Hal Douglas. It sounds like the name of an Olympian from the 1930s, an almost mythical Audie-Murphy-style war hero and a staunch and steel-jawed American actor of sweeping late ’50s epics like ‘Ben Hur’ and ‘The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad’. And that’s just his name. The truth of the matter, strangely enough, is that he was exactly the things his moniker makes him sound like. Hal Douglas was not only a producer, war-time pilot and actor across his illustrious 89 years, but for those of us with working ears he was THE voice-over guy. Now I’m not saying that work as a voice artist somehow supersedes that of acting, producing or even armed service in a time of war, but for numberless people the world over, the punchy gravelly tones of Hal Douglas was our gateway into cinema. At least I remember it being for me.
There was a time around the mid-to-late ’90s were any major film or televisual event was preluded by a trailer intoned by Douglas. You’d be automatically instilled with a heightened sense of bombast and gravity; even if it was a trailer for something like the premier of Dawson’s Creek, Hal made the very innards of your ears vibrate with his unmistakeable baritone.
Then again, did all such trailers really NEED serious bombast and gravity? Does ‘Nanny McPhee’ need to fill us with the same kind of foreboding thrill as ‘Con Air? Did an advert for the musical ‘Cats’ necessitate a voice-over that sounds like The Metatron after innumerable years of heavy smoking and drinking? I’m not sure I want to live in a world that answers those questions, and it’s all thanks to Hal.
Following Douglas’ passing on March 7th this year, the internet has triumphed his work in endless repeated cavalcades of certain choice trailers of his. Personally, however, I feel there are other ways to show our support and appreciation for the life and voice of Hal Douglas. First and foremost is a short interview with the man, entitled ‘A Great Voice’, detailing his understanding of his craft and offering a very personal window into the life of such a famous vocalist:
Secondly we have the 2013 indie darling, ‘In A World…’ in which a young female recording artist and voice coach (Lake Bell) tries to out-do her famous voice-over father (the dangerously-and-brilliantly-voiced Fred Melamed) at his own game. It’s a loving tribute and send-up of the trailer tropes that Douglas and his forebears helped develop and is currently floating around on DVD somewhere. Here is a trailer for your eye-holes and ear-holes:
Which leads us on to the big one. Yeah, I know it’s been used in every tribute to Hal Douglas, but the man has never sounded better nor taken such fantastic liberties with his own reputation. More people saw the trailer for Jerry Seinfeld’s ‘The Comedian’ than the actual film itself, and the reason is obvious. It’s also below.
Give me that over Inception’s “BWAH!”s any day. Hal Douglas, we live in a world in which you are truly missed.