Whoopee Cushing

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Fun Fact: in 1940, during the brief stint as an up-and-coming Hollywood star, Peter Cushing (far left) made a skimpy appearance in the Laurel & Hardy feature A CHUMP AT OXFORD.

Less Fun Fact: Fiona is quite ill with depression at the moment. We’ve been concentrating our viewing on lighter fair, and Laurel & Hardy seemed a good fit. You often hear it said that such-and-such a comedian could cure depression, but usually this is not so. During her last major illness, eight years ago, Stephen Fry’s quiz show QI could sometimes make Fiona smile, or even reluctantly laugh, but it did not effect a cure. However, a good Laurel & Hardy film is about the most reliable comedy there is, if your funny bone happens to incline in that direction (some poor souls are not amused at the boys’ antics: we make no judgement on these unfortunates, but pass on in silence). Though not as big an L&H fan as I (Fiona really digs the Marx Brothers), Fiona was up for trying an experiment: Stan and Ollie Versus Clinical Depression.

Unfortunately, for our first try, choosing A CHUMP AT OXFORD was probably a mistake. The duo was usually better in shorts than features, and ACAO was originally a short feature which was then padded with a twenty-minute prologue having nothing to do with the rest of the picture. However, this sequence does feature “knobby Scot” James Finlayson, who provoked an involuntarily, slightly painful laugh, from my poor partner. Finlayson has only to appear and a smile can be sensed around the edges of the face.

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After the disjointed opening, the film repairs to the dreaming spires of Oxford, and Cushing appears as one of a gang of nasty students, ragging Stan & Ollie with prolonged practical jokes. More interestingly than amusingly, several of these have an element of the macabre. Mr Laurel and Mr Hardy are made to get lost in a maze that’s straight out of THE SHINING (and nothing much to do with Oxford), and then Cushing helps one of his chums dress up as a wraith and chivvy the boys about at midnight. It’s a sort of dress rehearsal for CAPTAIN CLEGG.

Fiona becomes fixated on the film’s title. “But there’s two of them,” she protests, in a low-affect deadpan that would be funny if deliberate. A depressed person taking issue with a Hal Roach film title sounds like a normal person delivering tragic news: “It’s metastasized,” “War is declared,” “Winterbottom’s done it again.”

All this stuff seems based on a poor understanding of the kind of situation Laurel & Hardy are funny in. They’re so dumb that practical jokes played against them strike the audience as unfair — too easy! It’s more amusing to see the boys creating their own problems, and also fun to see them creating problems for officious enemies or perfectly innocent bystanders, who can be relied upon to react angrily and thus bring more misfortune on themselves. All without any real malice from the boys, who are generally just screwing things up through sheer incompetence. Cushing and his gang with their studied malevolence don’t fit into this scenario at all.

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When Cushing next appears, he’s disguised in a voluminous false moustache. Oddly, when this is removed, he has a smaller, real moustache underneath, although his upper lip was quite nude when last we saw it. In the course of the night he’s somehow acquired this decoration. I wonder if the ‘tache might have been grown for THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK (by horror legend James Whale), released the previous year? In that film, Cushing has a small role, but originally had a much larger one. In the split-screen scenes where Louis Hayward, playing royal twins (one good, one evil!) acts with himself, Cushing played stand-in, appearing in the cast-off halves of the screen, while Hayward’s halves were retained. Alas, the Cushing offcuts have not survived so far as we know.

Towards the climax of ACAO, which involves some pretty funny knockabout stuff, Stan gets caught in a window, and THE SHINING is recalled once more. A blow on the head cures him of lifelong amnesia and he reverts to his true self, an English lord. This leads nowhere in particular, but we get to see Stan play an English lord, which is worth seeing. It made Fiona smile a bit.

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A trifle dissatisfied with ACAO, we looked at DO DETECTIVES THINK? a silent which isn’t that great either but has Finlayson again and some more examples of the Laurel & Hardy Uncanny –

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Incidentally, Cushing enjoyed quite a long collaboration with another much-loved comedy duo, Morecambe and Wise — beloved in the UK (and the favourite TV show of Cary Grant) but largely unknown elsewhere. Enjoy –

An entry for the Peter Cushing Centenary Blogathon.

sherlock

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25 Responses to “Whoopee Cushing”

  1. Colin M Says:

    Dr. McLaren recommends:
    OUR WIFE (Dulcy elopment); ME & MY PAL (wedding, jigsaw, Finlayson) and COME CLEAN (drowning woman).
    To be taken twice a day.

  2. “You know what a MAGNATE is, don’t you?”
    “Sure. It’s a thing that eats cheese.”

    Me & My Pal. A great, and fairly uncommon, example of L&H setting up one joke and delivering a completely different one. Made funnier by the fact that “a thing that eats cheese” is a very poor definition of ANYTHING.

  3. Did you know there was a Peter Cusing stamp just issued? Sadly just stuck it on some else’s envelope or I’d have sent it to you. St James Centre PO for more…

  4. Cushing not cusing… sigh

  5. Is there a rule saying you have to be dead to be on a stamp? Because there ought to be a Sir Christopher Lee stamp too. A lot of people would like to lick the back of his head.

  6. Yes I thought there was a have to dead or queen rule… however there are presentations packs of Dr Who stamps being sold and quite a few of the doctors are still alive…

  7. I don’t know about the US except you must be dead to be on coin or currency. There could be some ghoulish humor in putting a living person who dies immediately after their image is put on a “forever” stamp.

  8. Christopher Says:

    “Take down my britches?..in the presence of Meredith ?!”….I read,may be here,that someone asked ,finally asked the man himself,peter cushing,about this and he lit up like never before and said how delighted he was to get to be in “Chump”….Come Clean,Twice Two,Our Wife and large parts of The L&H Murder Case are the big laugh getters for me….Wishing Fiona rises from the gloom very soon..depression is a very sad place…Hope is just around the corner….watch Modern Times..and SMILE :o)

  9. You had me at “Whoopee Cushing.”

  10. Thanks for the kind thoughts. Light is visible at end of tunnel, I think.

    My own L&H favourites include Dirty Work, Oliver the Eighth and Way Out West.

  11. Best posting title ever. Thank you for sharing. Good luck with the depression. Of the features, I would try Way Out West or Sons of the Desert.

  12. judydean Says:

    I was very sorry to read of Fiona’s illness and send you both my very best wishes. As someone who doesn’t post on here very often, I nevertheless always read your blog and enjoy it, and admire the speed with which you produce writing of such quality.

  13. because I’m a stamp nerd (I mean I make special trips to get stamps with pictures on them) I checked out the dead before you can get on a stamp thing. Yes turns out that is true until some years ago England managed to win some cricket match so they got rid of the rule so they could put the winning cricket team on the stamps. So time to start lobbying for Christoper Lee to get his own stamp!!

  14. Thanks, Judy! Always pleased to read your comments.

    Asides from Lee, who is alive from the 40s or 50s British cinema who could be celebrated in postal form? Sylvia Syms springs to mind, but there must be others…

  15. DBenson Says:

    The excellent Essential Laurel and Hardy box has both versions of Chump. Meanwhile:

    Towed in a Hole for 100% pure slapstick.

    Blotto for Stan & Babe convincing themselves they’re drunk (and luxuriating in leisurely pacing).

    Blockheads, which starts out by setting up a plot, forgets about it after a great wheelchair gag and settles into agreeable goofing off.

    I love The Music Box, but I have one female friend who got intensely frustrated seeing the boys repeatedly defeated by the stairs.

    Swiss Miss is a mixed bag, but suddenly makes a lot more sense if you take it as a mock McDonald & Eddy vehicle (which makes it a better fit with their other riffs on specific operettas). Also, it features a bit involving sliding cabinet doors that goes back to Stan Laurel’s solo shorts.

    Some silent options:

    Keaton in The Scarecrow: Random, very funny gagging.

    Keaton in The Playhouse: Likewise, with a lot of juicy meta comedy.

    Charley Chase in Dog Shy: A nifty two-reel slapstick romcom.

    Harry Langdon in The Strong Man: His most accessible feature.

    Sydney Chaplin in Charley’s Aunt: Charlie’s brother carries the movie. At first he’s a plausibly handsome and bland romantic lead, then he’s outrageously physical as the aunt in question.

  16. In general, the people I’ve known who aren’t L&H fans have been women, and in general the frustration generated by the long sequences of ineptitude has been a major factor.

    Fiona likes them, but is more a Marxian, hence our viewing of Animal Crackers last night: a gloriously badly-made film with fantastic comedy islands.

    Fiona’s favourite Chaplin was probably The Great Dictator, which makes me curious about how Monsieur Verdoux will go down. Oh, and she likes A Dog’s Life, maybe the only one where Edna Purviance gets to be funny.

  17. Christopher Says:

    My mom once supplied an anecdote on why women may not like the 3 stooges or L&H…One for the way they mistreat women and the other for the way they don’t treat women at all.

  18. Women are usually aggressive shrews in L&H films, which sadly may have been true of some of their marital relationships. But I’ve known women to enjoy the ferocity of Mae Busch or Thelma Todd in these movies, and the helplessness of the boys in the face of feminine fury.

  19. A fine review of the movie. I’m sorry Fiona is ill. Best wishes to you both.

  20. “Incidentally, Cushing enjoyed quite a long collaboration with another much-loved comedy duo, Morecambe and Wise — beloved in the UK (and the favourite TV show of Cary Grant) but largely unknown elsewhere.”

    I don’t know about unknown — decades ago they did a summer replacement series in the US that made me a fan for life, and I know they were highly regarded in Canada.

  21. Glad to hear it! They tried to crack the movies but never found suitable big screen material.

    Thanks, Craig. A pleasant evening in with George Stevens and William Wellman is working its restorative magic at present.

  22. “Them Thar Hills” and “Tit for Tat” plus take-out pizza got my daughter out of a blue funk.

  23. We love those two! Charles Hall, the boys’ nemesis, actually plays one of Cushing’s superannuated college chums in A Chump, but he gets nothing to do.

    It occurred to me to wonder why they didn’t build an extended tit-for-tat routine into one of their features, but maybe the answer is those shorts were made quite late… and also Hal Roach had little creative sense, so his feature ideas generally didn’t make the best use of the boys.

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