Laurel & Hardy in WAY OUT WEST (1937) – My kind of Western

The Classic Comfort Movie Blogathon

The following is my entry in The Classic Comfort Movie Blogathon, being hosted by Classic Film & TV Cafe on May 16, 2018. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ reviews of their favorite cinematic versions of comfort food!


Way Out West is an anomaly in Laurel & Hardy’s film career. Laurel & Hardy shorts and features, like most of the work from their producer Hal Roach, were taken for granted by everyone but the public. Contemporary critics sniffed their noses at L&H, and the movie industry regarded them as modest time-killers between the big-studio productions.

But Way Out West had something beyond its modest pretensions at Western-spoofing. Its jaunty score, superbly done by L&H veteran Marvin Hatley, was nominated for an Oscar. And in the wake of L&H’s success, Western spoofs suddenly became the rage, as W.C. Fields, Mae West, and The Marx Brothers followed suit.

But as with most Hollywood spin- or rip-offs, none of them managed the charm of the original. This is the one everyone remembers, mostly because of a softshoe number that goes beyond comedy to touchingly demonstrate Stan and Ollie’s underlying affection for each other. If you don’t laugh at it, it’s probably because you’re crying with joy from it. (The complete movie is embedded below; the dance routine starts at the 13:43 mark. Try not to at least smile at it. I dare you.)

The plot concerns the deed to a late miner’s valuable property, which the miner was naive enough to entrust to Stan and Ollie for its delivery to the miner’s daughter, named Mary Roberts. Stan inadvertently spills the beans to Mary’s evil caretaker (famed L&H scowler James Finlayson), who enlists his wife to impersonate Mary so they can snag the deed for themselves.

As plots (particularly Laurel & Hardy’s) go, this one is pretty sturdy, though it’s light enough to encompass three musical numbers (all low-key and charming) and tons of physical comedy within the film’s 70 minutes. Most Laurel & Hardy feature films were criticized for trying to shoehorn brief L&H routines in between the “straight” plots or romantic interests, but this movie is pure Laurel & Hardy in every sense.

Among the movie’s highlights are a chase scene that culminates in Stan’s nearly being tickled to death, and an endlessly inventive burglary scene involving nothing more than a block-and-tackle and a mule (who gets a cast credit, and deserves it). And of course, there are the wonderful musical numbers. (40 years after the movie’s release, two of these songs were released on a record in Britain and went straight to #1.)

The best-loved comedians are inevitably the ones who make us think they’re us. This movie has a running gag of Ollie confidently negotiating a stream, only to be continually sucked in by an unseen pothole. It’s a perfect metaphor for Laurel & Hardy and their ongoing audience appeal.

(Also click here to visit my webpage devoted exclusively to this wonderful movie, and click here to listen to my new Laurel & Hardy podcast!)

Some thoughts about BLAZING SADDLES


Last night, I took my 20-year-old son to a theatrical screening of Blazing Saddles; he’d never seen it before. My wife had actually recorded the movie on our TV, but my son (God bless him) insisted that his first viewing of the movie be in an actual theater. (In case you’re wondering, he loved it, and on the way home, he used his phone to re-view clips from the movie on YouTube.)

I’m too lazy to write an actual review today. Plus, there are legendary movies, such as this one, that have had so much written about them, I’m loathe to think I can add anything fresh to the critical summary. (I think the first two Godfather movies are two of the best American films ever made, which is why I’ve always balked at reviewing them.)

Nevertheless, I’d like to share some post-viewing observations of Blazing Saddles. (WARNING: Spoilers abound!)

  • It’s been said that Blazing Saddles paved the way for future cinematic spoofs such as Airplane! But Saddles‘ style remains fresh and unique. It’s well-known that Airplane! is almost a shot-for-shot remake of the 1957 airplane melodrama Zero Hour with some well-placed non sequitor jokes added. That’s not to knock Airplane!, which I adore. But by contrast, Blazing Saddles plays as though someone put a stately Western painting on a wall and then threw everything they could find at the painting. (Even comedy Western-makers would never have conceived of using Count Basie’s music on their soundtrack, much less putting Basie and his orchestra in the middle of a Western desert.)


  • As wacko as this movie’s sensibility is, it’s sobering to realize how much of its racial commentary is (sadly) still so relevant. Here’s a small town that some villains are preparing to wipe off the map, and the citizens are desperate for help — until their help arrives in the form of a charming, well-spoken African-American. And amazingly, said African-American continually keeps his cool, even as the nastiest racial epithets are thrown at him. Replace Sheriff Bart and the local yahoos with Pres. Obama and the far-right Republicans, and you have an allegory for our time that was created four decades ago.


  • Legions of moviegoers have criticized Mel Brooks for his bad taste, which is a bit like criticizing the sky for sometimes being cloudy, since vulgarity is Brooks’ stock-in-trade. Nevertheless, amidst the movie’s frequent exhalations of curse words and flatulence, the one element of the movie that still bothers me is Brooks’ depiction of homosexuals as high-pitched sissy “faggots” (the word used in the movie) who seem stuck somewhere between the male and female genders. (This appears to be a major hang-up of Brooks’; “fag” jokes also loom large in Silent MovieHigh Anxiety, and [Lord knows] The Producers.) It seems strange that a movie so intent on exposing the idiocy of racial bigotry, and that has its own depiction of male bonding (Sheriff Bart and The Waco Kid riding off into the sunset together, albeit in a limousine), has an antiquated view of gayness that was already disintegrating at the time the movie was made. It’s one non sequitor that the movie could easily have done without.

But at the end of the day’s sunset, Blazing Saddles still holds up as a superbly lunatic film. It tosses so much craziness at you that you’re still laughing at its best gags even while some weaker gags are popping up on the screen. If it can truly be considered a Western, it’s one of my favorites.





#SatMat Live Tweet movie for Sat., Apr. 9: EVIL ROY SLADE (1972)


There are plenty of theatrical movies that have attained cult status, but many TV-movies have. This is one of them. Evil Roy Slade stars “The Addams Family’s” John Astin as the title character, a typical low-down Western villain who makes an honest (so to speak) effort to change his way after a run-in with a cute local schoolmarm (Pamela Austin).

It’s not quite up in Blazing Saddles comedy territory (it was broadcast about a year before Mel Brooks’ mock-oater), but it’s not for lack of trying. It was written by TV wunderkind Garry Marshall while he was still doing the TV version of “The Odd Couple” (and a couple of years before he hit it big with “Happy Days”), and it carries some “Odd Couple” personnel with it (director Jerry Paris, co-writer Jerry Belson, and Garry’s sister Penny in a small role), so it certainly has its comedy chops. And John Astin going whole hog on anything is a good enough reason for me to watch a comedy.

In keeping with the Western theme, I will preface the movie with a vintage Popeye cartoon, Blow Me Down! (1933) in which Popeye enters a small Mexican town where Bluto is holding forth as local bandito. So saddle up, partner, and join us at #SatMat for a lively Live Tweet on this Saturday at 4:30 p.m. EDT.