Laurel & Hardy’s WAY OUT WEST – By the numbers and way-out trivia

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Today we bring you another entry in our blog’s self-designated Laurel & Hardy Month. What did Stan and Ollie do to earn a month of their own? Click on the above image and find out!

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After yesterday’s mini-epic, I’ll bet you thought that I was done with Laurel & Hardy lists. But you hadn’t reckoned with my lifelong affection for their comic Western, Way Out West (1937). Here are some fun facts and figures related to my favorite L&H feature film!

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By the Numbers

Final production cost: $361,541

First-release box-office – domestic gross: $362,828

Length of time taken to write the script: approximately 3 months

Length of time to film the movie: approximately 2 and one-half months

Number of working titles for the film before settling on Way Out West: 3

Number of previous movies using Way Out West as a title: 2

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Approximate time it took Laurel & Hardy to choreograph, on the set, the film’s famous soft-shoe number: 30 minutes

“Now you’re taking me illiterally” (We counted these so that you don’t have to)

Number of gags from Way Out West reprised in The Bullfighters (1945): 2 (Ollie repeating something for Stan’s benefit, Stan sitting on Ollie’s lap instead of in his own chair)

Number of “rubber” gags: 2 (Stan’s obtrusive toe getting snapped by Ollie, Ollie’s neck getting elongated)

Number of thumb-lighting instances: Stan, 3; Ollie, 1

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Number of bites taken out of Ollie’s hat: Stan, 3; Ollie, 1

Number of Ollie’s direct looks to the camera: 14

Number of cutaways to Ollie’s camera looks: 6

Number of cutaways to James Finlayson’s reaction shots: 12

Number of cutaways to reaction shots of Vivien Oakland’s discomfort: 4

Number of edits/cuts in the number “At the Ball, That’s All”: 5

Number of times the lyrics of “At the Ball, That’s All” are sung: 6

Number of dogs who try to eat Stan’s shoe-leather steak: 5

Pieces of clothing disrobed by Ollie in the “locket” scene: 5 (hat, coat, fake collar, shirt, underpants)

Number of times the deed changes hands in the “deed retrieval” scene: 14

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Number of times the deed is blown across the room: 4

Length of laughter sustained by Stan in the “tickling” scene: 2 minutes, 30 seconds

Number of times Stan spits on his hands to moisten the rope: 3

Number of falls sustained by Ollie after being hoisted by the block-and-tackle: 2

Number of times each person is pulled down by the other via the rope: Ollie, 3; Stan, 1

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Number of “ssh’s” uttered: Stan, 12; Ollie, 10; Dinah the Mule, 1

Length of Stan’s pantomime, where he re-tells (to Mary) the movie’s story up to that point: 10 seconds

Number of times Finn says “What are you gonna do?” in the penultimate scene: 5

Number of times that a “trademark” gag is used: 1 each for Ollie’s tie-twiddle and James Finlayson’s “D’oh!”

Number of times Ollie is dunked in the stream: 3

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Way-Out Trivia

The movie’s idea was originally suggested by Stan’s then-wife Lois.

In the original script, Oliver Hardy’s part is identified by his familiar off-screen nickname, “Babe.”

The running gag of Ollie falling into a creek’s huge pothole was shot in Sherwood Forest, about 40 miles south of Los Angeles. The area that Stan wanted to use to film this gag had no lake, so the Hal Roach Studios rented a steam shovel, dug out a river bed, and poured 25,000 gallons of water from a nearby lake into the man-made one.

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This movie features the first use of Stanley’s “white magic” — doing an impossible act that obsesses Ollie to no end. Here, Stan flicks his finger on his thumb and “flames” it as though it was a cigarette lighter. According to editor Bert Jordan, the gag was conceived after Stan saw a gag man having trouble lighting up his cigarette.

The role of Mary Roberts was originally intended for Julie Bishop (a/k/a Jacqueline Wells, who had played L&H’s ward Arline in the L&H feature The Bohemian Girl [1936]).

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Look closely at Sharon Lynne (during her “tickling” scene with Stan) and Rosina Lawrence (when Stan briefly pantomimes the movie’s events to her behind a glass door). Both co-stars seem to be trying very hard not to crack up on-camera.

Hal Roach had to come up with four different titles for the film before finding a title that wasn’t already owned by another studio. The three discarded titles were “You’d Be Surprised,” “Tonight’s the Night,” and “In the Money.”

Way Out West was previously used as a film title in 1930 and 1935.

This movie marked the final film appearance of Sharon Lynne. This would have been Tiny Sandford’s final film appearance with L&H, had he not been replaced with Stanley Fields, so that honor goes to Our Relations.

When Stan throws away the meat he uses to cover the hole in his shoe, the dog chasing after the meat is played by Laughing Gravy, who appeared in The Boys’ same-named 1931 short subject.

The gag where Stan and Ollie hurriedly exit town followed by clouds of dust was previously staged for an Our Gang comedy, Election Day (1929). According to the official L&H website, the shot was made by moving a powerful wind machine toward the camera. There were blowers and trays of loose dirt mounted on a dolly, all of which were hidden by the cyclone of dust created in the machine’s own path while advancing toward the camera. Then the film was reversed, making it look as though a cyclone of dust had been kicked up by Stan and Ollie.

Stan told producer Sam Sherman that, in the scene where Ollie forces Stan to eat his hat, the hat was actually made of licorice. (Stan’s old vaudeville friend Charlie Chaplin did the same trick with an unsavory shoe in The Gold Rush.)

When Ollie ties Finn to the chandelier, Finn is heard uttering something awfully close to, “You son-of-a-bitch!” (although some claim that he’s really saying, “You’ll suffer for this!”). Listen for yourself and draw your own conclusion. (It wouldn’t be the first instance of cursing in an L&H movie. Generations of movie and TV censors have overlooked Edgar Kennedy quickly but clearly uttering the word “Shit!” in the L&H short Perfect Day [1929].)

James Finlayson is heard to keep repeating “What are you gonna do?” because film editor Bert Jordan needed some background sound for the cutaway shots, so he repeated the dialogue. The same thing was done in the L&H feature Block-Heads when Hardy is arguing with Minna Gombell.

In his Marx Brothers biography, Joe Adamson notes that the plotline for Way Out West — wayward Easterners deliver a valuable deed to the wrong party and then try to retrieve it — served as basically the same storyline for the Marxes’ comedy Western Go West (1940), a movie obviously inspired by the success of the L&H film.

The movie was later re-worked by Columbia Pictures into a comedy short subject for briefly-teamed boxers Max Baer Sr. and Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom (you can’t make this stuff up), titled Rootin’ Tootin’ Tenderfeet (1952).

The opening shoot-out in the opening titles of the TV series “Gunsmoke” was shot on the same street that is seen in Way Out West.

Footage from the movie was used in a 1970 TV commercial for Hamm’s Beer. The soundtrack was replaced with player piano music, and title cards were added, to give the appearance of a silent movie.

Steve Martin has said this was the first comedy film he saw as a child.

In an interview on Turner Classic Movies, “The Simpsons” creator Matt Groening said that Homer’s famous “Doh!” came about because Dan Castellaneta (Homer’s voice) knew that James Finlayson sometimes said that in Laurel & Hardy movies. In Way Out West, we hear the utterance when Finlayson’s character, Mickey Finn, accidentally fires his rifle in bed.

In 1985, this became the first Laurel & Hardy film to be computer-colorized (if that’s your idea of a good time).

In 2000, readers of Total Film magazine voted Way Out West the 26th greatest comedy film of all time.

Homages/Parodies/Rip-Offs?

A bit where Lola (Sharon Lynne) uses a small mirror to reflect a spotlight onto her frenzied male fans was similarly performed in The Show (1922), a Larry Semon short comedy which had Oliver Hardy in support.

In the block-and-tackle scene, where Stan causes Ollie to continually fall to the ground, Ollie tells Stan to put out his hand, causing Stan to wince in anticipation of punishment. Then, instead of hitting Stan’s hand with a huge rope, Ollie whacks Stan on the head with it. This gag actually occurred two years previously, in the Fleischer Bros. cartoon An Elephant Never Forgets (1935).

The movie’s most famous homage is to Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night (1934). In need of a coach for himself and Ollie, Stan flags one down by exposing one of his legs, as the more shapely Colbert so famously did in the former movie.

On June 26, 2010, in Edinburgh, Scotland, Oscar-winning actress Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton) organized and led a “flash mob” dance to promote The 8 1/2 Foundation, a charity group devoted to exposing world cinema to children. At 11:00 a.m. near Edinburgh Castle, several hundred volunteering participants, led by Swinton, recreated the dance choreography for “At the Ball, That’s All,” as performed by Laurel and Hardy in Way Out West. (Click here to watch the video of the dance on YouTube.)

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