Laurel & Hardy in OUR RELATIONS (1936) – Two Laurel & Hardys for the price of one

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The following is my second of two contributions to the Dual Roles Blogathon, being held Sept. 30 through Oct. 2, 2016 by, appropriately enough, dual bloggers: Christina Wehner, and Ruth at Silver Screenings. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ critiques of movies where actors play more than one role!

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Our Relations is a huge step forward for Laurel & Hardy in feature films. After the episodic nature of most of their feature films to date, the movie suddenly resolves many of the problems Laurel faced in making their films longer yet more palatable. This movie sports tasty production values, glistening cinematography (by Rudolph Mate), and a solid storyline.

It even uses the dual-role motif (last used very weakly in the short Twice Two) to satisfying effect. Here, Stan and Ollie come across an old photo of their twin brothers Alf and Bert, whom we are told are the black sheep of the family. Stan and Ollie haven’t told their wives about their darker halves, so they burn the photo (“We’ll burn our past behind us,” Ollie intones), thinking that will end the story. Guess who makes it to port shortly after that.

It must be said that Stan and Ollie have a radical notion of “black sheep.” Considering that Alf and Bert eventually get locked in a hotel room by their conniving captain (James Finlayson), their concept of worldliness wouldn’t fool a kindergartener. Nevertheless, it makes for a nice farce when the two pairs get mistaken for each other over and over.

The movie’s nicest surprise is how well Stan and Ollie actually get on with their wives. Stan’s wife is a tall blonde (Betty Healy) whom he refers to as “Bubbles,” and frankly, she’s almost nice enough for Stan to seem unworthy of her. Ollie’s spouse is the diminutive but ever powerful Daphne Pollard, yet she’s far more loving than she was in Thicker Than Water. When the wives eventually get indignant, it’s because of their sorrow at the (mistaken) thought of having been two-timed, not because they’re gun-toting maniacs. It makes you wish that the rest of The Boys’ movies had similarly vulnerable females.

Except for a couple of sequences that are prolonged beyond their comedic effect (a tousle with perennial drunk Arthur Housman, the waterfront finale where The Boys are placed in peril), Our Relations is one of Laurel & Hardy’s most thoroughly satisfying feature films.

If you enjoyed reading this blog entry, click here to read my first entry in the Dual Roles Blogathon: Buster Keaton in The Playhouse.)

Laurel & Hardy in THE LIVE GHOST (1934) – Seamy seaside comedy

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Detractors of Laurel & Hardy’s later Twentieth Century-Fox features are quick to emphasize the morbidity in the storyline of A-Haunting We Will Go (1942). For my money, that movie has nothing on L&H’s short subject The Live Ghost.

The movie starts out with Stan and Ollie hanging around a seedy waterfront and getting hired by a burly captain (Walter Long) to shanghai some men for his crew. Even at a dollar a head (the captain’s going rate per shanghaied sailor), it seems unusual that the usually helpful and thoughtful Stan and Ollie think nothing of earning some bucks by enslaving some men for a ship.

Later, after The Boys end up shanghaiied themselves, the movie tries to milk comedy from Stan’s mistaken impression that he has shot and killed a sleeping sailor — not exactly fun for the whole family. (As if that wasn’t enough, Mae Busch does a bit role as a waterfront woman. While the movie [as befits the ’30s Production Code] never comes right out and says she’s a prostitute, Busch’s role was risque enough to have it cut out of early TV prints of the movie.)

It’s a bit odd that Laurel, usually openly conscious of his family-oriented audiences, went for laughs in such a randy setting. (Our Relations has a somewhat similar setting at movie’s end, but at least there the seediness is not dwelled upon so much, and The Boys aren’t the ones making bucks off it.) The rundown quality of everyone and everything in the movie tends to curtail many of its laughs.

Laurel & Hardy in SCRAM! (1932) – It was a dark and stormy night

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The following is my contribution to Order in the Court! The Classic Courtroom Movies Blogathon, being hosted June 10-13, 2016 by Lesley and Theresa at, respectively, their blogs Second Sight Cinema and Cinemaven’s Essays from the Couch. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ tributes to a variety of legally-themed movies!

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(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

It all starts rather innocently, on a rainy night. Stan and Ollie are up before a judge (Rychard Cramer at his most menacing) for vagrancy. He gives them 24 hours to get out of town. They happen to meet up with a hapless drunk (Arthur Housman) and help him retrieve his house key. In return, he invites them into his home, only it turns out not to be his home, but the home of the sentencing judge who, by the way, doesn’t like drunks. It was all perfectly innocent — wasn’t it, Judge?

What it is is a gem, some tried-and-true (the getting-into-the-house routine is liberally borrowed from Night Owls), mixed with the surprisingly provocative (Vivien Oakland, midway between her harridan in We Faw Down and her indulgent but uncomfortable fellow passenger in Way Out West).

And for those who think that Laurel, as the uncredited director-editor of the L&H comedies, had no directorial style, I refer them to the final scene, in which medium-shots of an (innocently, believe it or not) drunken Stan, Ollie, and wife are intercut with close-ups of the disbelieving judge’s face, which speak volumes. Scram! plays like a risque joke with all of the naughty words politely bleeped out.