• Poster of the Month

  • My Momentary Celebrity Obsession

    Click to find out why Marlene has me mesmerized.

  • What I’m Reading

  • What You’re Reading

  • Advertisements

Our Relations

Gasser

Our Relations (1936)

     With every Laurel and Hardy movie or short I watch, I warm more to their humor. Our Relations would be my favorite thus far and is just a riot of misunderstandings.

     Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy open the film at the dinner table with their wives. The two are best friends and when the women are away discuss their twin brothers, which Ollie’s mother writes have been executed after getting into trouble at sea. The rest of the film centers more around those relatives –Alf Laurel and Bert Hardy– and the trouble they create. It turns out that part of the families is in fact not dead, but still working on a boat. They have docked in the same town as their brothers but will not run into them until the film’s close. In the meantime, a shipmate has convinced the men to hand over all but $1 of their salary for him to “save and invest”. The bumbling duo is also tasked with picking up and delivering a package for the captain that turns out to be a rather large pearl ring. While at a restaurant, two young women notice the ring and assume the chaps are loaded, so when the couples join up for a meal, the gals order everything on the menu.

     Alf and Bert have already annoyed the restaurant waiter (Alan Hale) so when they attempt to leave to “get a change of clothes” and their money, the waiter requires them to leave collateral, so they offer up the ring. When they find the shipmate who is keeping their dough, Finn (James Finlayson), he refuses to give the money back … which leads to the stealing/hocking of Finn’s clothes … which progresses to the loaning of Alf and Bert’s clothes back to Finn … which leads to the men wandering about in sheets and towel turbans. I could go on for a while explaining the plot but it only gets more complicated. Eventually the paths of the twins overlap with Stan and Ollie and their wives suspect they’ve cheated on them with the two restaurant dames. The waiter is also taking things out on the wrong Laurel and Hardy, and the pearl ring is being handed off to all the wrong people.

     The first really funny moment for me was when Alf and Bert are initially in the restaurant. In order to talk over their money situation privately, they head for a phone booth. After squeezing in together to chat, the phone rings and a drunk chap carrying armfuls of goods also presses into the small box. Faces are smashed against the glass, Laurel is stepped on and milk is spilt on the men’s heads. Finally, the booth tips over and shatters with the drunk fellow never able to properly hold a conversation with his wife at the other end of the line. The scene was humor without words and really great.

     One scene toward the end has both sets of Laurel and Hardy in the same restaurant. Confusing interaction between the pairs has them mispaired at one point and the viewer starts to question who is who. The movie magic techniques used to place double the Laurel and double the Hardy in one scene at the same time is done in multiple ways. At this restaurant, obvious back projection has one set of protagonists walking behind the other two sitting at a table and vice versa. Other scenes involve body doubles, editing that switches back and forth between the pairs without showing them at the same time, and finally a split screen technique where the respective twins walk side by side without crossing the center line.

     I do not recall Hardy ever visually addressing the camera in Our Relations as he often did to share with the audience his frustration over whatever Laurel was putting him through. In this movie, the two are essentially in the same boat at all times with Laurel being only slightly dimmer than his companion.

Advertisements

Silent Partner & Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog

Gasser

Buster Keaton

     You might recall I wrote several reviews on short subjects coming from Hal Roach Studios a few months back when TCM was playing tribute to the influential production company. Among those were some Screen Directors Playhouse episodes. Well, I’ve finally gotten around to clearing the final two from my DVR, so here they are:

     George Marshall was the director behind The Silent Partner, a comedy about a silent movie star long forgotten. When told that the silent actor would be played by a great from those days of film, my first thought went to Buster Keaton, and I was correct. Unlike many of his silent-era counterparts, Keaton continued his career into talkies, although he can usually be spotted in supporting or cameo roles.

     The story for this episode is a bit haphazard. Keaton, as ex-actor Kelsey Dutton, is seated at the counter in a mostly empty bar where a handful of characters are either very interested in watching on TV the Academy Award ceremony taking place across the street, or not at all. Being honored during that night’s ceremony, hosted by Bob Hope as himself, is director Arthur Vale (Joe E. Brown), who cannot help but give credit for his career to Dutton. We are entreated to a flashback when Dutton unknowingly barges onto the set of Vale’s film to rescue a woman in a smoking building. The action proceeds in typical silent comedy style and Vale hires the man as a star. Returning to present day, the Oscar broadcast next features a short film the team made. Dutton is a janitor at a saloon and is in love with the singer atop a piano who inherits a large sack of money. Cowboy robbers show up however, and wrestle with the woman and Dutton, who is continually kicked in the rear by a horse.

     The present-day patrons at the bar soon realize they are in the company of the man on the screen and one woman (Zasu Pitts) calls Vale to notify him of his silent partner’s whereabouts. Vale arrives at the bar and takes his pal to the Oscar stage.

     Less interesting was Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog, directed by H.C. Potter. The story was crafted based on a mantra of publishers at the time (and maybe still today). Publishers knew that any story about medicine, animals or Abraham Lincoln were surefire best sellers, so naturally, a story called “Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog” would be the epitome of a hot story. Unfortunately, I struggled to stay awake.

     Charles Bickford plays Dr. Stone to Robert Ryan‘s President Lincoln. The doctor attends to the political leader who is low of spirits and perhaps ailing in other ways. He is ordered strict rest, but cannot seem to keep away from the various documents he insists on reading. On his way home one night, Dr. Stone obtains a golden retriever puppy and delivers it to Lincoln as a birthday present. The pup, while having the president chasing it all over his bed, has a grand effect on the man’s health and attitude. Later the dog subdues an entire room of politicians and the doctor declares that the dog has done a service to the United States.

The Bohemian Girl

Gasser

Bohemian Girl (1936)

     I previously expressed that I was not totally impressed by Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy after seeing a couple of their shorts and was assured that I should persevere and check out their feature-length films. I’m glad I did because I found The Bohemian Girl quite entertaining. The flick is based on an opera about gypsies and a villainous count’s estate, but the comedic duo’s involvement has little to do with the plot until about halfway through.

 
     After some singing and discussion by the gypsies of how Count Arnheim dislikes their kind so much, we eventually reach Laurel and Hardy sitting outside a wagon. Hardy owns the wagon homestead with his wife, an evil, dominating sort who is having an affair literally right in front of him, and Laurel is the best friend who seems to live with them. The wife ends up kidnapping the young daughter of Count Arnheim –although it’s unclear why because she does not ask a ransom– and telling Ollie it is his daughter. The wife eventually runs off with her beau but announces the child is not in fact Hardy’s before she departs.
 
     Jump to a dozen years later and the girl is grown and living happily with her father and “uncle”. The girl wanders onto the count’s property where she is captured and threatened to be flogged. The men attempt to rescue her, but when the count notices a necklace she wears, he realizes the girl is is daughter.
 
     The Bohemian Girl is loaded with fun bits between the leading men. Sent to find a pouch of Oliver’s money, Stan searches under the pillow of the “sleeping” man and ends up squirming under the entire mattress in his plight and coming face-to-face with an awake Oliver who had to move from his bed to allow his friend’s clumsy efforts.
 
     Laurel continues to win me over as a favorite, especially after a scene alone with some wine. Tasked with bottling a barrel full of the intoxicant, the man gets the liquid flowing through a tube but in between bottles is forced to stick it in his mouth to prevent making a greater mess than he already is. When some bottles are corked, and Stan’s wits are diminishing, it takes even longer to get the wine to the bottle. The goof is pretty sloshed by the time Hardy finds him. I also enjoy that Laurel is quite airheaded and rather “stoned” seeming in his demeanor, yet he continually outsmarts Ollie. He also dupes several town folk with his hypnotic pickpocket routine and even has a man who Hardy sloppily robs arrested for taking back his own property. Needless to say, I’ll be open to more Laurel and Hardy pieces from now on.
    

Hill-Tillies & No. 5 Checked Out

Gasser

     With TCM committing a good portion of each week during January to Hal Roach Studios, I’ve managed to catch a couple of short subjects from the production company, all of which are new to me. Hal Roach, in fact, I had never heard of before this month.

Hal Roach Studios

     I mentioned catching a couple Laurel & Hardy shorts, with several more on my DVR, but last night I watched another comedic duo, Kelly and Roberti, in addition to a half-hour TV spot from the Screen Directors’ Playhouse. Lyda Roberti and Patsy Kelly are cute in Hill-Tillies which involves the two staging a “back-to-nature” stunt in the woods to gain fame that will hopefully qualify them for a job at a burlesque theater. The plan is to have their friends bring them the necessary camping supplies so they will not be relying on the land, as they’ve told the press. Immediately lost in the woods, however, the duo spend the first night on their own before the necessities finally reach them.

     Kelly reminds me of Oliver Hardy in her approach to comedy. She even has a masculine air about her and acts as the boss of the operation. Roberti, on the other hand, gives off more of a Chico Marx feel –she has the accent and physical goofiness that Marx brother offers. Whether it be a Polish or fake Italian accent, somehow I find the abuse of the English language highly entertaining. There is a certain amount of creativity in finding alternate ways to convey the same meaning using an unconventional assemblage of words.

     No. 5 Checked Out, which was among the many short movies produced for TV with high-end budgets and major stars through the Screen Directors’ Playhouse, was directed and based on a story conceived by Ida Lupino. The actress directed a limited number of feature films but found a home directing television. This short stars Teresa Wright, Peter Lorre, and William Talman with a gritty crime-based plot familiar to Lupino.

     Wright plays a deaf girl who has retreated to a campground her father runs after a harsh breakup from a man who did not care for her disability. When her father dashes off somewhere leaving her to run the place alone, she is surprised to have two guests who insist on staying in a cabin even though the season does not start for two weeks. Lorre is some hardened criminal/murderer who is on the lamb with his partner played by Talman. The latter makes friends with Wright, going fishing with her, etc., with the intention of stealing her car so he can continue to run from his crime (It is unclear whether he is also running from Lorre or if the two just need to switch vehicles.). It takes Talman a while to realize Wright is deaf and when he does he likes her even more. When Lorre thinks the woman has overheard him callously say the men “are wanted for murder” he has ill plans, but Talman stops his partner, who intern stops him.

     No. 5 Checked Out is a really great, slimmed down story that easily could have been broadened into a longer script. The quality on the show was also great. I felt like I was watching a full-length feature and was not sure how the story was going to wrap itself up so quickly. This story does a fine job of keeping things short without leaving the audience feeling as those the ending comes to soon or just cuts off the story.

     I am not sure any of the Screen Directors’ Playhouse episodes are available for purchase and most did not air more than once on TV. With TCM’s showing this week, it is the first time the episodes have been seen since the ’50s.

Thicker Than Water & The Fixer Uppers

Gasser

Thicker Than Water (1935)

     Perhaps coming off a Marx Brothers picture had me ill prepared to enjoy my first Laurel and Hardy shorts or maybe the duo is just not my cup of tea. I caught Thicker Than Water and The Fixer Uppers among the marathon of Laurel and Hardy movies and shorts TCM aired last night as part of its month-long tribute to Hal Roach Studios. I have a few more shorts and feature films recorded, so expect those reviews at some point in the future.

     As mentioned, I had not yet seen a Laurel and Hardy picture, and like the Marx Brothers and Charlie Chaplin, the duo was not a comedy standby I ever had any interest in. But for perhaps no other reason than this blog, I have developed a desire to expand my historical film knowledge and have concluded my expertise would be considerably curtailed if I declined to enjoy these classics. Although I found the pursuit of Marx Brothers and Chaplin movies quite rewarding, I was a bit less-than-jazzed when watching these Laurel and Hardy shorts. Although their bits reminded me some of the Three Stooges, with whose films I have plenty of experience, they were otherwise fairly bland.

     In Thicker than Water, which was the last short the two did before making exclusively feature-length films, Stan Laurel suggests Oliver Hardy withdraw the $300 in his joint bank account he shares with his wife in order to pay off their furniture and eliminate debt collectors from his life. After a firm “no” from his wife, Hardy indeed takes the money with the intent of buying new furniture. He stops by an auction where a woman asks him to keep the bidding for a clock open until she can retrieve her money from home. After Laurel bids against Hardy and drives the price up to $290, the auction closes and the man is stuck paying for the grandfather clock. On the way home the clock is predictably destroyed when run over by a truck. What was fun about this episode is that when Hardy’s wife bashes him about the head with a frying pan, Laurel is forced to give his pal some blood at the hospital. A problem with the procedure results in the swapping back and forth of fluids, and the end result is Laurel “becoming” Hardy and vice versa. It was fun to see how each interpreted the other’s personality.

     The Fixer Uppers was on the same plain with Thicker than Water. When selling holiday cards, the two meet a distraught woman upset because her husband does not seem to care for her as he used to. Laurel proposes she make him jealous by being seen with another man. Hardy volunteers for the job, which heads for disaster when the husband, the best marksman in France, challenges him to a duel. Later, a mixup in identity results in police delivering the passed-out-drunk Laurel and Hardy to the home of the man set on ending Hardy’s life, and the two must find a way to escape with their lives.

     The shorts featured the physical comedy I recognize from the Stooges –or I should say: that the Stooges would later employ– such as the dropping of dishes by Hardy after Laurel sets them on an ignited stove burner. Hardy, at least, seems thoroughly superior intellectually to the Stooges while Laurel is mellowly dimwitted. I would not say Stan and Ollie are not funny, but their gags were relatively lost on me. Perhaps their full-length films will tickle me better.

Source: Robert Osborne

%d bloggers like this: