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.)

THICKER THAN WATER (1935) – Laurel & Hardy’s farewell to short subjects

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(WARNING:  Major spoilers abound!)

As seems to befit Laurel & Hardy’s final “official” short subject (they later did  The Tree in a Test Tube while on a lunch break at Twentieth Century-Fox), Thicker Than Water meanders all over the place, as though L&H had better things on their minds. It switches from a domestic setting to a city auction house to a hospital as nonchalantly, and with as much logic, as a Stanley eye-blink.

The first scene shows Ollie at the behest of the latest shrewish Mrs. Hardy (Daphne Pollard, who is offered Ollie’s finger to kiss and instead bites it). Stan is the Hardys’ boarder, and naturally Mrs. Hardy is none too happy about it. Mrs. Hardy commands Ollie to do the dishes while she goes out, and Ollie, having no dog to boss around, orders Stan to stay and be as miserable as he is. This results in a somewhat belabored scene where Stan and Ollie do their best to clean the dishes, with the inevitable disastrous results.

Mr. Finlayson (James Finlayson, of course) comes to collect the monthly payment for the Hardys’ furniture. Mrs. Hardy had thought it paid already, and her inquiry to Ollie results in an Abbott-and-Costello-like verbal fight, with Ollie saying he gave the money to Stan to deposit, Stan saying he gave it back to Ollie to pay for his rent, etc., etc. When the matter is finally straightened out, Mrs. Hardy belittles Ollie some more, Stan challenges Ollie’s manhood(!), and Ollie vows to take money out of the Hardys’ joint account to show Stan (not Mrs. Hardy, mind you!) who’s boss. The scene ends with the movie’s cleverest touch: Stan leaving the Hardys’ apartment and “pulling” the movie screen forward to the movie’s next scene.

Stan and Ollie’s curiosity draws them into an auction, where they end up bidding on behalf of a woman who is short of cash and needs to rush home to get some more. (As befits the movie’s haphazard logic, the woman is never heard from again.) Ollie is thus forced to buy the clock on which he and Stan had bid (against each other!). They lug the clock home and then decide to put it down in the street(!) to take a rest. Busy street, large clock, apathetic truck driver — you do the math. When Mrs. Hardy comes home and discovers what has happened, she knocks Ollie out with a frying pan nearly as big as she is.

Ollie’s injury results in him needing a blood transfusion (just like most concussions, right?), for which Stan becomes the unwilling donor. (Stan seems to have bad luck in hospitals — witness his being on the wrong end of a needle in County Hospital.) The transfusion goes wrong, and some of Ollie’s blood must be pumped into Stan to balance the procedure. The final result is an appropriate closing image for L&H’s short subjects — Stan-as-Ollie, complete with mustache and condescending gloat, followed by Ollie-as-Stan, head-scratching and crying all the way.

There are worse short subjects in the Laurel & Hardy canon, though none with so many promising ideas so half-baked. Thicker Than Water almost seems a poorer farewell for Stan and Ollie (in short subjects) than does The Bullfighters (for their Hollywood movies).