Following is the first of two contributions I am making to “The Pre-Code Blogathon,” sponsored from March 31 through April 3 at the movie blog Shadows and Satin. Click on the banner above, and read blogs about racy Hollywood movies created from 1930 through 1933, prior to the enforcement of the censoring Production Code!
(BTW, the movie I am about to describe was released one year before the time period that is being covered by the blogathon. My thanks to Shadows and Satin for letting me squeeze it in.)
Laurel & Hardy were not known for cinema eroticism, but 85 years after the release of Double Whoopee, there is one highly charged moment that is more than adequate to rev me up. Stan and Ollie, doormen at a posh hotel, open a taxi door for Jean Harlow (essaying one of her first movie roles at the ripe old age of 18).
With his usual finesse, Stan closes the door on the train of Harlow’s dress, and an unaware Ollie escorts Harlow, stripped to her underwear, through the hotel lobby for a glorious thirty seconds of film.
Of course, she’s not completely nude, and in these more explicit times, this scene could probably be shown intact on The Disney Channel. Nevertheless, watching Harlow wiggle her barely-covered physique across the screen…well, let’s just say that Mae Busch couldn’t carry it off this well.
(An unintentionally funny moment comes when Harlow feigns shock when she realizes her dress is gone. An actress known for rubbing ice cubes on her nipples before a take should never be asked to act shocked that most of her dress is missing.)
The rest of the movie isn’t that erotically charged, but it’s almost that good. Just the thought of Stan and Ollie disrupting a snazzy hotel brings a snicker to mind. And from their opening scene of mistaken identity (the hotel manager thinks L&H are a prince and his lackey, who are due to arrive), to their signing of the hotel register (the first appearance of the routine where Ollie signs his name with a flourish, while Stan has trouble scrawling an “X”), to the letter of introduction from their boss (“There is some reason to believe they may be competent”), the movie pretty much makes good on that promise.
They also manage to knock the real prince (played by Erich von Stroheim’s double) down an elevator shaft more than once, and get into a contretemps with both Charlie Hall and Tiny Sandford. (Prime L&H moment: Ollie grabs a tip away from Stan, but Sandford the cop catches him and says via inter-title, “Give the boy back his quarter!”)
Beware the “talkie” version of this short, dubbed over in 1969 with the help of Sons of the Desert co-founder Al Kilgore and L&H impersonator Chuck McCann. With the personnel involved, it was obviously done with the best of intentions, but it has all the flair of New Coke. In any case, with Jean Harlow parading around half-naked, who needs sound?
Below is the complete movie. The Jean Harlow scene begins precisely at the 14-minute mark.
(If you enjoyed this blog entry, click here to read my second “Pre-Code Blogathon” entry, on the Marx Brothers comedy Horse Feathers.)