mike Raven in 'Lust For A Vampire' (1971)Although not as well known as the other actors in the list, what makes this dubbing effort interesting is the fact that former disc jockey Mike Raven was actually famous for his voice. One of the great pioneers to emerge from the pirate station Radio Caroline, Raven was a top Radio One DJ who dreamt of making it as a new horror star. Making his debut in this appalling Hammer flick as the dreaded Count Karnstein, Raven’s voice was replaced with the distinctive tone of veteran actor Valentine Dyall. To add insult to injury, the close-ups of Karnstein’s bloodshot eyes actually belong to Christopher Lee! When cinema audiences finally heard his voice in I Monster (1971), Crucible of Terror (1971) and Disciple of Death (1972), it was clear from the offset why he was dubbed – the fella couldn’t act!

Andie Macdowell (Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes – 1984)

Andie Macdowell in 'Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes' (1984)After 40 years of daft hokum, Edgar Rice Burroughs's famous character got the more serious treatment in this flawed but very enjoyable film that introduced cinemagoers to Christopher Lambert. Greystoke was also famous for nearly ending the fledgling career of one of Hollywood’s most beautiful and versatile actresses. Cast as the eponymous Jane, Macdowell looked every inch the sophisticated American lady, but her thick Southern twang was so heavy she was re-dubbed with the more aristocratic tones of Glenn Close. This led to embarrassing reviews, and for a while producers wouldn’t consider hiring her until Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989) and Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) established her as a top leading lady after years of struggle. Not surprisingly, Greystoke is not a film she has on her resume!

Ingrid Pitt (Countess Dracula – 1971)

Ingrid Pitt in 'Countess Dracula' (1971)With her excellent English and well-modulated speaking voice (following her years in Hollywood), Ingrid Pitt was more fortunate than most of Hammer’s other foreign glamour girls in not having her voice dubbed; well, at least that was the case in The Vampire Lovers (1970). Countess Dracula turned out to be a different story altogether, when director Peter Sasdy re-dubbed her with a very English rose voice during post-production. Not one to take this lying down, Ingrid went absolutely berserk and when she met Sasdy some time later at a film festival in Spain, she got her revenge by pushing the director, who could not swim, into the sea. Sasdy survived with an important lesson learnt – you do not mess with Miss Ingrid!

Ian Bannen (Qual maledetto treno blindato or Inglorious Bastards – 1978)

Ian Bannen in 'Inglorious Bastards' (1978)When Quentin Tarantino released his 2009 film with the similar-sounding name it was inevitable that the original Italian warsploitation movie (which Tarantino owns the rights to) would get a DVD release. This particular macho effort stands out from most of the cheesy foreign war movies seen on the Movie for Men Channel, because it has reasonable production values, a decent storyline and an eclectic cast headed by seventies actions heroes Bo Svenson and Fred Williamson. The film was made in English so the dubbing is very good. However there is one glaring hitch in the casting of Ian Bannen as Colonel Buckner. Obviously the Scots actor’s familiar brogue wasn’t ideal for playing an American colonel so he was dubbed accordingly. But even with the excellent post-synching work, the voice sounds false because Bannen doesn’t look the least bit American. Could he have played the role with a Scots accent? Well, Sean Connery got away with it in The Presidio (1988)!

See also:

Ten Actors and Actresses Who Deserve Better Roles

Wigipedia! The top 10 least convincing hair-pieces in movies

Lost in translation: the fallacy of dubbing and subtitling

In Praise of Watching Movies Dubbed into Spanish

Lists at Shadowlocked


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#1 Fascinating Article Craig 2011-03-17 00:05
As a lifelong student of the craft of voice acting and its history, I have to give you props for such an interesting and well-researched article.

But as trivia fanatic when it comes to voice acting, I must point out some noteworthy omissions from your list:

- Paul Frees dubbing Tony Curtis' falsetto lines in "Some Like it Hot."

- Paul Frees (again) replacing a lot of John Huston's voiceover narration for "Freud: The Secret Passion" (1962).

- Bluegrass artist Dan Tymenski dubbing the singing lines for George Clooney in "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" Tymenski stated in an interview that Clooney did attempt to record his own vocals, but says Clooney gave up quickly and gladly gave the task over to Dan. He added that Clooney did a great job of performing the lip sync.

- James Keach dubbing all of the lines for Klinton Spilsbury for his starring role in the 1981 film "The Legend of the Lone Ranger."

- Jim Cummings dubbing part of Jeremy Irons' vocals for the "Be Prepared" track in "The Lion King" after Irons blew out his voice attempting to sing the song.

- Most famously (in film history anyway), Marni Nixon dubbing the singing voices of Audrey Hepburn in "My Fair Lady," Natalie Wood AND Rita Moreno in "West Side Story," and Deborah Kerr in "The King & I."

Craig Crumpton
Publisher, Voice Actors in the News
#2 RE: 10 actors who got dubbed out of their movies Holly 2011-03-17 17:09
Having read Mark's work before, I know he is above all a student of fantasy and horror films, so it doesn't surprise me that this selection is geared toward those genres. Of course, the Marni Nixon (and other) example(s) are big ones. No doubt an article covering the history of overdubbing in the movies would have broader appeal but miss loads of off-the-wall examples such as the ones Mark's cited above--many of them movies I'd never even heard of. Thanks, Mark!
#3 RE: 10 actors who got dubbed out of their movies Hari 2011-03-17 20:32
Since you mentioned the Bond villains, it's hard to believe you missed Ursula Andress being dubbed as a Bond girl, Honey Ryder.
#4 RE: 10 actors who got dubbed out of their movies Bob R 2011-03-17 23:15
Quoting Hari:
Since you mentioned the Bond villains, it's hard to believe you missed Ursula Andress being dubbed as a Bond girl, Honey Ryder.

Actually he DOES mention Ursula Andress being dubbed in Dr. No, only it's under the entry for Andre Morell in 'She':

"As the immortal beauty Ayesha, Ursula Andress’ thick Swiss accent was dubbed over by actress Nikki Van der Zyl, who also dubbed her in Dr No (1962). "

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