Friday, December 26, 2014

Babes in Toyland (aka March of the Wooden Soldiers, 1934)

Charming Laurel and Hardy classic that always makes for fun viewing around this time of the year. The second of their three operettas (coming between THE DEVIL'S BROTHER and THE BOHEMIAN GIRL), it's a little different than the other two in that there are fewer isolated comedy routines and it's less obviously a "Laurel and Hardy vehicle", but the boys are fully integrated into the story, and as a result, it stands as a really fine adaptation of the Victor Herbert operetta, albeit tailored for the team's characters.

I've seen the film more times than I can count, but I am repeatedly struck by just how well it holds up. The musical comedy plotting works quite well here. The songs are all pleasant enough, and there's scarcely a wasted moment (only the "Castle in Spain" number, occurring after the hilarious sham marriage scene, feels like it could be trimmed with little consequence), and each scene builds quite well to the thrilling climax. The finale, with the stop-motion wooden soldiers marching out of the toy shop, is a tour-de-force of special effects that hold up better than those in the Disney remake.

Part of what makes this film so special is its first-rate supporting cast, especially Henry Brandon as the villainous Barnaby. Brandon was clearly having a ball playing the dastardly villain, and he is the perfect foil for Laurel and Hardy -- managing to play the role with both a sense of genuine menace as well as over-the-top fun. Charlotte Henry and Felix Knight are appealing enough as the romantic leads that we genuinely care about the boys' efforts to help them. William Burress, as the toymaker, has a couple of great scenes with the boys that rank among the funniest in the film.

It's a wonder that the film is such a light, fun affair, given the tumultuous production problems behind the scenes. There were fierce creative differences between Hal Roach and Stan Laurel over this film, but the end result is one of the most beloved, enduring classics that Laurel and Hardy ever made.

No comments: