Laurel & Hardy in ANY OLD PORT (1932) – Not quite a knockout comedy


(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

There’s something about Walter Long and seediness that just go together. In Any Old Port and the later The Live Ghost, Long comes off as so snaggle-toothed and unscrupulous, he seems to bring his own ugly surroundings with him to dress up the set.

Here, Long is the proprietor of a rundown hotel. His very first scene shows him trying to “marry” his bedraggled servant girl (Jacqueline Wells), whom he picked up from God knows where. One is sorry that Stan and Ollie even have to sully their innocent hands on his registry book (though this does allow for Stan and Ollie’s always-reliable signing-the-book routine). Eventually, they help the girl escape Long’s gnarly clutches.

The film’s second half always leaves me uncomfortable. Ollie runs into an old friend (Harry Bernard) who is now the proprietor of a fight ring and says he’ll throw some money Ollie’s way to participate in a boxing match. Ollie then goes off with Stan to a fancy restaurant and orders an elaborate meal. When Stan tries to do the same, Ollie blithely tells Stan he can’t eat because he’s the one who will be boxing that night. Stan’s usually comical cry doesn’t win much laughter in the face of Ollie’s callousness.

It only gets worse when it turns out that Long is Stan’s opponent. Despite some clever gags by Stan reminiscent of Chaplin’s similar turn in City Lights, one can’t help but feel for him rather than laugh at him (especially when Ollie re-emphasizes his lack of sympathy for Stan in his final line of dialogue).

There are times (as in his addressing Stan as “stupid” in The Music Box) where Ollie’s bullying goes beyond condescending to downright brutish. Unfortunately, the last half of Any Old Port is one of those times.

Laurel & Hardy in THE LIVE GHOST (1934) – Unusually morbid for Stan and Ollie


Detractors of Laurel & Hardy’s later Twentieth Century-Fox features are quick to emphasize the morbidity in the storyline of A-Haunting We Will Go (1942). For my money, that movie has nothing on L&H’s short subject The Live Ghost.

The movie starts out with Stan and Ollie hanging around a seedy waterfront and getting hired by a burly captain (Walter Long) to shanghai some men for his crew. Even at a dollar a head (the captain’s going rate per shanghaied sailor), it seems unusual that the usually helpful and thoughtful Stan and Ollie think nothing of earning some bucks by enslaving some men for a ship.

Later, after The Boys end up shanghaiied themselves, the movie tries to milk comedy from Stan’s mistaken impression that he has shot and killed a sleeping sailor — not exactly fun for the whole family. (As if that wasn’t enough, Mae Busch does a bit role as a waterfront woman. While the movie [as befits the ’30s Production Code] never comes right out and says she’s a prostitute, Busch’s role was risque enough to have it cut out of early TV prints of the movie.)

It’s a bit odd that Laurel, usually openly conscious of his family-oriented audiences, went for laughs in such a randy setting. (Our Relations has a somewhat similar setting at movie’s end, but at least there the seediness is not dwelled upon so much, and The Boys aren’t the ones making bucks off it.) The rundown quality of everyone and everything in the movie tends to curtail many of its laughs.

PARDON US (1931) – Laurel & Hardy, shackled into feature films


(WARNING: Spoilers abound!)

At times, you have to cut Pardon Us even more slack than you do for Laurel & Hardy’s later Twentieth Century-Fox films. Stan Laurel went on record several times as having regretted the inevitable move from short subjects to feature films, and if Laurel & Hardy had remained at the Pardon Us level for the rest of their careers, the jump to feature-length would have remained tragic indeed.

Pardon Us puts Stan and Ollie behind bars as a result of them having been caught making bootleg liquor (the movie came before the lift on Prohibition, of course). It’s a pretty bad sign when a movie starts out with Stan and Ollie — who are usual reverent towards, if not downright fearful of, the law and its power — nonchalantly trying to break the law just to earn a quick buck.


Once Stan and Ollie get put into prison, the movie becomes merely a collection of set pieces — The Boys deal with a menacing con (Walter Long), The Boys muck up a prison-school session, etc. But the set pieces lack the charm of the similar approach taken by Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times (also frequently set in a prison); instead, they meander even more than some of L&H’s lesser short subjects, to the point where The Boys are all but shrugging their shoulders at the paucity of the gags.


There are also some protracted scenes where The Boys briefly escape from prison and hide out at a plantation by wearing blackface. While the tone of these scenes isn’t as hostile as, say, similar scenes in Buster Keaton’s films, the scenes probably won’t convert any African-American viewers to the L&H camp. (The best part of this section of the film is that it allows for one of Ollie’s always-delightful vocals, as he sings “Lazy Moon.”)

The only part of the movie that really catches fire is its finale, when Stan and Ollie inadvertently stop a prison riot. Up to this point, the entire movie has been overwhelmed by its sheer scale. (The movie came about to start with because Hal Roach wanted to use an elaborate prison set constructed for an M-G-M feature.) The hilarity of the movie’s climax comes from these two little guys overpowering a huge legion of prisoners who basically want to throttle them. It’s a pity the entire movie couldn’t have made fun of its own elaborateness in such a manner.

Pardon Us has been described as episodic, but even the episodes of later L&H flights of fancy such as Block-Heads have more charm and humor to them. As befits the film’s prison setting, at times the entire movie seems to be attached to a ball-and-chain.