Archive for Laurel & Hardy

Mini-Thems

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on February 28, 2018 by dcairns

I had fond memories of Laurel & Hardy’s BRATS, but I also remembered Leslie Halliwell saying it was disappointing, arguing that because L&H are so much like big kids, seeing them as little kids removes the amusement of inappropriateness. But Leslie Halliwell was dependably wrong on every point of opinion, criticism and analysis that ever came his way, just as he was dependably right on facts. BRATS, after all, gives us the familiar life-sized Stan and Ollie, in addition to the kiddie versions, so you’re not being deprived of anything. In fact, the irony of big men with childish minds is pointed up even more, since we can see how the boys have not progressed from their infantile selves.

Actually, we don’t quite get the familiar Ollie, because he’s had to shave his moustache to play his diminutive self, Ollie Jr. So adult Ollie is wearing a fake ‘tache that looks like it was drawn on with magic marker. Its sharp definition makes it look more than usually Hitlerian, or like the improbably square blot on the window in Father Ted.

Apart from a surprising animated mouse, there are only a couple of special effects shots, but these combine with the shot-reverse-shot schema in which both sets of the boys cut together using the Famous Kuleshov Effect to convince us they’re in the same space, looking at each other, when in fact the child versions are performing on impressively scaled-up sets. The effect is to make the kiddie duo uncannily small, TOO small. Because they have adult proportions, they don’t seem quite like real children, more like the victims of Dr Cyclops.

Because of the immature (or MORE immature) variant boys on display, this one’s even more violent than usual, with little Stan consistently getting the best of it. Most wince-inducing moment is Ollie getting the metal rod of a door-knob in the eye. Even more distressing to see this happen to a “child”. Ollie checks, gingerly, to see if his eye is still there.

Little Stan also delivers a wholly deliberate eye-poke, and right at the start of the film Big Ollie accidentally pokes his OWN eye. Is this an Oedipal theme or something?

Ollie’s self-inflicted injury reminds me of a Blake Edwards quote. Attempting to explain his sometimes grisly sense of humour (who else would attempt to raise laughs from a man stabbing himself in the side with a letter-opener?), Edwards described the funniest thing he ever saw: he was sitting in a restaurant when Curt Jurgens walked in, saw him, and waved — “Hiya, Blake!” and with the same movement, stuck his thumb squarely in his eye.

It’s funny because it’s Curt Jurgens.

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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.

Rearended

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 10, 2018 by dcairns

I guess this has turned into LEO MCCAREY WEEK. Best make it official.

If 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 WEEKEND.

The second half of it, anyway. In the first half, the boys, playing sailors on shore leave, pick up a couple of flappers (Thelma Hill & Ruby Blaine) and go on a spree. There’s a brief tit-for-tat with Charlie Hall, future antagonist of THEM THAR HILLS and TIT FOR TAT, then they get embroiled in an endless traffic jam. This sequence is probably slightly longer than Godard’s famous two-tracking shot vision of hell, but it’s also much funnier, without in any way lessening the sense of the human race as a hopelessly warlike, intransigent, malicious and brainless blight on the globe.

The boys get into rows with Edgar Kennedy and other motorists, which escalate into an orgy of windscreen-smashing, headlamp-removing, and bodywork disfiguration, while the girls whoop with anarchic delight at each atrocity. I’ve always had a horror of the kind of female who sits on the sidelines and encourages male-on-male violence, but this pair seem oddly innocent in their childlike glee. It’s all just moving shapes to them, and moving shapes are lovely and funny. Their hilarity is infectious — Laurel & Hardy’s films are among the very few that can make laughter itself funny.

The boys did make a very large number of these things — pants ripping (PUTTING PANTS ON PHILIP), hat busting (in the now-lost HATS OFF), pie throwing (THE BATTLE OF THE CENTURY). This is a very good one. Story & supervision: Leo McCarey.