STAN & OLLIE vs. Laurel & Hardy

FINAL

(WARNING: This is not a review of the new movie Stan & Ollie, which has not yet come to my area and which I have not yet seen. However, the hyperlink in this blog leads to another blog which does give SPOILERS about said movie. So if you want to see the movie before reading some major plot details about it, avoid the hyperlink.)

I was looking forward to seeing Stan & Ollie. The general consensus of the film’s mostly glowing reviews is that the film mucks up a few facts about the events in question but generally gets the details right about the friendship between the real Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.

But then I read the blog of Mark Evanier, a feverish Laurel & Hardy fan. He has seen the movie, and his blog points out the voluminous facts that the movie shunts aside in favor of tearjerking dramatics.

Reading this account of the movie angers me, though I do not blame Evanier for my ill humor. I blame it on a simple fact: I have never seen a single movie or TV show about Laurel & Hardy, either biographical or fictionalized, that does not take some kind of liberties with the facts about L&H’s history.

My late father-in-law, a Navy veteran of two wars, said he could never watch any Navy-themed movie because he knew what real Navy life was like, and Navy-themed movies always managed to get the details wrong. Evanier and I, along with generations of hardcore L&H fans, have done much reading about our two comedy heroes, and we seem to have the same problem with L&H-themed movies that my dad-in-law had with movies about Navy-based films.

Let me give you just three examples regarding L&H:

  • A 1992 direct-to-video compilation movie titled Laurel & Hardy: A Tribute to the Boys was hosted by comedian Dom Deluise. Aside from the movie showing colorized clips from The Boys’ comedies (I’ll spare you my condescending opinion of colorization), at the end of the movie, DeLuise stated when Hardy died, Laurel was at his bedside, holding his hand. A touching image, to be sure, but it’s totally false. Laurel was too ill to even attend Hardy’s funeral, much less be at his bedside to hold Hardy’s hand at the time of his death.
  • Cuckoo, a generally well-meaning 1974 British documentary about L&H, sports the oft-quoted “fact” that Stan Laurel was married eight times. Wrong again! As Evanier points out, Stan was married to and divorced from three different women (one of whom he remarried before divorcing her again).(If you’re looking for a happy ending, Laurel’s fourth wife, the former Ida [pronounced “E-da”] Kitaeva, turned out to be Laurel’s soulmate, and they were married for 18 happy years before Laurel died.)
  • Just yesterday, another well-meaning tribute to L&H was broadcast on “CBS Sunday Morning.” Half of it was a plug for the Stan & Ollie movie, while the other half was a L&H mini-history of The Boys that included several clips from their classic comedies. All well and good, except that CBS listed the wrong years for two of those comedies. If you are going to bother to list their movies’ release dates in the upper-left hand corner of the TV screen, why not go to the trouble of getting the dates right?

Sadly, Laurel & Hardy are not alone in this rewriting of movie comedy history. In 1971 came a book titled W.C. Fields & Me, written by Fields’ on-and-off mistress of 14 years, Carlotta Monti. Fields biographers (including his own grandson) have since established that the book was a vanity account in which Monti played hard and fast with several of the facts about her relationship with Fields. But nobody knew that in 1976, when Universal made a film version of the book, starring Rod Steiger as Fields and Valerie Perrine as Monti.

The movie played even harder and faster with the book’s fantasy version of the story, stating that Fields was a somewhat impoverished comedian who came to Hollywood accompanied by a midget sidekick (played by Billy Barty). Truth: Fields had no such sidekick, and he was already fairly wealthy from his stage and Broadway careers. The movie claimed that Monti met Fields when she attended one of his parties anonymously and was brusquely put to work by Fields as the party’s waitress. The truth, at least according to Monti, was that she first met Fields when she was a starlet appearing in a screen test for one of his movies.

So it appears that Hollywood has a thing for exploiting the personalities of its comedy legends, but when it comes to getting the facts right, Hollywood figures, “Ah, they’re just comedians — who cares?” And it seems to me that Laurel & Hardy have suffered the most from this lackadaisical approach to comics’ biographies.

You might think that I’m being a little too sensitive about this kind of thing. I dunno. If a good friend or relative of yours died, and you commissioned an outside party to film or tape a tribute to that person, how pleased would you be if said party got most of the facts wrong about your beloved? Many Laurel & Hardy buffs will tell you that they regard The Boys as friends. And friends should not be so carelessly wronged.

With that in mind, I’m still interested in seeing Stan & Ollie. But I will probably do so with a far more disparaging eye than that of some exceedingly generous film critics.

#PayClassicsForward, Year 4

I adore playing along every December with Aurora at the blog Once Upon a Screen. Every year, she “gifts” readers with 12 movie-related categories (a la “The 12 Days of Christmas”) and invites other readers and bloggers to do the same. Click here for Aurora’s 2018 list. As for mine, see below!

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One movie, one performer

Richard Pryor Live in Concert

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Two Everymen in historical events

Leonard Zelig (Woody Allen) in Zelig

Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) in Forrest Gump

 

Three dressings-down

Cop Victor Mature daring gangster Richard Conte to shoot him in Cry of the City

Rex Harrison ripping Rudy Vallee’s coat apart in Unfaithfully Yours

Ruby Dee giving a motherly lecture to her gangster son (Denzel Washington) in American Gangster

 

Four TV-to-movie adaptations

The Adventures of Bob and Doug McKenzie: Strange Brew

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The Addams Family

Wayne’s World

The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle

 

Five cross-country movies

Gun Crazy

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North by Northwest

The Cannonball Run

Lost in America

Rain Man

 

Six baby plot twists

The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek

Labyrinth

Raising Arizona

Three Men and a Baby

Angie

3

Junior

 

Seven comic chases

Buster Keaton, some brides, and some rocks in Seven Chances

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Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy aboard a runaway airplane in The Flying Deuces

The Marx Brothers tearing apart the train in which they’re riding in Go West

W.C. Fields’ car ride with a bandit in The Bank Dick

Ringo Starr getting sprung from jail in A Hard Day’s Night

Mel Brooks’ Western movie spilling out into the streets in Blazing Saddles

Nicolas Cage evading practically everyone after a robbery in Raising Arizona

 

Eight film critics

Gene Siskel

Roger Ebert

Pauline Kael

James Agee

Andrew Sarris

Stanley Kauffmann

David Denby

Carrie Rickey

 

Nine sexy moments

Jean Harlow unknowingly parading half-naked through a hotel lobby in Laurel & Hardy’s Double Whoopee

Joel McCrea helping Claudette Colbert unzip her dress in The Palm Beach Story

Lauren Bacall shaking her hips at the end of To Have and Have Not

The camera panning up Jane Russell’s legs in Son of Paleface

5

The “Shall We Dance?” number in The King and I

Sophia Loren climbing out of the water in Boy on a Dolphin

Sharon Stone kissing a train window in Stardust Memories

The upside-down kiss in Spider-Man

Adrienne Barbeau bouncing bralessly in Swamp Thing (Sorry!)

 

Ten lovely movies

Love Happy

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Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Love and Death

Endless Love

Sea of Love

I Love You to Death

Shakespeare in Love

Down with Love

Must Love Dogs

Love Actually

 

Eleven nastier-than-nasty villains

The Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton) in The Wizard of Oz

Vera (Ann Savage) in Detour

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Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark) in Kiss of Death

Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) in The Godfather Part II

Noah Cross (John Huston) in Chinatown

Darth Vader (body by David Prowse, voice by James Earl Jones) in Star Wars

Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) in Die Hard

Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) in GoodFellas

Amon Goth (Ralph Fiennes) in Schindler’s List

Judge Claude Frollo in Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) in No Country for Old Men

 

Twelve movies by the numbers

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

The Man with Two Brains

7

Three Ages

4 Little Girls

Five Easy Pieces

The Sixth Sense

The Seven Year Itch

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years

9 to 5

“10”

11 Harrowhouse

12 Angry Men

THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN’S CREEK – It’s not about rape

I have officially had it with Christmas-themed political correctness. I kept my mouth shut when everyone started yakking about the supposedly sinister subtext of the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” But nobody is going to mouth off to me about Preston Sturges and get away with it.

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Sturges’ The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944) manages to make comedy hay out of, of all things, the pregnancy of an (for all intents and purposes) unwed mother. If you’re not familiar with the movie, I have previously summarized and raved about it here on this blog. If you don’t agree with me that Miracle is hysterically funny, that’s your loss. But a blog named Ellen and Jim Have a Blog, Two has tried to argue that the movie is about a case of rape. (You can read their take on the movie here.) This will not stand.

Ellen and Jim — who, for the purpose of brevity, I will hereafter refer to as “the blog” — state that they read the shooting script for the movie as well as watching the film itself. Yet in order to make their point, they leave out miles of crucial plot points and manage to twist many of the remaining plot points into Christmas licorice.

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The movie’s pivotal plot twist comes when the heroine Trudy (Betty Hutton), having deserted her long-adoring 4-F male friend Norval (Eddie Bracken) to attend a party for soldiers going off to war, gets accidentally knocked on the head and later finds that she is pregnant from her night of frivolity. The blog labels this incident as a “rape” and uses the R-word repeatedly before it ever deigns to (vaguely) mention another major plot point.

At one point before Trudy gets bumped on the head, one of the partying soldiers declares, “Hey, I got a crazy idea — let’s all get married!” Everyone laughs derisively at the idea, but the movie implies that the deed took place. When Trudy returns Norval’s car to him in a damaged state and drunkenly tries to recall the evening’s events, the camera focuses on a relic that Trudy unknowingly left in the road — a sign that had been placed on the back of the car that read, “Just married.”

Now, Sturges might have inserted this plot point simply to appease the censorious Hays Office. Yet the blog goes so far as to say, “It passes because in the words of the script [and the movie, I might add] she has not been raped; she was married and therefore cannot have been raped. Tease this out and we could imagine a scene of marital rape.”

Well, I suppose we could, and we could also extrapolate any number of biased theories from the movie’s plot points, if that’s all we wanted to do. What I find especially bothersome about the blog is its implication that the movie is laughing derisively at a woman who finds herself pregnant and, though she is supposedly married, has no father to speak of for her baby. (In a reply to a query from one of the blog’s readers, the blog answers, “I feel for [Trudy’s] distress — if the movie would allow it, but it does not, and that is why it’s made up of laughter betrayed.”)

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But I don’t see it that way at all. The movie takes quite seriously Trudy and her young sister Emmy’s (Diana Lynn) reactions to the news of Trudy’s pregnancy, and their dread of how apoplectically their stern father Edmund (William Demarest) will react to the news.

The blog also opines that Sturges “has [female] characters say they cover up for and prefer men who hurt them.” Where’d they get that one?? Norval, who has pined over Trudy ever since they were in grade school, wants nothing more than the best for Trudy. Widowed father Edmund is shown to be far more bark than bite, softening up quite a bit as the movie progresses.

There are plenty of laughs to be had in The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, but none of them occur by cheapening the characters or making fun of Trudy’s very real plight. And along with the laughs comes plenty of pathos, of the kind that Chaplin surely would have applauded. It appears that, when it comes to Preston Sturges, Ellen and Jim have a chip on their shoulders, two.

Announcing THE YEAR AFTER YEAR BLOGATHON!

Can you believe that another year is almost over? As this is an entertainment blog, let’s celebrate year’s end in a (b)logical way by indulging in…

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Rules for the Blogathon

  1. I would like your entry to be about any movie with a time span of at least one year, which can involve: (a) a movie in which the characters age over the course of a year or more; (b) time-travel movies; or (c) anthology movies with segments involving different eras or periods of time.
  2. If you can come up with a variant not listed above that still involves a time span of a year or more, let me know and I’ll accept it if it fits. Please do not ask for a movie whose time span is less than a year. For example, movies such as Glengarry Glen Ross and Pulp Fiction definitely “play” with time, but in a far shorter time span than one year.
  3. Sorry, no duplicate posts. There are enough time-span movies that you should be able to choose one of your own. Please review the entry list below (which will be updated regularly) to ensure that your choice isn’t already taken.

How Do I Join the Blogathon?

In the “Comments” section at the bottom of this blog, please leave your name, the URL of your blog, and the movie you are choosing to blog about. At the end of this blog entry are banners for the ‘thon. Grab a banner, display it on your blog, and link it back to this blog.

The blogathon will take place from Friday, Jan. 4 through Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019. When the opening date of the blogathon arrives, leave a comment here with a link to your post, and I will display it in the list of entries (which I will continually update up to the beginning of the ‘thon, so keep checking back!).

I will not be assigning particular dates to any blog posts. As long as you get your entry in by the end of the day on Jan. 6, I will be satisfied. (That said, the earlier the better!)

Again, be sure to leave a comment below and grab a banner, and have fun with your blog entry! Here’s the line-up so far:

Movie Movie Blog Blog – History of the World Part I

A Shroud of Thoughts – Meet Me in St. Louis

The Stop Button – Raging Bull

thoughtsallsorts – Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight

Realweegiemidget Reviews – Love and Mercy

The Observation Post – The Best Years of Our Lives

Moon in Gemini – Little Women (1994)

Taking Up Room – Blast from the Past

The Midnite Drive-In – Groundhog Day

In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood – Portrait of Jennie

Movierob – The Birth of a NationSame Time Next Year, and Sunshine

Dubsism – The Four Seasons

Dell on Movies – Malcolm X

 

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