Archive for Stan Laurel

The Sunday Intertitle: Dropping Bricks

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on October 8, 2017 by dcairns

Having posted about Stan Laurel as “Ferdinand Flamingo” last week, it seems only right to mention his star turn as Ferdinand Finkleberry in DO DETECTIVES THINK?, a Laurel & Hardy movie I seem doomed to return to perpetually. Interesting that Ferdie is types as being slightly less awful at detection than his partner, played by Ollie. A dubious ranking.

Interesting also that the name Ferdinand was used twice, as if Stan or the title-writer felt it was specially apposite. In the talkies, of course, and even in many of the silents starting in 1928, Stan goes by his own name, as does Ollie — as the partnership brought out the platonic ideal versions of the actors’ comic personalities, hiding under pseudonyms came to seem like an obstruction. I’m not sure why Ferdinand was ever considered right for Stan, though. To me it suggests flamboyance, which you might get in an early Laurel vehicle if he’s parodying Valentino or someone, but by the time of this film, that wasn’t even a memory.

While I’m counting Ferdinands, indulge me as I count bricks also. Some backstory. L&H were on TV a whole lot when I was a kid. Then they went away — some kind of rights dispute. Some years into this fallow period, a program of shorts was screened at the Ross Bandstand in Princes Street Gardens. My best friend and I attended this open-air showing on a whim, and sat in light drizzle watching DIRTY WORK and laughing so hard it felt life-endangering. (We had a similar rediscovery when we saw a selection of Looney Tunes at the Filmhouse, presented by Chuck Jones. A transfiguring experience.)

One thing that really killed me was the seemingly endless succession of bricks falling on Ollie’s head — a bit of durational comedy that got funnier the more over-extended it got. So on this latest viewing I decided to count the bricks.

To my amazement, the initial, seemingly eternal cycle of falling masonry comprises only four bricks, bouncing sharply off Ollie’s cranium in as many seconds. And yet, to the unsuspecting and susceptible viewer, this seems to last an unbelievable age, with more and bigger laughs crammed into those moments than you can recall expelling in your previous existence on earth.

After the sequence of four bricks at regular intervals, Ollie believes the assault is over and — extremely foolishly — looks up. And receives a fifth brick in the face. Then he gives Stan a slow-burn look of resentment. He picks up a brick and — a very Ollie gesture — dusts it off, preparatory to raising it in a threatening manner. At which point God punishes him with a sixth brick. When Stan, also foolishly, ventures closer, Ollie gives him a vicious crack on the shin with that brick he was holding, and is punished again with a veritable downpour of brickwork, a whole chimney’s worth, impossible to count.

I’m still astounded, though, that what I remember as about twenty bricks was a mere six. Good work, boys.

 

Advertisements

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.

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.