Laurel & Hardy in SUGAR DADDIES (1927) – Not-quite-believable farce

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Film historians tell us that Hal Roach took Mack Sennett’s frenetic style of comedy, slowed it down some, and added believable characterizations — but try telling that to anyone watching Sugar Daddies. At one point, a blackmailed playboy (James Finlayson!) tries to escape from his blackmailer (Noah Young) by positioning his lawyer (Stan Laurel!!) on top of him, throwing a gown around the two of them, and passing themselves off as the wife of the playboy’s butler (Oliver Hardy) — and as they barely scoot pass Young, he says (via inter-title), “This looks fishy to me.”

Actually, the two-men-posing-as-a-woman routine was a decent enough gag in Love ‘Em and Weep (and its later remake, Chickens Come Home), but in those movies, the gag was milked for only a minute or so. Here, it occupies the last half of this two-reeler, practically underlining the movie’s desperation.

As for any “typical” Stan-and-Ollie interplay, there’s a quick hat-snatching routine that’s a brief promise of greater things to come. But this is one of the few L&H movies where H.M. “Beanie” Walker truly deserves a writing credit, because snappy subtitles are the movie’s main attempt to inspire laughter. When playboy Finlayson, who married a woman the night before while on a bender, asks what color his new wife’s hair is, Hardy the butler replies, “Red, white, and blue, sir — I’ll look for the stars.” That’s just the kind of wittiness that the real-life Hardy dismissed as “fresh” dialogue that makes the audience resent the characters on screen.

The best element of this indifferent movie is George Stevens’ glistening photography, particularly in the climactic chase that was shot on location at a Long Beach amusement park. Fortunately, moviegoers would soon be carrying on about other elements besides the cinematography in Laurel & Hardy movies.

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