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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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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!)

Laurel & Hardy and horses

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The following is my contribution to The Animals in Film Blogathon, being hosted May 26-28, 2016 by the blog In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. Click on the above banner to read bloggers’ comments about a variety of contributions made by acting animals to the history of motion pictures!

For this blogathon, rather than talking about a single movie, I chose to discuss the supporting roles that horses have in a large number of comedies starring Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy. Horses are so frequently Stan & Ollie’s co-stars that one can’t help but draw the conclusion that it’s because Stan and Ollie appear to share the same level of brainpower as their animal supporting actors.

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Surely the peak of Laurel & Hardy’s relationship with horses occurs in Way Out West (1937), where their co-star is Dinah the Mule (who even gets a screen credit, and deserves it). At one point in the movie, in an attempt to get Ollie up to the second floor of Mickey Finn’s Saloon in the middle of the night, they get Dinah up there instead. This scene alone shows that perhaps a single member of the equine community has more intelligence than Stan and Ollie combined. However, there are plenty of other such incidents worth noting in the Laurel & Hardy canon.

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First, the more benign examples. In Fra Diavolo (a/k/a The Devil’s Brother; 1933, shown above) and Swiss Miss (1938), horses are simply the sources for transportation, not gags. In the later 20th Century-Fox feature Great Guns (1941), a horse provides humiliation, but not for Stan and Ollie. Instead, it is their commanding officer, Sgt. “Hippo,” who gets bucked off a wild horse when he tries to imitate the rough-riding mannerism of Stan and Ollie’s ward, Dan Forrester; The Boys only laugh at Hippo’s comeuppance. (That’s an adequate illustration of how L&H’s later, Big Studio movies put them on the sidelines and let the supporting players get the laughs.)

In another of L&H’s Big Studio feature films, Jitterbugs (1943), The Boys and their car and wagon are stranded in the desert. Ollie tells Stan to get out and push the behemoth while he steers. Moments later, with the car still moving, Stan idles alongside Ollie and gets into the car beside him. Ollie is surprisingly nonchalant about this — in a Hal Roach feature, Ollie would have reacted to this with a huge double-take — but when he asks Stan about this, he finds that Stan has commandeered a nearby donkey to do the moving. Ollie, in another of his insults that goes over Stan’s head, is philosophical about this: “A mule is just as good as a donkey in this kind of situation.”

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In Laurel & Hardy’s Oscar-winning short subject The Music Box (1932), Susie — the horse who is a major part of The Boys’ “transfer company” (i.e., moving van) — is, at most, passive-aggressive. When Stan is trying to unload a crated piano onto Ollie’s back, Susie moves forward just a step too soon, giving Ollie a major backache. Ollie rectifies this situation later when he unchains Susie from the back of the wagon, though this does little to prevent further mishaps with the piano.

One of L&H’s more extended routines with horses appears to have occurred in a long-unavailable feature film, The Rogue Song (1930). As described in the 1975 book Laurel & Hardy, bandit’s assistants Ali-Bek and Murza-Bek (Stan and Ollie by any other name) have major trouble mounting and dismounting their horses with, naturally, the major indignities befalling Ollie.

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Besides Way Out West, Laurel & Hardy’s best-remembered horse maneuverings occur in the silent short Wrong Again (1929). Stable workers Stan and Ollie overhear that a local man of means is offering a $5,000 reward for the return of his Blue Boy. The rich man is referring to the famous Gainsborough painting, but unluckily there is a horse in the stable bearing the same name. Of course, Stan and Ollie reach entirely the wrong conclusion, and when they bring the horse to the man’s mansion, the man (who is at an upper floor and unable to see the Blue Boy in question) instructs The Boys to “take him right into the house” and “put him on the piano.”

This results in some outrageously satisfying gags and routines, and more than a little sympathy for the physical sufferings endured by Ollie (who at one point is wedged between an upright piano leg and the piano-topped-by-the-horse). And as Laurel & Hardy biographer Charles Barr succinctly puts it, “Thus, by a completely logical route Laurel and Hardy arrive at an image that irresistably recalls the donkey on the piano in Bunuel and Dali’s anti-logical Un Chien Andalou,” the famed surrealistic short that (as Barr notes) was probably unknown to any of Wrong Again‘s makers, and at whose pretensions Stan-the-filmmaker would surely have guffawed in derision.

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The last two instances of Laurel & Hardy & horse are on the cartoonish side, quite literally in one instance. Two years after Way Out West, The Flying Deuces (1939) has Stan asking Ollie how he would like to be reincarnated. Ollie replies that he’d like to come back as a horse. The film’s finale, at first leaving Stan as a lone vagabond wandering the countryside, then grants Ollie’s wish, as Stan comes across “Ollie” (a horse with a greasepaint-y moustache and Hardy’s dubbed-in drawl) once more telling Stan, “Here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into!”

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Finally, Walt Disney’s contribution to this menagerie must be noted. The Disney cartoon Mickey’s Polo Team (1935) has its rivals in the team “The Mickey Mousers” (Mickey and his usual sidekicks) versus “The Movie Stars,” caricatures of many Hollywood celebrities including Laurel & Hardy.  As you can see from the above still from the cartoon, Disney got one point right: the horses master Stan and Ollie far more than vice versa.