Archive for March 3, 2019

The Sunday Intertitle: Marshall Plan

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on March 3, 2019 by dcairns

When discussing Laurel & Hardy, you have to look at Stan as the creative visionary, and usually the credited director is irrelevant. Although Leo McCarey, with his genius for situation comedy, certainly did exert a lasting influence through his work as “supervising director” for the duo in the late silent era, with many of the gags and plotlines he introduced still getting recycled with variations throughout the thirties.

But I became interested in whether George Marshall should get any particular attention. TOWED IN THE HOLE, which he directed, is one of the best L&H two-reelers (which makes it one of the best short comedies of any kind, ever), and it has some lovely visual touches: the main one being when Stan has inccurred Ollie’s ire, and observes him timorously from a variety of positions:

So we had a look at THEIR FIRST MISTAKE, Marshall’s only other short with the boys (he did make the feature PACK UP OUR TROUBLES the same year). And indeed, there’s an unusually artful POV shot early on as Stan peers through Ollie’s transom at this charming domestic vignette:

Of course, it may be unfair to attribute any visual grace notes to the credited director, just because the “style” in L&H always seems defined by clunkiness. It’s a clunkiness that is paradoxically beautiful and compliments the action perfectly. It almost feels like there’s a founding principle not to include any shot or bit of technique that Stan and Ollie wouldn’t think of if they were making the film themselves (and what a behind-the-scenes featurette THAT would make!)

The most amusing moment in TFM is a purely expositional bit where the boys loll about on a bed, like a pair of teenage girls, discussing what to do about Ollie’s failing marriage.

“She accused me of thinking more of you than I do of her.” “Well you do, don’t you?” “We won’t go into that.”

The whole movie is like aging in reverse, with Ollie going from marriage with Mae Busch to bachelorhood with Stan, and then Stan reverting to infancy with a baby’s bottle. Fiona points out that it’s odd that the lolling scene was never repeated in other shorts, since it’s hilarious (the boys shift position more or less unconsciously for each line, Stan gets distracted with wiping his shoe on a bed sheet, upside down) and they generally did things over at Roach if they were successful.

Only the complete lack of an ending lets this one down.

Marshall’s fifty-three directing career took in some fine comedy or comedy-drama features: DESTRY RIDES AGAIN, MURDER HE SAYS, YOU CAN’T CHEAT AN HONEST MAN. Haven’t seen his Jerry Lewis stuff,

George also has a walk-on. I took one look at him and said, “That’s got to be a crew member!”

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