Stan By Me

ME AND MY PAL begins with Oliver Hardy saying “This is the happiest day of my life!” so we know it’s going to end in total ruination. Sure enough, if you jump forward to the end, you’ll see this ~

The film contains a great example of the boys using pure surprise, even if the rest of it has a kind of heart-sinking inevitability.

Ollie: Don’t you realise I’m about to become a big oil magnate?

Stan looks a bit confused.

Ollie: You know what a magnate is, don’t you?

Stan: “Sure. A thing that eats cheese.”

Here, the dialogue furiously signals one kind of misconception — we happily expect that Stan is thinking of the word “magnet” and will simply describe one. We don’t really need the joke to be any better than that. But Stan’s mind has taken him somewhere else altogether — perhaps he’s thinking of a mouse. (But “a thing that eats cheese” is a very poor description of a mouse. It would work just as well as a description of this writer.) So he’s confused magnate with magnet and magnet with mouse. This is a brilliantly abstract joke, because the nature of the confusion isn’t definitely clear. We really don’t know what’s on Stan’s mind. It’s a meaningless punchline that works only because (1) it’s dumb and (2) it’s not the punchline we’d expected.

MY AND MY PAL is like Laurel & Hardy via Buñuel. In fact, we know Buñuel was in Hollywood in the early thirties, supervising Spanish-language versions of American films, and we know the boys made several foreign-language versions of their movies (to French, German and Spanish audiences perhaps it made perfect sense that the two numbskulls spoke terrible, phonetic French, German and Spanish). Couldn’t we just suppose that Don Luis collaborated anonymously with Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy, to their mutual enrichment?

Ollie is preparing for his wedding to the daughter of his boss, Peter Cucumber (James Finlayson). But Stan brings a jigsaw puzzle to the house as a wedding present and both men become engrossed in it. The taxi driver called to transport the groom gets sucked in too, as does the cop come to complain about the abandoned cab, and some guy delivering a telegram. Finlayson’s violent intervention succeeds in breaking up the puzzle party, but turns it into a full-scale riot. All is lost.

It’s a great example of the use of slowness — the trouble develops gradually, and considerable fun is wrung from Ollie not being able to believe that Stan is better at jigsaws than he is. Stan, though dumb, has a gift for it. We can all remember feeling this kind of resentment, I think — when we were little kids. So unfair.

The story unfolds like THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL, a slide into madness and anarchy from simple and civilized beginnings. A final, gratuitously cruel twist of the knife is delivered via that forgotten telegram, since it’s apparently not enough that Ollie has missed out on an advantageous marriage, lost his job, and had all his furniture smashed to bits. These things have to be done thoroughly.

One slight regret: Ollie’s angry switching-off of the wireless prevents us hearing Stan’s opinion of technocracy. I found I very much wanted to hear that.

14 Responses to “Stan By Me”

  1. I think this was the B-side when Trail of the Lonesome Pine became a number 1 record in the UK in the 70s. Strange days.

  2. No, I’m wrong, it was the Hawaian number from Sons of the Desert. This is the one Mark Cousins and Tilda Swinton did a flashmob version of in Edinburgh.

  3. You don’t think that Stan means maggot do you?

  4. bensondonald Says:

    The “Way Out West” dance is classic. But what makes it sublime is the rear projection of oblivious townsfolk, repeating over and over.

  5. Magnate = maggot. Hmm. That’s a lot less funny… might be correct though.

    Yes, the town loop is beaitiful. Everything that’s a little ragged about L&H films is beautiful. I really hope they always preserve the audio hiss and don’t “restore” it away. I would really miss that.

  6. bensondonald Says:

    A non-ragged detail: Early in “Sons of the Desert”, the boys return home to their up-to-date duplex. Once they get inside (again, doors), Hardy changes to a smoking jacket and cap, as if he were a Victorian gentleman about to retire to his paneled den. There’s no gag or comment; not even an eye-roll from Mrs. Hardy. I don’t know if such affectation was any kind of thing at the time, but it’s quintessentially Hardyesque.

  7. Wonderful. The boys are so quintessentially impoverished that you can plant them in upscale settings and they’ll still be themselves, but Ollie does have pretensions to gentility, always apparent.

  8. This is a funny, interesting article. I enjoyed reading it, and I look forward to reading more of your articles in the future.

    By the way, I would like to invite you to join my blogathon, “The Great Breening Blogathon:” It is celebrating the life and work of Joseph Breen, the enforcer of the Motion Picture Production Code between 1934 and 1954. As we honor his birthday, which is on October 14, we will be discussing and analyzing the Code era, breening films from other eras, and writing about our own ideas for classic movies. One doesn’t have to agree with the Code and Mr. Breen to enjoy that! I hope you will do me the honor of joining. We could really use your talent!

    Yours Hopefully,

    Tiffany Brannan

  9. Thanks for the kind words. And for a really fascinating offer. Before I decide, may I ask your views on racial miscegenation and the Production Code’s prohibition against its representation onscreen?

  10. Thank you for responding and for your intelligent curiosity about this. I know I have mentioned this in at least one article, but it needs to be discussed more. The original Code was written in 1930 by Martin Quigley and Father Daniel Lord. The clause about miscegenation was not in that original draft. However, the Code was then given to the Hays Office, which presented it to the Hollywood moguls. Someone in the MPPDA, the Hays office, inserted the clause about miscegenation. It was neither Mr. Hays, Mr. Breen, nor one of the two authors. In fact, when the two authors heard about this addition, they were furious. They wanted the Code to be strictly a moral guide. However, the MPPDA wanted to be sure that the Code would help films avoid censorship throughout the country. In the 1930s, miscegenation was a hot topic, especially in the South. From a public relations standpoint, it was best to avoid the whole thing and not offend any one. Joseph Breen dutifully enforced every article of the Code, since that was his job. However, I feel that he probably personally disagreed with any addition to the Code, since he felt that it was a nearly perfect document. When we say that we want the Code to be brought back, we mean the original Code. This does not include the article about miscegenation. This is no longer a necessary inclusion because of public relations, and we want the Code to be as close to its original form as possible.

    In conclusion, the prohibition of miscegenation is not part of the original Code. I respect it only as a public relations move. I feel that it is best in any time to enforce the Code as it was originally written, and the original authors did not prohibit miscegenation. I hope that this answers your questions and alleviates your concerns. I hope you will decide to join the Breenathon!

    Yours Hopefully,

    Tiffany Brannan

  11. Thanks! That’s very good to hear, and very interesting from a historical standpoint. I was aware of the problems with some Hollywood films in the south, and the practice of cutting Lena Horne numbers from musicals later on. The fact that the industry saw the Code as a political tool to avoid local censorship difficulties meant there was bound to be some compromise of its original intentions.

  12. Dear Mr. Cairns,

    That is a very sensible, intelligent, fair approach to this sensitive topic. I appreciate that.

    Yours Hopefully,

    Tiffany Brannan

  13. […] ME AND MY PAL is Laurel & Hardy’s version of THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL avant la lettre, and it is, then the silent TWO TARS (1928) is their pre-empting of Godard’s […]

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