Archive for Me and My Pal

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.

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.