Archive for Laurel & Hardy

Get Packing

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 8, 2019 by dcairns

PACK UP YOUR TROUBLES seems to confirm George Marshall’s suitability as a Laurel & Hardy director: good shots right from the start. Not artsy, but striking, and putting into imagery some of what we feel about the characters.

He also makes a damn good sneering villain. I was grateful Stan didn’t follow his usual practice of SHOWING the horrible fate the boys are threatened with… (cut throats, in this case: well, there’s no obvious slapstick iteration of THAT calamity).

In fact, the film is co-credited to Leo McCarey’s tragic brother Ray, who nobody at Roach rated very highly, and the IMDb proposes Harry Black and Lloyd French as unindicted co-conspirators. But I think there’s enough evidence of Marshall’s style to attribute the visual grace notes to his influence.

The plot requires Stan & Ollie to have a couple of friends from the “straight world.” Little Jackie Lyn Dufton works well as an addition to the team: although looking after a kid kind of limits the mayhem the buys can get up to, what’s good about her is she’s NO HELP. A bit like Laughing Gravy, she stands almost as an embodiment of their bond: she is both inconvenient and adorable. Her father has to be gotten rid of for plot reasons early on, and a good thing too: he violates a cardinal rule of their comic universe, by being a regular joe who isn’t annoyed by their ineptitude. This is fantasy is only sustainable by giving him as little real interaction with the boys as possible.

(As an example of the correct use of an unsympathetic world, in this movie the army offers no supportive camaraderie, and an officer deliberately tries to get the boys killed by the enemy because they irritate him.)

The rest of the time the support is provided by growling heavies like Marshall, and a nice range of stooges and apoplectic minor clowns, and though it’s nowhere near as good as their top ten shorts, it feels enough like them (complete with non-stop Marvin Hatley music) and has just enough narrative cohesion and funny sequences to sustain a warm glow for 68 minutes.

Our Laurel & Hardy podcast is here.

PACK UP YOUR TROUBLES stars Rhubarb Vaselino; J. Piedmont Mumblethunder; Mickey Finn; Mrs. Wiggs; Ming the Merciless; Professor Gordon; Tootsie Malone; Og Oggilby; Joe Pettibone; Mrs. Hudson; and Mr. Hall.

United We Fall

Posted in FILM with tags , on March 7, 2019 by dcairns

Stan and Ollie will form the basis of our new Shadowcast, UNITED WE FALL, a wide-ranging discussion with special guest Stephen C. Horne.

Here it is!

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!”