Laurel & Hardy in COME CLEAN (1931) – Kind of a drawn-out dirty joke


In Come Clean, Ollie tells Stan to divert their wives by telling them a joke. The camera later cuts to Stan giving the punchline — “…and the farmer shot the traveling salesman!” — and the wives’ outrage at the blue humor.

Unfortunately, Come Clean itself almost inspires that kind of reaction. The crux of the movie is that Stan and Ollie thwart the attempted suicide of a woman (Mae Busch) whom, until movie’s end, comes off as a plain old floozie. This characterization is only furthered when the woman insists that, since Stan and Ollie saved her life, they’ll have to take her home with them or she’ll scream bloody murder.

Up to that point, the movie has been fairly funny, with a reprise of a routine from Should Married Men Go Home? where Ollie and his wife try to convince the visiting Laurels that they’re not at home, and a great scene at an ice-cream parlor with Charlie Hall as the sneering vendor.

But when the movie tries to milk Stan and Ollie’s hide-the-floozie routine for ever-diminishing humor, the fun starts to leak out of the movie. At one point, Mae, locked in another room, turns on the radio to a blaring broadcast of “Stars and Stripes Forever.” (Coincidentally, that same march, also blaring from a radio, hampered the schemes of burglars Harpo and Chico Marx in Duck Soup. Was there a Los Angeles radio station that played the march non-stop in the ’30s?) The best that Stan and Ollie can do to cover up the noise is bang pots and pans and march around the room like little children. Characters this child-like should not be asked to milk a blackmail scheme for comedy.

The movie closes with a semi-“freak ending” where Stan, taking a bath while fully clothed, gets the plug pulled on him by Ollie and goes down the drain (suggested via sound effects). It’s as if the movie’s players are as eager to get rid of their sordid situation as the audience is.

Laurel & Hardy in BUSY BODIES (1933) – A factory full of laughs


Laurel & Hardy’s track record in “talkie” shorts isn’t as consistent as in their silent films, but Busy Bodies surely tops the list of their best-ever comedies. “Laurel & Hardy in a workshop” is about all you need to know in order to smile in anticipation.

The movie’s most inventive scene comes when Stan — in retaliation for Ollie hitting him on the head with a saw — knocks Ollie into a wall with a glue-filled paintbrush. The brush sticks to Ollie’s chin, giving the appearance of a huge goatee with a wooden handle. Stan, having gone from anger to helpfulness in the blink of an eye, uses workshop tools to transform himself into a barber to “shave” Ollie’s beard. Chaplin couldn’t have done it any better.

This eventually leads to a stupendous physical-comedy climax that looks as though it provided the template for most of Blake Edwards’ Pink Panther comedies. (Babe’s wife Lucille Hardy once told of the sympathy she felt when she first saw Babe’s black-and-blue physique, which he said came from the elaborate pratfalls he’d endured in his movies. A majority of them probably came from this film alone.)

There’s also a moment of genuine emotion — fleeting, but it’s there for anyone who looks — when Ollie thinks that Stan has deserted their friendship to score points with a co-worker (Charlie Hall) who has been harassing Ollie. For all of Ollie’s bluster and condescension towards Stan, it’s moments such as this that make us realize how much Ollie needs his friend.

Unlike some of L&H’s sound shorts that offer nice gags here and there and then sputter for a while, Busy Bodies, as befitting its assembly-line setting, fits together perfectly from start to finish.

Laurel & Hardy in MEN O’ WAR (1929) – Sailing along for laughs


Men o’ War is the breeziest of Laurel & Hardy’s early sound shorts (it was their third). It has plenty of delightful visual humor and just enough dialogue to make the ridiculous (i.e., L&H) sublime.

Maybe it doesn’t hurt that the movie establishes its setting with idyllic visuals depicting an old-fashioned day in the park — a grandstand band playing, people walking and canoeing. Into the scene walk a couple of inanely chatty women, followed by bachelor sailors Stan and Ollie. Surely two matches made in heaven.

It happens that one of the women has lost a pair of gloves, and Stan and Ollie have stumbled upon a pair of ladies’ underwear mistakenly dropped by a laundress. Stan and Ollie jump to the predictably wrong conclusion and have quite an interesting introductory conversation with the women.

Eventually the mistake is tactfully rectified, and the quartet go to a soda fountain, where the pair find that Stan has only 15 cents to spare for four 5-cent drinks. This results in a reprise of a routine from Should Married Men Go Home?, rendered far funnier here thanks to some hilariously pedestrian dialogue. One of my favorite L&H non-sequitors occurs when Stan and Ollie do a painful tit-for-tat routine and Ollie helpfully tells the girls, “Just playing together,” as though this is how all sailors passed the time of day.

The movie’s weakest part — not painful, just disappointing — is the movie’s finale, where the quartet’s canoe wreaks havoc with other boaters. This tries very hard to be a Two Tars-like reciprocal-destruction routine, but it plays more like a collision course until it, like L&H’s canoe, finally sinks.

The story behind Laurel & Hardy’s THE FLYING DEUCES (1939)


The following is my contribution to the Classic Movie History Project Blogathon, a blog project that is so epic, it took three blogs to host it! (Click on the appropriate blog name [to follow] to read each section of the blogathon.)

Movies Silently is covering the silent-film era; Once Upon a Screen is covering cinema’s “Golden Age” of 1930 to 1952 (to which I am making my blog contribution); and Silver Screenings is covering the “Modern Era” of 1953 to 1975. Also, please give a round of applause to Flicker Alley, the blogathon’s sponsor!

And now, our feature presentation:




Act I:  At War with the Producers.


At the beginning of Laurel & Hardy’s movie Block-Heads (1938), Stan and Ollie are part of an army company in World War I that is preparing to go “over the top.” Private Stan has been ordered to stay behind and guard the trench until further notice. Stan quietly tells Ollie, “Gee, I wish I was going with ya. Take care of yourself, won’t ya?”

Ollie kindly replies, “Don’t worry about me, Stan. I’ll be back. We’ll all be back.”

This is simply the beginning of an hour-long, typically silly romp with Stan and Ollie. But the real Laurel & Hardy couldn’t have guessed how prescient those words would be.


Since the beginning of Laurel & Hardy’s success as a comedy team in 1927, their movies’ producer, Hal Roach (above, center), had kept Stan and “Babe” (as Hardy was affectionately known off-screen) under separate, overlapping annual contracts. In other words, when Stan’s contract was due to expire, Babe’s contract would still have another year to run, and vice versa. Roach later admitted that this was his way of keeping power over the comedy duo.

Upon the completion of Block-Heads, Stan left the Roach Studios amidst a flurry of lawsuits going back and forth between Roach and Laurel for various reasons. Due to the animosity between the two men, it was widely believed that Block-Heads might be the last-ever Laurel & Hardy movie. Meanwhile, Babe remained under contract with Roach. Publicly, Roach did his best to appear nonchalant about the separation.


In the 1920’s, Harry Langdon was a shining silent-film comedian, at one point rivalling Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd in terms of popularity and box-office. By the late ‘20s, Langdon’s star had fallen, and in the ‘30s, he was appearing in minor short subjects for Hal Roach and working as a gag writer for him. (He contributed to Block-Heads.)

Roach bought the rights to a short story that he turned into a feature film titled Zenobia. The movie featured Babe in a major role as a country doctor, and Langdon as more or less Babe’s sidekick.


The movie is set in the Old South and plays like a low-rent Gone with the Wind, but its supposed appeal was in its “teaming” of Langdon and Hardy. However, the duo shared very few scenes together, and Babe alone was responsible for the few scenes in the movie that worked.

After Zenobia bombed with the critics and the public, Roach realized where the box-office appeal lay. On April 8, 1939, attorneys representing Roach and Laurel worked together to drop all legal action between the two men, and on that same date, Stan and Babe signed separate but concurrent one-year contracts with Roach.


At the same time, a former musical producer named Boris Morros decided he was to become a movie producer and wanted to make his debut with Laurel & Hardy. Roach agreed to loan out the comedy duo for Morros’ production The Flying Deuces.


Ironically, Deuces was directed by Edward Sutherland, who had produced Zenobia under Roach’s auspice. Roach had nothing good to say about Sutherland’s work, and in turn, Sutherland later summed up his work on The Flying Deuces by stating that he’d “rather work with a tarantula” than with Stan Laurel again.

The most likely reason for Sutherland’s surly attitude was that, until Laurel & Hardy were forced to make movies via the Studio System in the 1940’s, Stan Laurel was always the uncredited director of Laurel & Hardy comedies, no matter who sat in the director’s chair. Even though it was made outside of the Roach Studios, The Flying Deuces was no exception.

The movie began life as a script from Alfred Schiller, a writer hired by Borros. Schiller appeared to understand little about the delicate characterizations of Stan and Ollie. He wrote them as being wiseguy rivals for the same girl, and with Ollie saying nasty things such as, “Go on, beat it, Frog!” to a French gentleman.

Stan was not happy with this script but, as he and Babe were in the midst of making the Roach feature film A Chump at Oxford while the Deuces script was being prepared, the most he could do was editorialize in writing. When Stan would come to something in the script that he didn’t like or was out-of-character, he’d cross it out and write in the margins, “OUT. OUT. OUT.” Later, after Stan watched an early cut of the film, he submitted five pages of “Cutting Notes” to the movie’s editor. Thus, The Flying Deuces was the only non-Roach-produced L&H film in which Stan was allowed as much creative control as he’d had at the Roach Studios.

Eventually, the movie became so much like Old Home Week that it was practically an ersatz Roach production. Stan insisted to producer Morros on having Roach veterans Charley Rogers and Harry Langdon on the movie’s writing staff. Art Lloyd, whose photography at Roach’s aided in making Stan look child-like — “Wash me out, Artie!” Stan would insist, “No shadows!” — photographed Deuces as well. And Roach repertory players Sam Lufkin, Arthur Housman, Rychard Cramer, and (most memorably) James Finlayson were commandeered for the movie.

Act II:  Love Is In the Air.


(This paragraph = SPOILER ALERT 1) The movie’s main plotline has Stan and Ollie on a cook’s tour of Paris, where Ollie falls in love with a beautiful local girl named Georgette (Jean Parker). Georgette strings Ollie along, never telling him that she is already married. When Ollie proposes to Georgette, she politely but firmly declines. At first, Ollie is so heartbroken that he tries to commit suicide (and drag Stan along with him!). But at the last moment, a local officer (Reginald Gardner) convinces Ollie to join the Foreign Legion to help him forget his past love. Stan, of course, tags along.


In real life, the movie resulted in a much happier ending for the twice-divorced Babe. When shooting on The Flying Deuces began on July 22, 1939, Babe and the others were introduced to the movie’s script girl, Virginia Lucille Jones. Stan eventually liked Lucille’s work so much that he brought her back to work on A Chump at Oxford and the follow-up L&H feature Saps at Sea.

Babe had thought his relationship with Lucille was strictly professional. But one day during work on Saps at Sea, Lucille tripped and fell on a rolled-up carpet, hit her head against one of the cameras, and landed in the hospital. Suddenly, Babe realized he had feelings for Lucille. The duo’s courtship began by Babe sending Lucille a box of roses and a note wishing her a speedy recovery.

Things blossomed from there, and eventually Babe proposed to Lucille before they’d even been out on a date. Lucille was not completely adverse to marrying Babe but was still unsure until she talked to her mother, who told her what a nice gentleman she thought Babe was. Lucille accepted Babe’s proposal; they went out on their first date on New Year’s Eve, 1939, and they married on March 7, 1940, the marriage lasting until Babe’s death in 1957.

Act III:  The Producer Who Came in from the Cold.


The Flying Deuces’ biggest behind-the-camera surprise: Laurel & Hardy, and the rest of the movie’s cast and crew, had no idea that they were working with a spy. Producer Boris Morros, having emigrated with his Russian family to America in 1922, became a Soviet spy in 1934, at one point using a sheet-music company he owned as a cover for Soviet espionage. In 1947, Morros became a counterspy for the FBI. In 1960, Morros co-wrote the screenplay for Man on a String, a movie loosely based on Morros’ spy exploits. Ernest Borgnine played the Morros role.




Anyone who has seen Laurel & Hardy’s 1931 featurette Beau Hunks won’t be much surprised by The Flying Deuces, which is an expanded version of the same storyline. The same actor, Charles Middleton (shown above, and best known to ‘30s movie buffs as Ming the Merciless in Universal’s Flash Gordon serials), even plays the French Legion commandant in both movies. (Middleton also played a villain in Laurel & Hardy’s feature film Pack Up Your Troubles [1932] and their short subject The Fixer Uppers [1935].)


The caricature of Laurel & Hardy in the movie’s first scene was drawn by Harry Langdon.


The movie features two of the duo’s all-too-rare but delightful musical outings. In the first, Ollie sings “Shine On, Harvest Moon,” and Stan does an eccentric soft-shoe dance to the music.


The second number is far more fantasy-like. (SPOILER ALERT 2) At one point, Stan and Ollie are to be shot at sunrise by a Foreign Legion firing squad. As they await their fate in a prison cell, a bored Stan plucks at his bed’s springs and discovers that they sound musical. With that, he pulls up the bedsprings and, harp-like, proceeds to play “The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise” on the springs a la Harpo Marx. (The following photo and paragraph = SPOILER ALERT 3)


Lastly, in real life, Stan Laurel believed in reincarnation, but nothing was above satirization for Stan, even his own beliefs. The climax of The Flying Deuces features The Boys trying to pilot an out-of-control airplane; eventually, the plane crashes. Stan survives, but we see Ollie ascending to heaven. In the movie’s epilogue, Stan, now a lonely vagabond, happens upon and happily reunites with Ollie, who has come back to life as a horse (complete with his toothbrush mustache).

Closing Credits.


A major source for this article was Laurel & Hardy: The Magic Behind the Movies (1987, Moonstone Press), a delightful biography by Randy Skretvedt. Whether you are a hardcore Laurel & Hardy buff or you are just starting out on your “journey” with Stan and Ollie, this book will provide an endless source of inspiration and delight.

We hope that this article has provided you with an adequate education of Laurel & Hardy’s contribution to 1939 American cinema!


Laurel & Hardy in LOVE ‘EM AND WEEP (1927) – Better than the remake


It’s easy to brush off the silent versions of L&H comedies that were later remade with sound and with an understanding of Stan and Ollie as a team. But ironically, Love ‘Em and Weep is a far livelier comedy than its L&H remake, Chickens Come Home.

For one thing, even though the story is quite the same in both versions (right down to some of the dialogue), the earlier version is one reel shorter —

which gives you less time to analyze the movie’s sense of misogyny and more time to appreciate its fine comic performances. Here, James Finlayson assays the role later to be taken by Oliver Hardy, that of a respected businessman blackmailed by an old fling of his (Mae Busch in both versions). As is typical in Roach/Pathe productions, Laurel and Hardy hardly have a scene together (Hardy’s role is a glorified walk-on). But Finlayson well demonstrates why he was one of Hal Roach’s Comedy All-Stars before L&H hit it big. Much of his work is as florid as when he later reacted to Stan and Ollie, but he also plays the cuckolded husband quite well.

Laurel, in the same role he played in the later L&H version (the businessman’s partner, caught between a rock and a hard place), is hilarious and displays nearly all of the typical, beguiling Stanley mannerisms, seemingly lacking only a partner to bounce off of. And Mae Busch, besides being funny in her vamp role, is a winningly good sport in the film’s final reel, where she mostly serves as a mannequin for Finlayson and Laurel’s physical comedy.

It’s a good thing Stan and Ollie finally made it big as a team. Based on the evidence of this very funny short, it’s a wonder Hal Roach didn’t try to team Laurel with James Finlayson more often.

Laurel & Hardy in JITTERBUGS (1943) – Middling L&H, but still worth the while


(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

Far from the piece of perfection most Laurel & Hardy historians would have you believe it is, Jitterbugs is a very mixed bag. Its anti-L&H elements include:

* some atypical L&H disguises and impersonations, which were evidently such a hit that screenwriter Scott Darling (of whom it was once said that he “had but a single story to tell”) felt compelled to repeat the gimmick in subsequent L&H screenplays.

* The Musical Numbers Nobody Cares About, all performed by 20th Century-Fox ingenue Vivian Blaine, who receives co-star billing with L&H. (This seemed to be the big studios’ way of putting iconoclastic comedy stars in their places. Two years earlier, overbaked singer Tony Martin got equal billing with The Marx Brothers in The Big Store.)

* The once-in-a-lifetime sight of Ollie in a zoot suit, declaring, “Come on, hep cats! We’re going to spread a load of jam!” (The movie presents this moment absolutely straight, though it seems primed for a sidelong glance at Stan followed by, “Here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into!”)

And yet, just when you’re about to give on this mishmash, a worthwhile Stan-and-Ollie moment comes through. (Stan: “Y’know, Ollie, I was just thinking.” Ollie: “About what?” Stan: “Nothing, I was just thinking.”) Much like the movie’s climax, where Stan and Ollie try to escape from Fox’s standard-issue movie gangsters, Jitterbugs shows our beloved Stan and Ollie trying to wriggle free from an assembly-line script assembled by studio personnel who had not a clue about L&H comedy. Unlike some other L&H/Fox debacles (The Dancing Masters, anyone?), here the batting average is high enough to enjoy the movie.

The movie’s opening scene shows more promise than we eventually have a right to expect. Stan and Ollie’s car, with a wagon in tow, has sputtered to a stop in the middle of the desert. Naturally, this becomes Stan’s fault. Stan says “I’m sorry” to Ollie, and one wouldn’t think this to be much of a gag, much less a running one. Yet every time Stan apologizes to Ollie for the rest of the movie, it elicits a laugh, as though Stan could overcome his every gargantuan blunder by being as contrite as a kid with his hand caught in the cookie jar.

Another surprisingly funny gag has Ollie taking a break, sitting on the desert-heated bumper of his car, and jumping up in pain, not realizing that the car’s Ford logo has been branded on his behind. Stan looks through a telescope, sees Ollie’s burnished bottom, and mistakes it for a passing truck.

Stan sees a nearby gas station through his telescope, and Ollie orders him to get behind the wagon and push. After a few moments, Stan returns to the front seat, and Ollie absentmindedly tells Stan how well he’s pushing. It turns out that Stan has commandeered a mule for the occasion, prompting Ollie to comment that “a mule is just as good as a donkey” for the task at hand. Stan does an Ollie-like double-take when he realizes what Ollie is implying — a gag which amply demonstrates that, even in this late, studio-directed stage in their careers, L&H could wring nice variations on their familiar characters.

The movie’s L&H flights of fancy crash-land abruptly with the introduction of Fox leading man Bob Bailey, whose chinlessly grinning con man was evidently supposed to set female moviegoers to swooning but elicits only eye-rolling apathy among L&H buffs. With all the finesse of a kindergartener, con artist Chester Wright (Bailey) convinces Stan and Ollie that he has “The Little Wonder Gasoline Pill,” able to convert ordinary water into much-needed wartime fuel. Conveniently, while L&H’s backs are turned, Wright pulls out a can of real gasoline — which he has been carrying in his truck while driving through the desert (!!). He pours the gas into L&H’s water canteen, and convinces our heroes of the product’s authenticity. They agree to promote the pill during their performance in the next town.

Stan and Ollie’s big-band playing has been criticized by most L&H buffs, in that most of the music is performed by mechanical hands, so that the scene’s comedy comes from a gimmick and not from L&H themselves. One can almost believe, though, that if L&H were going to be a big-band smash, it would be with this kind of crazy band. Like most of this movie’s most promising elements, though, the band is never referred to again after this scene.

Wright tries to pull off his chicanery with Stan and Ollie’s help, but eventually the ruse is exposed and Wright quickly steers L&H out of town. Halfway down the road, Wright realizes that he left town with a young woman’s purse and he must go back to return it. (Yep, a con man who tries to pull off an elemental ruse has enough scruples to return a stranger’s purse.) Conveniently enough, the purse’s owner, Susan Cowan (Vivian Blaine), has hitched a ride on L&H’s wagon, which clears the way for some dreary repartee between the romantic leads. It seems that, besides her purse, Susan is upset because her parents have been swindled by some local con men. Wright recognizes the men from a newspaper clipping Susan shows him, and he vows to help make things right. (Nothing like trusting a con man to seek justice against other con men. Where are Ollie’s camera looks when we need them?)

Wright heads for New Orleans and enters the con men’s hotel with an unusual entourage. Ollie, in a Southern costume including a hat almost as wide as he is, introduces himself as “Colonel Watterson Bixby of Leaping Frog, Amarillo County, Texas”; Stan is his personal factotum. Babe Hardy cited this movie as one of his all-time favorites, no doubt because he got a chance to display his Southern heritage to the hilt. It’s a stretch to believe that Ollie could or would ham it up this much (his previous dress-up in Another Fine Mess is far less flowery), but on its own terms, the impersonation is a beaut.

Col. Bixby and his troupe come across two con artists, Henry and Dorcas (Robert Emmett Keane and Lee Patrick) and work a scheme to have the colonel meet Dorcas in her suite. Unfortunately, Stan makes it to the suite first, and Dorcas, thinking that he is the colonel, tries to seduce him instead. Dorcas pours Stan a potent drink that knocks his hat off, and causes him to understate, “You know, that’s a bit of all right.”

Ollie enters the room, causing Stan to hide under Dorcas’s bed while Ollie carries on with Dorcas. (This plot twist is meant to hint at boudoir farce, but what would Ollie do if he caught Stan under the bed — kill him for making time with his woman?) After a charming scene of Southern gallantry, Henry enters the room and tries to blackmail Ollie, who then “reveals” himself as a Southern sheriff and locks Henry and Dorcas in the closet. Since they’re never heard from again in the movie, one assumes Henry and Dorcas entered a fifth dimension where they find those band instruments of Stan and Ollie’s. The scene has a nice capper, as Stan emerges from under the bed, only to be yanked back by a wayward bedspring.

After Vivian Blaine does two elaborate musical numbers (which, in best big-studio style, supplies her with six dancers to supplement her simple audition), we get back to The Ever-Expanding Plotline. Malcolm Bennett (Douglas Fowley, one of the more believable L&H/Fox gangsters), the man who fleeced Susan’s mother, needs backing for a show he’s producing. For no compelling reason other than another excuse for dress-up, Chester gets Stan to pose as “Aunt Emily,” a wealthy childhood sweetheart of Col. Bixby’s. This does yield a funny scene where Ollie shows Stan how to walk like a lady. (Somebody ought to have Stan and Ollie do some funny stuff like this in character.) It also inspires one of L&H’s infrequent but surprising double-entendres, as Stan blurts out at one point, “I feel so gay!”

Stan and Ollie eventually get the money back and return it to Chester, but the head gangster realizes he’s been had and holds Stan and Ollie hostage in the riverboat where the nightclub production takes place. The gangster who keeps watch on Stan and Ollie has been told to add more coal to the boat’s boilers, and he is too gallant to ask a “woman” (Stan) to do the work, so Ollie must shovel the coals. This inspires a couple of nice sight-gags, not to mention Ollie’s reaction at not getting to lord it over Stan for a change.

Stan and Ollie use one of their gas pills to get the gangster out of the way (funny how a worthless pill conveniently causes a villain to inflate like a zeppelin), and they make for the dance floor, knocking out many of the gangsters with their wild dancing. The showboat accidentally breaks loose from the shore and heads out to sea as Stan and Ollie try to navigate it. (They can’t drive a car through the desert, but an out-of-control showboat is no problem for them.)

The police and Chester arrive on the scene, and Susan yells at Chester for leaving with her mother’s money. But wouldn’t you know it, con man Chester deserted Susan only because he had to deliver the money to Susan’s mother himself — he even has a receipt from Mom! (This is the most scrupulous, itemizing con man you’ll ever see in a movie.) They embrace, and as Stan and Ollie sneak up on Chester from behind, Susan shoos them away before they can do any more damage.

Stan takes off and throws down his “Aunt Emily” wig in disgust, just in time for the gangsters to see him and give chase to Stan and Ollie. In a weak attempt at a boffo ending, Stan and Ollie jump overboard to escape the gangsters, and Ollie declares, “We’re going down for the third time!” This seems less of a reference to the plot at hand than to L&H’s work at Fox; after Great Guns and A-Haunting We Will Go, this lame ending does seem like an attempt by Fox to kill Stan and Ollie’s beloved characterizations for a third time.

Jitterbugs offers enough laughs, even with Stan and Ollie’s numerous out-of-character moments, to warrant inclusion on any L&H must-see list. (Some of the L&H/Roach movies have their wayward moments, too.) But with Fox’s obliviousness to what Laurel & Hardy instinctively knew about their characters, one gets the impression that Fox was all too eager to use L&H’s star power to spread a load of something, and it wasn’t jam.