I finally made it to the Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema in Bo’ness — on paper Scotland’s third best film festival, after the big guns of Edinburgh and Glasgow (which has been going from strength to strength, populist yet still classy) — but in reality, maybe — I dunno — the BEST??? It’s certainly distinctive. Five days of silent movies in the recently restored Hippodrome, Scotland’s oldest purpose-built cinema. And, though small, it has everything you want from a film festival — a convivial atmosphere, a personality of its own, and wall-to-wall great movies.
Bo’ness is a bit tricky to get to, and even harder to get back from, especially on a Sunday, and when the trains have been cancelled. My journey out entailed an unexpected trudge along Princes Street in a depressant mizzle, then a prolonged bus journey to Linlithgow, with an uncertain connection on to my final destination. The first leg was misery, but the second bus turned up immediately and got me right to the door of the Hippodrome (from the Greek: drome of the hip) at the perfect time to stroll in and see three Laurel & Hardy shorts with live accompaniment by Gunter A. Buchwald on piano and violin (at the same time!).
I also met a chap who had met L&H in the 40s when they toured the UK and came to Glasgow and Edinburgh. He showed me his Stan and Ollie wristwatch. Unlike the boys, it must be right at least twice a day.
THEIR PURPLE MOMENT is a hilarious farce dealing with the ever-popular hazard of wives, with the added threat of loose women (including the vivacious Anita Garvin), irate cabbies, and night club waiters. It builds to some very funny kitchen destruction, then kind of stops dead once everybody’s good and messy — an indecently brusque conclusion to a marvelously sustained situation. It features the longest, slowest slow burn on record, as Stan realizes his wallet is stuffed with worthless tokens rather than cash. Will he do his trademark sob? He will.
DOUBLE WHOOPEE features Jean Harlow’s panties and a Von Stroheim impersonator and was discussed previously here.
PUTTING PANTS ON PHILIP cemented the L&H double act, and is their first proper co-starring vehicle. Stan, as a girl-happy Scottish nephew, is playing a different character than the hapless, rather girl-shy persona of the mature years, but he’s playing it in just the same way. It seems a foreigner and a babe-hound can both be portrayed as aspects of childishness, so his Harpo-like pursuit of the fair sex (so different from his Harry Langdon-like terror of them) comes to seem like just the flipside of his normal alienness. America is strange!
The most remarkable moment in this one comes in the inside-leg-measuring scene. Ollie is determined to get the indecently kilted Stan into pants, ASAP. But the highland bumpkin is horrified at the tailor’s running a tape from ankle to thigh, and clearly views it as tantamount to grooming for sex. Hi-jinks and rough-housing ensue. Eventually, Ollie pursue’s the recalcitrant Stan offscreen, and emerges, dishevelled and exhausted, with the measurement. When Stan returns, his performance is redolent of shame and disgrace — a pitch-perfect impersonation of a dishonoured woman in some racy melodrama. His expression fluctuates between shame, hurt, wounded pride, and the gathering of scraps of dignity and solemn defiance. You may take my inside leg measurement, sir, but you will never have my love.
It’s a very serious portrayal, and the only thing stopping this — let’s face it — rape joke — being ugly and offensive is the delicacy of the playing and the absurdity of the situation. The outrage Stan has suffered is so trivial and silly that we can laugh at his mortified reaction, while still feeling a little appropriate sympathy for his discomfort. I don’t know what other comedian could pull that off, and I can’t think of one who’s tried. Just talking about the gag produces more discomfort than is actually felt watching it (zero discomfort is felt watching it). Crucially, the filmmakers aren’t making fun of rape. They’re making fun of inside leg measurement.