Goofy Translations of Film Titles

My wife and I watched “The Lives of Others” this weekend, the Oscar winner for Best Foreign-Language Film. A truly excellent film, well deserving of its Oscar. We’re very grateful there is a place in Bangkok willing to show this type of fare. It used to be a very barren land for movie-lovers, but the situation has improved some over the years. However, to entice the Thais to go see these films, they almost always translate the title to reflect something sexy or violent.

Take “The Lives of Others.” The English title is an exact translation of the German: “Das Leben die Anderen.” The Thai title that they gave to it translates as “Love Crisis in Berlin.” I noted one Thai who got up and left about 30 minutes into it; I guess it was not as steamy as he had hoped. (Incidentally, I suspect a sex scene was cut, right after the party when he was opening his gifts. A lot of the more explicit sex gets cut here onscreen, but this particular venue is better than most about that. Was there a steamy sex scene at that point? They were about to get it on, then the film cut to the Stasi man up in the attic.)

There was a 1992 Italian film – a French-Italian production, actually, but in Italian and set in Italy – called “Flight of the Innocent.” It involved the Mafia kidnapping a child from a wealthy family. The Thais rendered the title in their language as “Little Boy Running from Hell.”

And then there was Martin Scorsese’s “The Age of Innocence.” The Thais seemed to pick up on the word “innocence” in the sense of “adolescence.” I can’t remember the exact title, but it was something about “Teenage Love,” which was totally ludicrous.

They do some title-changing in the West, too, I know. For instance, Wim Wenders’ “Der Himmel ueber Berlin” would best be translated as “Heaven over Berlin” instead of “Wings of Desire.” But they really go over the top here in Thailand.

MODERATOR: I seem to have manged to post this thread TWICE. Could you please consolidate the replies into one thread and delete the other one?

Thanks, and sorry for the trouble.

The French do it best. Remember that silly movie “King Ralph” with John Goodman? I still cant get over seeing a poster for it there: “Ralph: SUPER KING!”

I have a wonderful little film reference book in French, Dictionnaire illustre du cinema with some fun translations.

For instance, for the Marx Brothers:
Monkey Business = Monkey’s Money
Room Service = Panic in the hotel

W.C. Fields:
Never Give a Sucker and Even Break = Pass the Mustard
It’s a Gift = Parde of Laughs
The Man on the Flying Trapeze = A Funny Affair
Poppy = Dollars and Whiskey

Many of Charlie Chaplin’s films became “Charlot does something”: Charlot policeman, Charlot patine, Charlot soldat, etc.

Monkey Business (Howard Hawks film) = Darling I feel rejuvinated.
Topper = The invisible couple
I Confess = The law of silence
Dial M for Murder = The crime was almost perfect

My favorite mistranslation of the book, however, was in the entry on Fatty Arbuckle. It says that, after his trial (and acquittal), when he had trouble finding work, he made educational films. This is a misunderstanding of him working for Educational Films, which made comedies.

Moving on to books, Samuel R. Delany had told the story of when one of his novels was translated into French. In it, a character uses a depilitory cream in the morning (it’s set in the future, when shaving had been replaced). This was translated as “shaving cream,” so the character wiped shaving cream on his face, then wiped it off without shaving.

He also had a character taking occupational therapy, abbreviated O.T. The French translater evidently looked up the meaning of “O.T.” in a French-English Dictionary and had the person taking Old Testiment.

Finally, Delany’s Nova is a retelling of the grail legend. Toward the end, someone points out that people who wrote about the grail legend and finished it, died soon after, and that the only way to write about it and survive was to write the story but without completing the final

When this was translated into French, they completed the sentence.

The translater died.

Educational Films must be where all the old stars ended up after their careers fell flat. We have one starring Buster Keaton from the mid 1930s.

They used to do this in Germany, too. For some reason the titles for Italo-westerns were the worst offenders.

The Great Silence - roughly: “His way is paved with corpses”
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly - “Two glorious scoundrels” :confused:
Once upon a Time in the West - “Play the Song of Death for me”
Soldier Blue - “The Lullaby of Manslaughter” - in German the brazen attempt to cash in on the success of the previous one is a lot more obvious.

Interesting changes - do they sex up the titles to try to draw a bigger audience, or is it some sort of subconscious (or conscious) effort to portray Western films as more immoral?
nitpick : Das Leben der Anderen (which strictly literally =“The Life of Others”)

The best title change I heard was from a former professor of mine, who noticed that in Germany, The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing (a Western about a man who loves a woman with an Indian name) became the unambiguous Der Mann, der die Katzen tanzen ließ, “the man who liked to watch cats dance”.

Changing Der Himmel über Berlin is somewhat understandable, since Himmel most commonly means simply ‘sky’ (cf. archaic English usage of ‘heavens’). A literal translation would be a bit clunky. I do think the title used shifts the expected focus for the audience. I think someone watching it today might completely miss that the locale is central to the movie.

When I saw the Japanese film “Love Letter”, it was on the marquee and ticket as “When I Close My Eyes” (even though the credits still said Love Letter), which was another shift in focus.

It’s strictly to rook in the locals.

BTW: I inadvertently posted this thread twice, so there’s two of these floating around. I’m hoping the Mods can put all of the replies into one thread and delete the extra one.

I saw a DVD of The Sixth Sense in China.

The Chinese title?

He’s a ghost!

Threads are merged.

Japan has some rather interesting titles for non-Japanese films. Sometimes it reflects the local culture.

A film featuring Denzel Washington “Remember the Titans”. “Titans” being the football team for which he was one of the coaches. Well, in Japanese, the film was titled "タイタンズを忘れない " or literally, “Don’t forget the Titans”. Somehow in Japanese, that sounds better than a translation of the English title.

Oh, that had me rolling with laughter. I just told that to my movie-loving Thai wife, who is ethnic Chinese, and she screamed, “Baaaah (Thai for “crazy”). The Chinese are no fun!”

Thanks, Mod, for fixing my goof.

[side topic]
There were one or two sex scenes between the playwrite and his wife, but neither of them were all that steamy, and in both they did cut to the Stasi agents taking down dry, bureaucratic notes about the lovemaking. You might also have missed a scene where the Stasi agent goes home and has sex with a prostitute to get out his frustrations from work.

[/side topic]

Thanks. Sounds like we missed nothing then.

I have it on direct tesitmony that the German title for Monty Python and the Holy Grail was The Knight of the Coconuts.

In the same vein as He’s a Ghost, I am given to understand that Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho was marketed in Italy as The Boy Who Was His Mother, although IMDB fails to back me up, so that might be a UL.

Looks like Hollywood liked “The Lives of Others” enough. lists an American version coming out in 2010. No cast or other info available yet.

Maybe not as goofy as some of the others, but when I was in Paris, I saw a poster for the Kate Hudson vehicle Raising Helen retitled Fashion Mama (in English). I realize that the pun in the original title doesn’t translate, but it cracked me up regardless.

It’s not just translations into other languages; sometimes titles are changed from the US to the UK in strange ways. Leslie Halliwell’s Film Guide has a wonderful article on the subject.

Probably the best was **Public Enemy’s Wife**, which was renamed in the UK (and in Austria) as G-Man’s Wife. That was very big of her.

Father Dougal: Did you ever see that film, Ted, where yer man has his head transplanted onto a fly, and the fly’s head was transplanted onto the man?
Father Ted: Oh, yes. what was it called?
Father Dougal: ‘Out Of Africa’, I think…