Laurel & Hardy in WITH LOVE AND HISSES (1927) – Regulation comedy

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As seems appropriate for a movie that derives most of its comedy from offensive odors, With Love and Hisses mostly stinks. As L&H’s Flying Elephants is largely derivative of Charlie Chaplin’s His Prehistoric Past, With Love and Hisses tries to milk the last drops of comedy from territory already covered in Chaplin’s Shoulder Arms.

There are small traces of great L&H comedy to come, as when Hardy’s brute of a sergeant lords it over Laurel at the beginning, but they’re quickly abandoned as the movie settles into the trite kind of filler that Laurel & Hardy would eventually transcend. Laurel’s mincing routine during military formation is only a faint echo of funnier military mess-ups in L&H’s Pack Up Your Troubles and The Flying Deuces.

The movie’s most-quoted gag is when Hardy’s troops, having taken a skinny-dip at a nearby pond and then being left without their uniforms, stick their heads through a movie billboard of The Volga Boatmen and walk back to camp “dressed” this way. But even that decent-enough gag is protracted via a run-in with some hornets.

The movie’s opening title tells us that “There were cheers and kisses as the Home Guards left for camp — the married men did the cheering.” By the time With Love and Hisses is over, it’s mostly the audience who is cheering the movie’s end.

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Laurel & Hardy in THEIR PURPLE MOMENT (1928) – Another nice mess # 2,122

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(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

The premise of this film is that Laurel & Hardy hide a lot from their wives, and their wives know all the secrets. Again, not one of their more feminist-oriented movies.

Stan thinks he is able to stash a few bucks out of his paycheck and hide it in a supposed “family photo,” but of course his wife knows all and replaces the money with cigar coupons. Stan and Ollie go out to wine and dine on the supposed stash and are hoisted by their own petard. (A similar premise, of course, later propelled their talkie Blotto.)

As this sort of thing was repeated in countless sitcoms generations hence, some of the nicest moments come from Stan and Ollie’s reactions when they realize they’re in over their head. After that comes a slapstick finale that has practically nothing to do with what went before it. Stan and Ollie’s wives have come to catch them in a lie, and Stan and Ollie’s erstwhile dates await them with a shotgun and a knife. And what happens at the end? Stan and Ollie throw pies and soup at each other when Ollie tries to accuse Stan of dragging him “into this den of vice.” So what? If all I had to endure to get out of sure death was a pie in the face, I’d take it in an instant, too.

Laurel & Hardy in HATS OFF (1927) – The movie’s off, too…in the ether

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The following is my contribution to the fourth annual For the Love of Film: The Film Preservation Blogathon, being hosted May 13-17, 2015 by the blogs Ferdy on FilmsThis Island Rod, and Wonders in the Dark. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ takes on a variety of film classics!

A slight pause here for a word from our sponsor…

The purpose of this blogathon is to raise money to help preserve our film heritage for future generations. Therefore, it is at this point that we ask you to click on the button below and…

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We now return you to our regularly scheduled blog.

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As any Laurel & Hardy buff will tell you, Hats Off is one of the most frustratingly long-lost pieces of the L&H puzzle. It and The Rogue Song remain the only missing L&H films (and even a few scraps of Rogue Song have turned up over the years). It’s doubly frustrating because its premise provides the obvious basis for the L&H Oscar-winning sound short The Music Box. (In Hats Off, L&H are moving a clothes washer instead of a piano, but most other story elements in the two movies are parallel, right down to the endless hill of stairs [which still exists in Los Angeles].) And so many other elements fundamental to L&H comedy — The Never-Ending Hat Routine, not to mention Anita Garvin and James Finlayson — are present here.

According to remaining notes, the film’s opening title tells us that the movie is “the story of two boys who figure that the world owes them a living — but is about thirty-five years behind in the payments.” Any reverential L&H buff figures that the world owes him Hats Off but is about 90 years behind in the payments.

From YouTube, here is a very interesting “reconstruction” of the movie, based on the movie’s stills and working script:

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Before I leave, please allow me one more comment about Laurel & Hardy and their “connection” with the ethereal world of film preservation.

At any number of online sources (including www.filmpreservation.org), you can find a staggering number of statistics about how many American films have been lost due to lack of preservation. But where Laurel & Hardy are concerned, did you know that the Hal Roach Studios — the company that brought about Laurel & Hardy’s classic comedy films in the first place — nearly aided in the loss of said classics?

If you didn’t know that, I highly urge you to visit the official Laurel & Hardy website here, and read the astounding story of how much of L&H’s filmography was nearly left to wither and die in the desert. If that doesn’t make you want to contribute to this blogathon, I don’t know what else will!

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Laurel & Hardy in FROM SOUP TO NUTS (1928) – Long live Anita Garvin!

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If anyone doubts Laurel & Hardy vet Anita Garvin’s place in film-comedy immortality, witness her comedic contributions to L&H’s From Soup to Nuts, in which she develops an entire routine out of a tiara and a maraschino cherry. Most of the time when Stan and Ollie rub elbows with rich folk, the rich folk are dismissed as one-note snooties who snort at L&H and move on. Here, Garvin shows a rich snootie who nevertheless gives indications that she doesn’t fit into the rich world any better than L&H. Laurel & Hardy historians tell us that Garvin briefly served in her own L&H-type comedies for Hal Roach (though they didn’t catch on). This movie amply demonstrates why.

Of course, this is all with the benefit of hindsight. At its original release, From Soup to Nuts was viewed simply as another funny L&H comedy, and so it is. Long before the days of “high concept” (in which a movie’s appeal could be captured in a single sentence), “Laurel and Hardy are waiters” was all you needed to know in order to laugh just at the premise. If you want some iconic images of The Golden Age of Film Comedy, watch Ollie continually try to serve a huge cake, or Stan serving the salad undressed.

The directorial credit for this short goes to E. Livingston Kennedy, better known as L&H’s perpetual nemesis Edgar Kennedy. It’s usually a given that Laurel was the uncredited director of the L&H comedies, but one could do worse than having From Soup to Nuts and You’re Darn Tootin’ on one’s film resume.

Laurel & Hardy in THE BATTLE OF THE CENTURY (1927) – Much ado about pie-fighting

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(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

Having been immortalized in print (by author Henry Miller, among others) and film legend, The Battle of the Century comes off as a disappointment when finally viewed. For years, the movie’s final sequence–that of a massive pie-fight–was the only remaining part of the movie. Robert Youngson slightly re-edited it (and preserved it, as he worked on the only known print of it) for his compilation film The Golden Age of Comedy. Then the movie’s opening sequence–showing Stan as a hapless boxer named Canvasback Clump, with Ollie as his manager–was rediscovered in the 1970’s. Now the only missing part is the movie’s mid-section, with Eugene Pallette as an insurance salesman who makes Ollie see dollar signs, if only he can get Stan into an accident.

The film has now been reconstructed (with still photos and script excerpts taking the place of the missing middle sequence), and neither the first segment nor the last seems worth the legend. Knowing that Stan is a boxer, and early-L&H heavy Noah Young is his opponent, tells everything you need to know about the opening boxing match. Some of Stan’s movements are funny enough, but it’s all quite predictable, and Stan-as-inept-boxer was done far more energetically and effectively in L&H’s later talkie Any Old Port (1932).

Then Ollie buys the insurance policy on Stan and continually throws a banana peel in his path to try to injure Stan and collect on the policy. Although Laurel and Hardy were well-established as a team by this point in their film careers, this very concept of this scenario shows that their characterizations still needed tinkering. The whole banana-peel bit is only a set-up for the film’s grand finale, and as such, it seems unusually nasty of Ollie to want to benefit from Stan’s misfortune. (When a similar concept was reworked into L&H’s Twentieth-Century Fox film The Dancing Masters, many L&H buffs derided it as another of Fox’s out-of-character actions for The Boys.)

Eventually a pie vendor (Charlie Hall) stumbles on the banana peel intended for Stan, and the pie fight begins. According to John McCabe’s famous L&H biography, Stan Laurel thought the sequence would be funny, not because of the pies, but because of the famous L&H “reciprocal destruction” sequence of events, where an innocent bystander would be dragged into the chaos and would have no choice but to retaliate. But the kind of hostile interplay that worked so brilliantly a year later in You’re Darn Tootin’ lays pretty flat here. As much as Laurel-the-filmmaker relied on character motivation for his comedy, the only real motive in this sequence is to get thousands of pies flying.

Beyond that, there’s little to enjoy, other than the subtler moments: Stan nonchalantly handing out pies from the pie wagon, as though he was a waiter filling some orders; Anita Garvin’s dainty reactions when she lands fanny-first onto a waiting pie. This sort of comedy was the kind of massive overkill that would be sniffed at in the team’s later Fox films, not to mention “tribute comedies” such as It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) and Steven Spielberg’s 1941 (1979). As was well-proven before and after this film, Laurel and Hardy’s comedy was on too intimate of a level to incorporate such a cold-blooded approach.

Laurel & Hardy in SAILORS, BEWARE! (1927) – Not always together, but often funny

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As pre-team Laurel & Hardy Pathe comedies go, Sailors, Beware! is pretty enjoyable. L&H are hardly a team, but they do have some funny moments on screen, together and otherwise. That’s more than you can say for a number like Flying Elephants.

Hardy plays Mr. Cryder, an aggressive ship’s purser who blatantly flirts with every female passenger (including Lupe Velez, who is introduced to the story with a camera pan up her leggy profile). Laurel is Chester Chaste, a taxicab driver who inadvertently gets shanghaied onto Cryder’s ship and has to deal with his brusque captain. The ostensible main plot involves a midget disguised as a baby (Harry Earles) who uses a baby doll as a hiding place for the goods stolen by his wife (Anita Garvin). Happily, not much is made of this tired plot. Instead, the movie keeps cutting back to Laurel and/or Hardy. Laurel has a great scene where he thinks he’s entertaining the baby by throwing dice with him, only the “baby” makes bets with Laurel and then ends up continually rolling sevens with his loaded dice. Hardy is mistakenly hit with buckets of water and spends a wonderful minute on-screen doing Ollie-like reactions, including coming this close to a tie-twiddle.

The only painful part of the movie is its weak ending, wherein the midget beats up Ollie (yeah, sure). For a movie that’s not really Laurel & Hardy, Sailors, Beware! is enjoyable enough while we’re waiting for L&H to become a team.