Laurel & Hardy’s THEM THAR HILLS (1934) – Strong brew

ThemThar

(WARNING: Spoilers abound!)

From funny to silly to violent, Them Thar Hills runs the Laurel & Hardy gamut. It begins with Ollie suffering from gout and Ollie’s doctor (Billy Gilbert) making lofty philosophical pronouncements that of course go over Stan’s head. The doctor finally recommends that Ollie go to the mountains and drink plenty of fresh water.

After some slapstick where Stan tries to transport Ollie down to their car, a purely expository scene shows some moonshiners being hauled away by federal agents after having to dump their illegal brew in the local well, where Stan and Ollie arrive shortly afterward.

Then comes a hilarious scene with Stan and Ollie setting up shop in a trailer at the mountains. Ollie announces that dinner will be a plate of beans and a pot of hot coffee. Stan, ever Ollie’s cheerleader, replies, “Swell! You sure know how to plan a meal!” While preparing dinner, Ollie begins humming “The Old Spinning Wheel” to himself. When Stan can’t resist adding an occasional “Pom-pom” note to the song, it grows into an ever-escalating game of one-upsmanship, until Ollie finally clonks Stan on the head with a pot and declares, “I’m singing this song!”

Then we are shown an unhappy tourist couple (Mae Busch and Charlie Hall) who are forced to walk after having run out of gas in their car. They come across Stan and Ollie’s trailer and retrieve some gas from them. While Charlie walks back to the car, Mae partakes of more and more of the “water” (which, know-it-all Ollie informs everyone, tastes so great because of “the iron in it”). They all sing a few thousand choruses of “The Old Spinning Wheel” before Charlie returns and demands to know why the boys got his wife so snockered.

The argument evolves into a tit-for-tat sequence, with Stan and Ollie running roughly ahead until Charlie dumps some nearby kerosene onto Ollie and sets him ablaze. (Like such delicate issues as death and suicide, such incidents were treated as black-comedy oddities in L&H comedies but probably wouldn’t pass muster in these more sensitive times.) Stan suggests that Ollie jump into the well so that the water will put out the fire. Ollie thanks him, jumps into the well, and is blown sky-high before he, and this painfully climactic movie, are brought back to earth.

What was probably the weakest part of the movie — the tit-for-tat sequence — served as the inspiration for Laurel & Hardy’s only sequel, inevitably titled Tit for Tat. That’s a sad fact, but I guess that’s the irony in it.

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