Archive for Fred Guiol

Stan & Ollie & Leo

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 14, 2018 by dcairns

The mystery of who teamed Laurel & Hardy is probably insoluble. Leo McCarey claimed credit. Hal Roach claimed credit but allowed Leo some, too. And there are a couple of other names that should be mentioned.

McCarey deserves his place at the table because he supervised most of the silent collaborations and directed a couple and contributed lots of the best story ideas. And he was capable of modesty, insisting that he learned everything he knew from Tod Browning, whom he assisted, and Charley Chase, whom he directed. McCarey said CHASE was the real director on those films. That kind of giving away of credit is rare, so when McCarey says “I teamed them,” he has some credibility.

Roach seems to lie a lot, or at any rate say things that don’t make sense. He presided over the studio where Stan & Ollie appeared in numerous films together without anybody noticing the chemistry between them. I think he lucked into the greatest comedy team of all time and his splendid contribution was to mainly leave them alone to get on with it. Some of the films he has a director credit on are good, but the director is not that important a figure in these films, where there’s a highly creative star/writer, and also a supervisor charged with overseeing the whole process.

A Roach studio employee recalled that when Roach pitched an idea, nobody could ever understand it. And the ideas Roach describes in Randy Skretvedt’s book Laurel & Hardy: The Magic Behind the Movies conform to that pattern, especially his nonsensical storyline proposal for BABES IN TOYLAND which makes me tired and ill just thinking about it.

I just watched HURDY GURDY, which was Edgar Kennedy’s first talkie, to see if he has “a voice like a sissy” as Roach alleged. Roach claims he got Kennedy to talk deeper after seeing this movie. But Kennedy in HG is the same bellicose sea-lion he ever was. MAYBE the fault was corrected before the film was finished, but there are plenty of other Roach statements that seem questionable. So I’d say Roach is an unreliable narrator who happened to outlive everyone else and got to repeat his lies more often and more recently than his competitors. He always insisted that Stan couldn’t think up gags, he just remembered them from the music hall, and had no sense of story, allegations denied by absolutely everyone who ever knew Stan.

The other trouble with Roach is that he wasn’t satisfied with having sort of presided over L&H’s union, or giving them the freedom to make their magic. He wanted to get involved and prove that his ideas were as good as anyone else’s. This was fatal.

Stan, of course, was the primary creative force in the film-making, and as long as he had authority the films were good, though he obviously needed collaborators, gag men, a director, and Babe Hardy. But Stan didn’t want to form a double-act and was planning to head behind the camera when the team-up was more or less imposed on him, so the actual idea of Laurel & Hardy can’t go to him.

But the other name deserving of mention is Fred Guiol. He directed DO DETECTIVES THINK?, which is the first film pairing Stan & Ollie in their trademark hats with their trademark personalities. Skretvedt has seen his original draft of WHY GIRLS LOVE SAILORS, an earlier short, in which Guiol proposed casting the boys as inseparable partners. And he directed THE SECOND HUNDRED YEARS, which plants the boys in the same cell, providing one of the few practical reasons ever provided for their sticking together.

It’s notable that Leo McCarey’s first story credit on an L&H film is PUTTING PANTS ON PHILIP, in which the boys do not have their traditional costumes and personalities.

So Guiol — a talented gag man, moderate director, and for decades after a producing partner to George Stevens, was right there on three key occasions where the boys developed their act. He wouldn’t have had the authority to declare them a team and make other directors use them as such — Roach and McCarey were surely involved in that decision.

Incidentally, lost bits of Stan’s solo movie DETAINED have just been found, and we can see Stan trying out gags that recur in THE SECOND HUNDRED YEARS.

One thing we can safely conclude Leo contributed to the team-up was the escalating tit-for-tat gag, which seems to have multiple antecedents in his own life, from his father’s staged riots in the boxing ring, where all the local newsboys would throw in their shoes and fight to retrieve a matching pair, to an incident with a bow tie started by Mabel Normand, escalating into a clothes-ripping frenzy that destroyed the collective evening dress of an entire New York night club. Even if the slow-burn comedy of retaliation were McCarey’s sole contribution to L&H, that would be enough to earn him immortality.

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The Sunday Intertitle: The Flamingo Kid

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 1, 2017 by dcairns

 

SLIPPING WIVES is supposed to be a star vehicle for Priscilla Dean, who used to be big — she was in OUTSIDE THE LAW and WHITE TIGER for Tod Browning. But gagman-director Fred Guiol can’t find much business for her, which means the slack gets taken up by Stan Laurel as the traveling salesman and Oliver Hardy as the butler. The two get quite a lot of scenes together, most of them roughhouse stuff, but the idea of them as a team hasn’t quite taken hold yet. It’s only 1927.

An artist’s wife wants to make her neglectful husband jealous, and Stan is enlisted as faux-respondent. The intertitle greeting his entrance seems like a paraphrase of whatever Buster Keaton was spoofing in HIS first intertitle as a solo comedian, in THE ‘HIGH SIGN’. Was this “came from nowhere” line a famous title card for William S. Hart or someone like that? Lost to time?

There are several good laughs in this but it’s not quite there yet — Stan and Ollie’s hairstyles would be enough to confirm that. But the story came in handy — THE FIXER UPPERS reuses a good part of it. Hard-bitten vamp Mae Busch recruits greetings card salesman Babe Hardy as faux beau in this one, and Charles “Ming the Merciless” Middleton is hilariously cast as the husband. And the stakes are raised tremendously: Middleton, a crack shot, challenges Ollie the interloper to duel to the death with pistols at midnight.

In the local artist’s bar, Stan blows the foam from his beer into Ollie’s lap, causing him to complain that not only has he got to die, but that Stan is making his last moments miserable. Which is indeed Stan’s purpose in life, though he’s unaware of it. The boys resolve not to keep the fatal rendezvous, but just then they meet an old acquaintance from reel one, comedy dipsomaniac Arthur Housman.

Cut to the boys, now completely drunk, being delivered by cops to Middleton’s house. The cops found the card Chas. presented in Ollie’s pocket and think this is his address. With the perfect logic of a nightmare, Ollie will awaken at exactly the hour he’s to be shot at, in just the place it’s scheduled to occur.

As always with matters concerning Ollie’s fate, it gets worse. Busch convinces her  grim-visaged, overly declamatory husband that she was only fooling to make him jealous — instants before Stan’s snoring gives away the boys’ presence in the marital bed itself. You see the brilliance of it: the explanation has been given once, and believed, which means it won’t be accepted a second time, even if true. This obeys a screenwriting principle that if any good luck should befall your protagonist, it must happen at the most inopportune, or indeed disastrous, moment.

The climax of the film isn’t quite up to the middle act, but it’s all very enjoyable. Hard to believe this was made right alongside the disappointing BONNIE SCOTLAND. That moment of strongest suspense — the boys in a room with a deadly enemy, but as yet undiscovered — is done even better in the earlier SCRAM!, where it’s kind of extended for the better part of the film. Haven’t seen that one since I was a kid, when it caused my mother, a vulnerable target for comic suspense (she screams at Harold Lloyd human fly stuff) to have near fits.