Miami's B-Movie Mogul

K. Gordon Murray may have invented the weekend kiddie matinee, but don't forget his scowling bikers, howling werewolves, lumbering mummies, brain-sucking monsters, and scheming decapitated heads

The dubbing was done at Soundlab, a Coral Gables studio owned by Cuban exile Eduardo Moré, who transplanted the whole operation -- lock, stock, and flesh-and-blood technicians -- from the island after Castro seized power. By day Soundlab busied itself dubbing American films and TV shows (I Love Lucy, for instance) into Spanish for markets in Latin America; by night it was leased by various producers, notably Murray, for creating English-language versions of foreign movies.

Riding herd on the dubbing procedure were several different directors, who literally dissected the film's print, cutting it into hundreds of pieces called "loops," each consisting of a line of dialogue. He would then gather together each character's loops, hire a voice actor to speak the dialogue, and decamp to Soundlab to record. "You would come in and do all your lines," recalls Nagel, who along with his wife, Marge, was recruited to supply voices by Ivan Kivitt, a mainstay of the Miami theater scene, and Manny San Fernando, Murray's first dubbing director. "There'd be no other actors there." Often, Nagel adds, a voice actor, many of them like the Nagels with experience in radio dramas and local stage productions, didn't even know the name of the film.

Each loop was prefaced by a stretch of blank film containing three successive punched holes, the third hole indicating the exact spot where a voice actor was supposed to begin speaking his/her line. At Soundlab a loop was projected for the actor, who, with script in hand, watched the "dots" -- the holes -- fly by on a screen: one, two, speak on three. Practice a few times until confident, then record. Repeat until the director was satisfied with the delivery and the way it synced with the onscreen actor's moving lips. Each finished loop was numbered and stored; later these were matched with their corresponding snatches of imagery, and the film, tiny piece by tiny piece by tiny piece, was reassembled.

Jonathan Postal
K. Gordon "Ken" Murray (above) was unknown to the 
general public, but an icon to the psychotronic 
cognoscenti who treasure radioactive mutants, female 
prison inmates, vampires, and bikers
K. Gordon "Ken" Murray (above) was unknown to the general public, but an icon to the psychotronic cognoscenti who treasure radioactive mutants, female prison inmates, vampires, and bikers

Paul and Marge Nagel supplemented their incomes in this fashion, earning 50 cents per loop. At the time he was teaching film studies at the University of Miami while she worked as a paste-up artist at an ad agency. "You'd get 50 cents if you only said 'Hello' or if you recited the Gettysburg Address," chuckles Paul. "The longer the loop was, the less expensive it was for the producer." (Ultimately Paul headed the film program at UM's School of Communications, and Marge owned and operated her own ad agency before both retired to live in Aventura.)

"You had to dub every sound that came out of an actor's mouth," Paul recalls, "which always struck me as funny. I remember one scene we did: a fight between a vampire, a wolfman, and a kind of retarded monster [that would be from The World of the Vampires]. Nobody said anything. It was just a lot of growling and hissing and knocking around. But you couldn't use the original track, because the original track was destroyed in the dubbing process."

Amusing at times, certainly, but also tedious. "We'd try to fit the translation we were given," Marge explains, "and sometimes it wouldn't. So Paul would say, 'Why don't you say this instead?' And then that would fit." Such resourcefulness resulted in San Fernando hiring Nagel to direct some of Murray's movies, a task requiring him to weigh accurate lip-syncing against rational dialogue.

"Ken was really more interested in sync than meaning," Paul notes. "Early on I think there were people [theater exhibitors] who bought these films who didn't even know they were dubbed."

(Not all of the dubbing occurred at Soundlab. A handful of the films, attorney Royal Jonas recalls, were readied for U.S. release at Churubusco-Azteca, the sprawling production complex just outside Mexico City. He and his children participated in the English-language transformation of Little Angel there.)

"The fact that they were pretty literally translated makes the dialogue in English seem a little bit florid," says Mexican film expert David Wilt, "but that's an occupational hazard of translating from one language to another -- it's not going to sound exactly right in the new language." For example, this nutty nugget, plucked from 1965's Doctor of Doom: "Don't say such things, my small hero. We'll be there like white lightning."

Where most cineastes disdain dubbed films, preferring instead the originals augmented with subtitles, Wilt expresses admiration for the way Murray respected the integrity of the Mexican movies. "They were treated with care," he says. "He didn't fool around with the films. For the most part, he took the movies, and the scripts were translated pretty faithfully. I think that anybody involved with the films in Mexico wouldn't have any problems with Murray's treatment of the originals."

For each production he oversaw, Paul Nagel directed as many as two dozen voice actors, hiring specific ones for specific roles. For example, Matt King, the announcer at Miami Seaquarium at the time, always played vampires. "He was tall and skinny and bony and looked like John Carradine," Marge laughs. A contingent of Nagel's UM students also joined in.

Nagel usually saved the choicest roles (read: the ones that resulted in the biggest payday) for himself, meaning that he voiced many of the characters played by Abel Salazar, superstar of Mexican monster movies. "Abel Salazar was the Vincent Price of Mexico," Nagel points out. "Whenever I had an opportunity, I would cast myself as Abel Salazar because I knew that he had more lines than anybody else. And I would cast my wife as the heroine [for the same reason]."

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