The Sunday Intertitle: Where the Worst Begins

WEST OF HOT DOG is a (1924) silent Stan Laurel comedy, produced by Joe Rock, where Stan plays a sissified city gent all at sea in the sagebrush. Seeing Stan in a carriage with a girl at the start made me wonder if Keaton’s OUR HOSPITALITY was an influence, but Stan being a character player where Keaton was a star, he takes the tenderfootedness a lot further — into full-on effiminacy in fact. As if the glasses and camp manner weren’t enough, he’s also (the shame of it!) reading a book, entitled Let Brotherly Love Continue.

 

When the stage is held up by desperadoes, Stan retorts, “I shall see my attorney about this.” Which is funny without making much sense, since he’s the victim of a crime, not someone accused of one. Banditry was rarely tried in the civil courts out west.

The whole thing seems to be happening in the 1920s (note the cloche hat), but an alternate universe ’20s in which stagecoaches and stick-ups still characterised the wide-open spaces. But the enclosed space of Stan’s head has no room for such concepts. This temporal confusion reminds me of the Scottish cartoon strip Desperate Dan, which always seems to be set simultaneously in the Wild West, 1950s Dundee and, occasionally, contemporary Dundee. The ’50s thing is just because the writers and artists at DC Thompson got stuck in a time-warp of their own, deep in the shadowy confines of Scotland’s first reinforced concrete building.

Titles written by future director Tay Garnett. Some great “special effects” when Stan hits his thumb with a hammer — scratches on film for cartoon effect. When he’s shot in the bum, a huge white question mark whorls out of him like a tail, or escaping gas.

And yes, I’m tentatively interested in the forthcoming biopic STAN & OLLIE. Having seen some brilliant impersonation/embodiment of the boys onstage in Tom McGrath’s play Laurel and Hardy, I have high standards, and Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly will have to not only make us see the characters, but erase all trace of their own familiar selves. Coogan is an impersonator of genius, so Reilly will be the big unknown factor here, but he’s an excellent actor and comic…

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2 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: Where the Worst Begins”

  1. bensondonald Says:

    My favorite solo Laurel is “The Sleuth”, which doesn’t parody any specific film and spoofs the genre in only the most general way. A good portion of the film is detective Stan chasing and being chased through a house; here and there everybody is operating on nightmare logic. The Kino version looks to be missing a few explanatory intertitles, but I’m guessing they wouldn’t explain that much.

    I understand the new movie focuses on their European tours, when they became real friends as opposed to exceptionally felicitous coworkers. That means the actors will have to create the offscreen Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. That may give them more freedom to invent, since there’s not a lot of the boys out of character for comparison (their appearance on “This is Your Life” was an infamous exception; Stan especially hated to face an audience unprepared). On the other hand, it may be like putting voices on certain silent stars — nothing will fit what an audience of fans will have imagined.

  2. I’ll check out The Sleuth – never seen it.

    The Stan & Ollie film is directed by a Scot, Jon S. Baird, whose previous film, Filth, I couldn’t really admire, but it had energy.

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