Laurel & Hardy’s “freak endings”

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The following is another contribution to this blog’s self-designated Laurel & Hardy Month. Don’t know what we mean? Click on the above image for further elucidation!

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SPOILER ALERT – Read no further if you do not want the endings of 24 Laurel & Hardy movies disclosed!

As the uncredited writer-director of pre-1941 Laurel & Hardy comedies, Stan Laurel had an unexplained penchant for “freak endings” — finales that involved some kind of physical distortion. Nowhere in any L&H bio is it explained why Stan preferred these, but they obviously made some people uncomfortable (see the entry on Block-Heads). And seen in the modern-day era of anything-goes comedies, this might have been Stan’s only means of expressing full-tilt lunacy.

Herewith, I have listed all of L&H’s infamous freak endings. I have also included entries on L&H’s more unusual car-crash endings (which are “freak” endings of a sort — where can you find cars that do these things?) and L&H movies whose finales involved murder or suicide — strangely nonchalant wrap-ups in light of how we now regard such matters. It makes for interesting film history to at least acknowledge such things.

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Liberty (1929) – Stan and Ollie escape from a skyscraper under construction via an elevator, which crushes a cop who has been searching for them. Final shot shows the cop as a midget.

Below Zero (1930) – Stan and Ollie are thrown out of a restaurant into the snow. Ollie comes to and calls for Stan, who has been dumped into a water barrel. Ollie asks where the water went, and Stan replies, “I drank it!” Stan emerges from the barrel with an abnormally swollen belly and no way to relieve himself. (A very similar gag appeared over 50 years later in Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas’s L&H-like comedy The Adventures of Bob and Doug McKenzie: Strange Brew [1983].)

Another Fine Mess (1930) – Vagrants Stan and Ollie escape from police on a tandem bicycle while wearing a horse costume [don’t ask]. They drive into another of those tunnels where a train is just waiting to run over Stan and Ollie, who emerge at the other end, each on a severed wheel of the bicycle.

Come Clean (1931) – Ollie, annoyed at Stan (who is taking a bath while completely clothed), pulls the bathtub plug. Sound effects suggest that Stan has slid down the drain. When Stan’s wife opens the bathroom door and asks of Stan’s whereabouts, Ollie replies, “He’s gone to the beach.”

Dirty Work (1933) – Stan accidentally knocks Ollie into a tubful of rejuvenating solution created by a mad scientist. In best Darwinian fashion, Ollie emerges a chimp (but still wearing his bowler hat). Stan pleads for Ollie to speak to him; Ollie-as-chimp replies, “I have nothing to say!”

Going Bye-Bye (1934) – An escaped convict (Walter Long) has threatened to tie the boys’ legs around their necks if he ever catches him. Final shot shows him having done so, with Stan and Ollie reclining in pretzel fashion on a couch.

The Live Ghost (1934) – An irate ship captain (Walter Long again) has threatened to turn Stan and Ollie’s heads backwards if they say the word “ghost.” They do, and he does.

Thicker Than Water (1935) – The ultimate in freak endings for this, their final “official” short subject. Stan gives Ollie a blood transfusion that goes haywire. Final scene shows Stan and Ollie doing imitations of each other (with dubbed voices).

The Bohemian Girl (1936) – Stan is placed in a crusher machine, while Ollie is stretched on a torture rack. Final shot shows a shrunken Stan tearfully looking up to an elongated Ollie, with James Finlayson doing his best eye-popping take at both of them.

Block-Heads (1938) – Stan had originally proposed an ending in which their neighbor/hunter shoots and mounts them like hunting trophies. Hal Roach nixed the idea and filmed an alternate ending with extras standing in for L&H, reprising their finale from We Faw Down (1928).

The Flying Deuces (1939) – Stan and Ollie crash an airplane. Stan survives but sees Ollie ascending to heaven. Final scene shows Stan as a lonesome vagabond who comes across Ollie reincarnated as a horse.

A-Haunting We Will Go (1942) – Stan and Ollie are a magician’s assistants. Final shot shows an egg rolling toward Ollie, who cracks the egg to find a miniature, tearful Stan emerging.

The Bullfighters (1945; shown at top) – Stan and Ollie are “skinned alive” by a gangster. Final shot shows them as walking, talking skeletons.

Bonus sections

Car-crash endings:

Two Tars (1928) – Irate motorists drive after Stan and Ollie through a railroad tunnel; a train passes through and scares the other drivers back. Final shot shows Stan and Ollie emerging from the tunnel in their squashed car.

Hog Wild (1930) – Ollie’s car is smashed between two tramcars while Ollie, his wife, and Stan occupy it. A (strangely unconcerned) tramcar conductor tells them to move out of his way. Stan nonchalantly signals for a turn and drives the elongated car away.

County Hospital (1932) – Stan drives Ollie home from the hospital after being mistakenly doped up; Ollie is incapacited in the back seat with a broken leg. The car crashes. Final shot shows Stan and Ollie’s car following itself in a circle.

Murder endings:

Be Big (1930) – Stan and Ollie are caught in a lie by their wives and try to hide behind the wall in a Murphy bed. The wives pull out their shotguns and blast the bed through the wall.

Blotto (1930) – Stan and Ollie escape Stan’s irate wife via a taxi. The wife aims her shotgun, blasts the taxi, and walks toward Stan and Ollie menacingly at the fade-out.

Chickens Come Home (1931) – Stan and Ollie are caught in a lie by their wives. They run off, followed by Stan’s wife, who tests her handy hatchet with a lock of hair to make sure it’s sharp enough to work on Stan.

Laughing Gravy (1931) – Stan and Ollie drive their landlord (Charlie Hall) to commit suicide (off-screen, suggested via sound effects). Stan and Ollie bow their heads in mourning.

Scram! (1931) – The judge who sentenced Stan and Ollie for vagrancy catches them drunk and in hysterics on his bed with his wife (more innocent than it sounds). Final scene shows the judge grimacing at them, Stan and Ollie gulping and turning out the lights, and sound effects of mayhem ensuing.

Pack Up Your Troubles (1932) – Stan and Ollie are rewarded for a good deed they did with an invitation to dinner. Unfortunately, the dinner’s chef is a cook whom they got in trouble during their army stint, and he had vowed revenge. “Well, if it ain’t the snitchers — and I got my knife!”

The Midnight Patrol (1933) – Stan and Ollie are cops who have mistakenly nailed their captain as having burglarized his own house. Stan and Ollie flee off-screen, the captain fires two shots, fellow officers remove their hats, and a command is given: “Send for the coroner!”

Bonnie Scotland (1936) – (This moment occurs near the beginning of the movie rather than at the end, but it’s definitely worth noting.) Stan is informed that when he was born, his father took one look at his face and committed suicide. Ollie says he doesn’t blame Stan’s father one bit.

Atoll K (1950) – Laurel & Hardy’s film career is brutally ended.

A brief history of Sons of the Desert (a/k/a The International Laurel & Hardy Appreciation Society)

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The following article is part of this blog’s self-proclaimed Laurel & Hardy Month. If you’re not sure what the heck we’re talking about, click on the above image to find out!

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Sons of the Desert is a worldwide group also known as “The International Laurel & Hardy Appreciation Society.” It is named after Laurel & Hardy’s 1933 feature film of the same name, in which “The Boys” lie to their wives in order to attend their lodge’s annual convention in Chicago.

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Origins. A Michigan professor named John McCabe (shown above) first met Stan and “Babe” (the off-screen nickname for Oliver Hardy) when they were on tour in British music halls in the 1950’s. From there, McCabe began a friendship with Stan Laurel that lasted until Laurel’s death in 1965. McCabe also wrote a biography in 1961, Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy, that was seminal in the “renaissance” of Laurel & Hardy’s film work.

Shortly before Stan’s death, McCabe proposed to Laurel the creation of a small group of Laurel & Hardy “buffs.” (Until his own death in 2005, McCabe was persistent in distinguishing Laurel & Hardy enthusiasts as “buffs,” as opposed to being a “fan,” which word McCabe felt was short for “fanatic.”)

Laurel was delighted with the idea of the Society, and McCabe — with the help of actor Orson Bean (later of TV’s “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman”), kid-show host and Ollie impersonator Chuck McCann, and L&H buff John Municino — formed Sons of the Desert. From a group of about a dozen members who met in a New York lounge in 1965, the Society has grown to hundreds of local chapters located in the U.S. and fourteen other countries.

Tents. Each of the Society’s regional chapters is known as a “Tent” and is named after a Laurel & Hardy film. (The only exception to the film-title rule is a South Florida Tent known as “Boobs in the Woods,” named by Laurel himself as a description of his and Babe’s screen characters.)

The manner of Tent meetings and presentations vary from Tent to Tent, though most Tents try to have meetings at least once a month. Many people have found life-long friends and spouses via their association with the Sons. Most notably, it was through Sons of the Desert that the widowed John McCabe met Rosina Lawrence (L&H’s co-star in Way Out West), to whom he was married from 1987 until her death ten years later.

In 1978, the Sons began holding biennial international conventions, where L&H buffs gather from around the world to share movie screenings, trivia contests, and their love of Stan and Ollie.

Constitution. Following is the Sons of the Desert’s “official” constitution, written by John McCabe and approved by Stan Laurel, who added two minor details to it (as noted within).

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Article I

The Sons of the Desert is an organization with scholarly overtones and heavily social undertones devoted to the loving study of the persons and films of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.

Article II

The founding members are Orson Bean, Al Kilgore, John McCabe, Chuck McCann, and John Municino.

Article III

The Sons of the Desert shall have the following officers and board members who will be elected at an annual meeting:

* Grand Sheik

* Vice-Sheik (Sheik in charge of vice)

* Sub-Vice-Vizier (Sheik-Treasurer, and in charge of sub-vice)

* Grand Vizier (Corresponding Secretary)

* Board Members-at-Large (This number should not exceed 812)

Article IV

All officers and Board Members-at-Large shall sit at an exalted place at the annual banquet table.

Article V

The officers and Board Members-at-Large shall have absolutely no authority whatever.

Article VI

Despite his absolute lack of authority, the Grand Sheik or his deputy shall act as chairman at all meetings, and will follow the standard parliamentary procedure in conducting same. At the meetings, it is hoped that the innate dignity, sensitivity, and good taste of the members assembled will permit activities to be conducted with a lively sense of deportment and good order.

Article VII

Article VI is ridiculous.

Article VIII

The Annual Meeting shall be conducted in the following sequence:

  1. Cocktails.
  2. Business meeting and cocktails.
  3. Dinner (with cocktails).
  4. After-dinner speeches and cocktails.
  5. Cocktails.
  6. Coffee and cocktails.
  7. Showing of Laurel & Hardy film.
  8. After-film critique and cocktails.
  9. After-after-film critique and cocktails.
  10. Stan has suggested this period. In his words: “All members are requested to park their camels and hire a taxi; then return for ‘One for the desert’!”

Article IX

Section “d” above shall consist in part of the following toasts:

* “To Stan”

* “To Babe”

* “To Fin”

* “To Mae Busch and Charley Hall — who are eternally ever-popular.”

Article X

Section “h” above shall include the reading of scholarly papers on Laurel and Hardy. Any member going over an 8-1/2 minute time limit will have his cocktails limited to fourteen.

Article XI

Hopefully, and seriously, The Sons of the Desert, in the strong desire to perpetuate the spirit and genius of Laurel and Hardy, will conduct activities ultimately and always devoted to the preservation of their films and the encouragement of their showing everywhere.

Article XII

There shall be member societies in other cities called “Tents,” each of which shall derive its name from one of the films.

Article XIII

Stan has suggested that members might wear a fez or blazer patch with an appropriate motto. He says: “I hope that the motto can be blue and gray, showing two derbies with these words superimposed: ‘Two minds without a single thought’.” These words have duly been set into the delightful escutcheon created for The Sons of the Desert by Al Kilgore. [The “escutcheon” is shown at the top of this post.] They have been rendered into Latin in the spirit of Stan’s dictum that our organization should have, to use his words, “a half-assed dignity” about it. We shall strive to maintain precisely that kind of dignity at all costs — at all times.

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Theme song. The Sons of the Desert group’s theme song is, again, taken from the film. It was written by the movie’s co-writer, Frank Terry, and is a pastiche of “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “Give My Regards to Broadway,” and “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp.” Here it is as sung in the movie (starting at the 0:48 mark).

Lastly, on a personal note, for those who do not have a Tent in their area or who cannot attend live meetings, there are online Tents as well — including mine (which used to be live but whose meetings were discontinued due to low attendance). Feel free to visit my Tent on Facebook — Tent #263, Laurel & Hardy’s Leave ‘em Laughing Tent.

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For more information about Sons of the Desert or Laurel & Hardy in general, visit the Sons of the Desert website at www.sotd.org.

Sources:

Laurel and Hardy: The Magic Behind The Movies, by Randy Skretvedt (Moonstone Press, 1987).

Laurel & Hardy: From the Forties Forward, by Scott MacGillivray (Vestal Press, 1998).

CUCKOO (1974) – Loving documentary tribute to Laurel & Hardy

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The following is my first entry in this blog’s self-declared Laurel & Hardy Month. If you’re a L&H fan, watch this space, as there’s plenty more to come!

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What if, just the other day, you had viewed a copy of Hats Off — the only Laurel & Hardy film that hasn’t been seen in any form for decades? As an L&H buff, your most likely emotions would be: (a) astonishment, at your good luck in seeing such a rare find; and (b) joy, at being able to watch yet another chapter in the Laurel & Hardy canon.

Such was my experience with Cuckoo, a lovingly-compiled British L&H documentary that last saw any kind of broadcast in 1976. Years ago, for no reason other than the typical generosity to be found among L&H buffs, a British member of the online Laurel & Hardy Forum sent me a DVD of a second- or third-generation copy of this documentary. The gentleman warned me that, since the copy was over 30 years old, it would look a little bit beaten-up. After about five minutes of viewing it, the dupe-like quality of the video hardly mattered, because – as with Laurel & Hardy’s own best work – the care and love involved in the preparation of this film shown through like the midday sun.

Narrated by the British comedy duo Morecambe and Wise, the documentary cleverly makes generous use of clips from L&H movies to comment on The Boys’ life stories. (Best intercut of all: Ollie in Oliver the Eighth expressing his wish to meet “the future Mrs. Hardy,” followed by an interview with that very person: Babe’s widow, Lucille Hardy Price.)

The doc also sports priceless interviews from Price, Babe London (Ollie’s hapless bride-to-be in the L&H short Our Wife), and L&H followers Marcel Marceau, Dick Van Dyke, and Jerry Lewis. In particular, Lewis (never shy about expressing his philosophies on-camera to start with) makes some surprisingly insightful comments about Stan Laurel’s modus operandi, i.e., most people would care only about the joy of receiving a lavish gift such as a piano; only Laurel would be interested in the plight of the piano’s delivery men (The Music Box).

The documentary sports a few inaccuracies (such as the oft-quoted “fact” that Stan Laurel was married eight times – wrong again!). But in the end, my only major regret about Cuckoo is that this loving L&H tribute is so frustratingly unavailable to the general public. Below is a link to the documentary’s current posting on YouTube; catch it while you can, as it will probably be yanked eventually!)

 

 

 

January 2019 = Laurel & Hardy Month!

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(Of course, every month should be Laurel & Hardy month. But now I’m getting ahead of myself.)

If you subscribe to this blog and you keep up with new movie releases, you’re probably overly aware of two things:

(1) I have been a feverish fan of the movie comedies of Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy for most of my life. When I was a 10-year-old growing up in Illinois, a local kiddie TV show broadcast Laurel & Hardy’s short subjects every Saturday morning. I became an instant fan and have never outgrown them, even though I have probably seen each of their movies dozens of times.

(2) Jan. 25 is the U.S. release date for Stan & Ollie, a new British bio-drama that depicts the later years of Stan and “Babe” (as Hardy was affectionally known off-screen), as they tour British music halls with their comedy act after their movie prospects in Hollywood dry up. Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly are earning near-unanimous raves for their performances as the movie’s title characters.

With all of that in mind, I figure it’s time for my blog’s readers to get a full-fledged education in the world of Laurel & Hardy!

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For the rest of this month, I will be posting a wide variety of Laurel & Hardy-related minutia at this blog: Reviews of biographies of the team, interviewers with their biographers, and basically just anything I can think of that connects to L&H! Naturally, once Stan & Ollie makes its way to my neighborhood in a couple of weeks, I will review that movie in due time (if not sooner).

(And this L&H tribute includes a shameless plug for all 67 episodes of my Laurel & Hardy podcast Hard-Boiled Eggs and Nuts, which I recorded last year. Listen to it for free online at https://anchor.fm/hardboiledeggsandnuts)

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So get ready to find out everything you always wanted to know about Laurel & Hardy but didn’t even know to ask!

 

 

 

 

 

STAN & OLLIE vs. Laurel & Hardy

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(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.

BELOW ZERO (1930) – Laurel & Hardy in a cold, cold world

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The following is my entry in The Winter in July Blogathon, being hosted by Debbie at the blog Moon in Gemini from July 13-15, 2018. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ takes on some of their favorite winter-themed movies!

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(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

Sometimes, the grim hostility in Laurel and Hardy’s movies seems to stem from nothing else than some scriptwriters eager to goose the film into action. At least the grimness of Below Zero makes some sense. It’s winter, it’s the start of The Great Depression, and Stan and Ollie are about penniless. L&H biographer Randy Skretvedt has said he prefers the L&H movies’ original black-and-white format to colorization because of the time and mood of the films. This movie definitely nails its period.

Laurel & Hardy’s early team efforts usually reflect a three-act structure (for example, their silent You’re Darn Tootin’ had scenes at a band concert, a boarding home, and outside a restaurant). Below Zero has sort of a two-and-a-half-act structure. It has a long, almost unrelenting setting in the frozen outdoors, then a scene in a restaurant, followed by a short attempt at redemption in the outdoors again, outside the restaurant. It’s as though even the movie was aware of its grimness and wanted to give L&H a break, miniscule as it was, at movie’s end.

Stan and Ollie’s roles as itinerant street musicians seem an extension of the same role from You’re Darn Tootin’. One can almost imagine them having played on the street for a year, to no good end, until the Depression and winter set in. After many fruitless attempts to collect money for their talent, Ollie urges them to move on and then discovers that Stan had parked their act in front of a home for the deaf. Ollie does the inevitable camera-look — but then, considering how eager he is to sing “In the Good Old Summertime” while his listeners get frostbitten, who is he to judge?

Stan and Ollie find a wallet in the street and then go to great lengths to evade a vagrant who noticed them perusing the wallet. A policeman comes to their rescue (for once), and magnanimous Ollie offers to take him out for a steak dinner as recompense. After eating in the restaurant and observing a patron who was violently ejected for lack of pay, Ollie decides to double-check his funds. Turns out that the cop was smiling down on them sooner than Ollie had thought — the cop’s photo is in the wallet. Eventually the cop figures out the situation and tells the restauranteur that he’ll pay for his own meal and leave Stan and Ollie to fend for themselves.

Stan and Ollie are rousted and dumped behind the restaurant. Ollie nearly gets run over by the omnipresent motorist before yelling, dramatically and quite convincingly, for his buddy. He finally finds Stan hidden in a water barrel. When Ollie sees that the barrel is empty and asks Stan where the water is, Stan replies, “I drank it!” and rolls out of the barrel looking eighteen months pregnant. (These days, such a premise would probably inspire an R-rated sequel.)

As implausible as the freak ending is, it’s almost a relief after what Stan and Ollie have been through. It’s comforting to know that their friendship can survive such unrelenting harassment, but this might be about as close to the edge as we’d ever want to see them.

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!

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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!)

Stan Laurel wins an Honorary Oscar, 1961

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The following is my second of two entries for The 1961 Blogathon, being hosted by little ol’ me at this blog on April 27-29, 2018 in honor of my 57th birthday. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ tributes to a variety of movies released in or related to the year of 1961!

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On Apr. 8, 1961 — 19 days before I was born, as it happens — in a letter to a friend, Stan Laurel wrote:

“You will be pleased I know to hear that I have been awarded an ‘Oscar’ – Danny Kaye will accept it for me on the Academy Awards show April 17th (TV.) needless to tell you I’m very thrilled – so unexpected.”

Sure enough, nine days later, Laurel was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Honorary Oscar by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for “his creative pioneering in the field of cinema comedy.” Jerry Lewis, a distant friend of Laurel’s and a huge fan of his movies, had lobbied for Laurel to be awarded the Oscar. Comedian Danny Kaye accepted the Oscar on behalf of Laurel, who was too ill to attend the ceremony.

At this blog, I have previously written about how sad it was that Laurel and several other movie comedy legends were awarded only Honorary Oscars in the twilight of their lives, rather than “legitimate” Oscars at the time when they were doing their best movie work. That said, since comedy was regarded as a lower kind of movie by the Motion Picture Academy (at least until Woody Allen’s Annie Hall swept the Oscars in 1977), we should be grateful that our comedy heroes were acknowledged at all.

Here’s Danny Kaye accepting the award:

Letter source: Letters From Stan.com. http://www.lettersfromstan.com/stan-1961-04.html

(If you enjoyed reading this, click here to read my first blogathon entry, about the Bugs Bunny-Wile E. Coyote cartoon Compressed Hare.)

 

 

I have a Laurel & Hardy podcast, y’all!

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I have been a Laurel & Hardy enthusiast since I was a kid, and I finally decided to share my passion in a podcast. Below is a link to the first episode of my very first podcast, Hard-Boiled Eggs and Nuts – A Laurel & Hardy Podcast. Listen (at iTunes) and enjoy (I hope!).

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/steve-bailey/id1371780163

The smoking gun

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Like everyone else, I have some definite opinions regarding the ever-raging debate on U.S. gun control. But I’m not about to share them here, because this is not a political blog and I don’t want to get into a Phil Donahue-like discussion where nobody ever wins.

Instead, I only want to reflect on how this gun debate has made me long for a time when America was just plain less mean. Yes, I know I’m venturing into Old Fogey-Land, but please hear me out.

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Two days ago, Feb. 23, was the 53rd anniversary of the death of a wonderful comedian, Stan Laurel. Did you know that he kept his name in the public phone book?

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Laurel lived out his last few years in Santa Monica, CA, and his name, address, and phone number were printed in Santa Monica’s White Pages. He felt that any fan who wanted to talk to him or meet him had a right to do so. Many famous people, including Dick Van Dyke and Peter Sellers, met Laurel for the first time in this way. But Laurel was quite willing to meet non-celebrities as well.

People would phone Laurel to speak to him, and he would often invite these people to his apartment to regale them with stories related to his life and career. At these times, Laurel’s wife Ida (pronounced “EE-da”) would retire to another room, as she realized that this was Laurel’s way of entertaining people since he no longer made movies.

My point is this: What celebrity would dare to have their public phone number known these days? (I don’t even think there were any other in Laurel’s era who did it.) And these days, it’s not at all a stretch to imagine some crazed fan holding a gun on Laurel and taking him and his wife hostage.

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Or take “The Carol Burnett Show.” Burnett began nearly every episode of her TV variety show by “bumping up the lights” and taking questions from the audience. Sometimes, she even did more than simply answer questions. One elderly audience member asked Burnett where the restroom was, and (probably for a laugh) Burnett ushered the lady up to the stage and pointed out exactly which direction she should go to find it. On another occasion, an audience member asked for an opportunity to sing. The man was invited on stage and, accompanied by Burnett’s in-house orchestra, the man proceeded to belt out “What I Did for Love,” from the musical A Chorus Line.

(Of course, the most famous recipient of Burnett’s generosity to fans is Vicki Lawrence, who first met Burnett after writing her a letter stating how the two of them looked alike. As it happened, Burnett was looking for an actress to play her younger sister on a recurring sketch of her then-new variety show. The rest is TV history.)

Of course, TV variety shows are now dead, but if they weren’t, again imagine a celebrity inviting an unknown audience member up on stage. And imagine if said fan had a loaded pistol and an agenda. (The opening scene of the 2004 black-comedy remake of The Stepford Wives tried to play just such a scenario for dark humor.)

I’m hardly the first person to note that, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, a bit of America’s innocence died as well. And like a glacier suffering from climate change, shards of that innocence have been dropping off piece by piece ever since.