Archive for James Finlayson

The Sunday Intertitle: Primitive Man

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on December 17, 2017 by dcairns

Was there some kind of rule compelling all great silent comedians to make a film set in the stone age? I’m not aware of a Harold Lloyd variant, but Chaplin had HIS PREHISTORIC PAST as early as 1914 (was he the very first comedian to don furs and act Neanderthal?), Buster Keaton ventured into THE THREE AGES in 1923, and Hal Roach, long before his ONE MILLION BC, made the rather simian comedy FLYING ELEPHANTS in 1928, featuring Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy.

Ollie is kind of hard to look at, half-naked in a fright wig, but the dainty way he plays with his club when flirting, as if it were a necktie, is adorable.

Stan also makes for a vaguely repellant sight in blonde curls. Though this movie emerged after the boys had been paired several times, in this one it takes ages for them to meet, and Stan is playing a flighty and poetic youth fairly distinct from his usual brand of simpleton.

This is probably the worst L&H silent I’ve seen, with some titles writer deciding cavemen should speak in a kind of Shakespearean/biblical/medieval argot, Stan spending fully 10% of the running time pulling cactus thorns from his arse, and actual flying elephants (OK, animated drawings) for no good reason.

We do get James Finlayson with a toothache, and a lot of prehistoric mating rituals (the cavegirl flappers are cute), but there’s such a thing as too dumb, even for the boys. Their separation, and Hal Roach’s story credit, gives the lie to his claim to have forged the team, and making Leo McCarey’s right to that honour seem more believable.

By some kind of magic, the laughs begin not with L&H’s first meeting, but immediately before, when the Finn falls down a cliff (always good value). As if the chemistry had seeped through a few rolls of celluloid from the picture’s first bit of Stan & Ollie shared screen time. Unusually, the movie seems to end with Ollie, Stan, Finn and the girl all dead, variously hurled from a precipice and eaten by a bear.

“Good or bad, handsome or ugly, rich or poor, they are all equal now.”

Advertisements

Stan By Me

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on September 29, 2017 by dcairns

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.

The Sunday Intertitle: Citrus

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on September 10, 2017 by dcairns

Stan Laurel’s citrus-based comedy, ORANGES AND LEMONS of 1923 just isn’t good enough. I’ve come around to his parody films, which are inventive and silly enough to get you over the major hurdle of No Ollie — they’re different enough, too. It’s not like there’s a role for Ollie in them. But O&L is just basic slapstick, with Stan as, effectively, his old colleague Chaplin in one of his work-based comedies. Stan, like Charlie, is a shiftless and incompetent labourer who is entertained by his own mistakes, especially when they result in his boss or even his co-workers getting pelted with fruit. The lack of solidarity with his fellow employees (see THE PAWNSHOP for instance) is tres Charlot.

(This is the shorter version on YouTube, but it has better picture quality.)

Of course, Stan’s performance isn’t. Despite having worked alongside Chaplin, he never attempted to impersonate him as far as I know. But if he’s not like the Little Tramp, he’s not much like himself, either. Some of his antics are things you might conceivably see Mr. Laurel do in a drunk scene, or some other instance of out-of-character hi-jinks, but he’s devoid of any of his signature moves, gestures and expressions. His Barrymore-Ogle-Schreck monster in DR. PYCKLE AND MR. PRYDE has more in common with the classic Stan than this cheeky chappie.

Stan DOES share a scene with a big fat chap, “Tonnage” Martin Wolfkeil — who acts like a small child, i.e. plays the Stan role. Maybe an idea started to click in Stan’s head as he inappropriately played the leader of this duo for a few seconds of screen time. (One can imagine typecasting dictating that Ollie ought to play the infantile one, with his big baby face, with Stan as the more adult half of the team. Thank God that never came to pass.) This moment feels like one of those cartoon parodies of OF MICE AND MEN — but it hadn’t been written yet. Later on, Stan, no sentimentalist, kicks this inoffensive fellow in the face.

Stan wears an amusing clown-sized sombrero for half the film but, forced to assume a disguise, steals a derby from a chap with a Chaplin moustache — is he slowly becoming himself? Seconds later, that sheepish, chin-stretching beam makes an appearance on his features.

There are only about three good laughs in this thing, but I kind of like how the title bridges the distance between London and the music hall (“…say the bells of St. Clemence”) and California and the cinema. James Finlayson appears briefly.