Monday, September 15, 2014

Napoleon (1909)

Extremely condensed telling of the life of Napoleon Bonaparte, covering everything from his schooldays at Brienne to his death in just 15 minutes! Produced by the Pathe company, it necessarily presents only brief tableaux, all shot in largely static compositions.

Of particular interest is the snowball fight that opens the film. Watching this scene, shot in a single take with the boys chaotically hurling the snowballs at eachother, one can't help but compare it with Abel Gance's handling of the same scene in his later film.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

That Uncertain Feeling (1941)

Middling late-career Lubitsch comedy, with Merle Oberon and Melvyn Douglas as a couple whose marriage is tested when Oberon begins to question her happiness. The humor in Donald Ogden Stewart and Walter Reisch's script is pretty mild, and Oberon and Douglas lack the chemistry to really make the material work. Burgess Meredith, however, is quite effective as the neurotic, temperamental concert pianist who comes between the couple. Overall it feels less like a film by Lubitsch, and more like a work by a lesser director attempting to make a comedy in the Lubitsch style.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Nothing But the Truth (1929)

Roaring '20s farce about an affable and ambitious young stockbroker (Richard Dix) with a penchant for stretching the truth who enters into a bet for $10,000 that he can go 24 hours without telling a single lie, which predictably leads to all sorts of complications.

It's a fine premise for a comedy, with the bet providing a fun plot device reminiscent of BREWSTER'S MILLIONS. However, Victor Schertzinger's direction lacks the energy and quick pacing required of a madcap farce like this, not helped by the primitive qualities of the early sound technology, and Dix seems rather awkward in this rare comic turn. The production is enlivened by some nice art deco set design, pre-code dialogue (by William Collier Sr.), and good supporting cast including Berton Churchill, Helen Kane, Wynne Gibson and Ned Sparks. Produced by Paramount at their Long Island Studio in New York.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Inner Sanctum (1948)

I'm a sucker for old time radio dramas, and one of my favorite of these is "Inner Sanctum". This film borrows only the title from the series; the story is an original, and while the premise -- about a man on the run after accidentally killing his girlfriend and hiding out in a boarding house that just happens to belong to the mother of the boy who witnessed the murder -- would have made an effective half hour episode, it loses tension and the suspense lags even with its short 62 minute running time.

The always-reliable Lew Landers brings his usual craftsmanship to the direction, which is unobtrusive but effective. Charles Russell and Mary Beth Hughes make for bland leads, with the best performances coming from the supporting cast which includes Nana Bryant, Lee Patrick, Billy House and Roscoe Ates (here minus his trademark stutter). An average little suspense thriller; fans should stick to the radio program.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

The Bohemian Girl (1936)

This comedy version of the Balfe opera starring Laurel and Hardy is not one of the team's best features, but is still quite enjoyable. By this point in their career, they had moved into making features exclusively, and producer Hal Roach was eager to repeat the success of THE DEVIL'S BROTHER from three years earlier by putting them into another lavishly-produced comic operetta.

The result is a funny if uneven film that, despite being based on an established stage property, is ultimately tailored as a vehicle for Laurel and Hardy, and thus is mainly of interest to fans of the team. It follows the general story of the opera with the boys as the gypsies who raise a nobleman's kidnapped daughter as their own, but the comic scenes are for the most part isolated sharply from the main "plot" scenes. It's less a parody and more a straight telling of the story with the comedy sandwiched in.

While it is undoubtedly heavy on plot and music, Laurel and Hardy's scenes contain some excellent comic material. Highlights include the boys' attempt at telling fortunes, Oliver's altercations with shrewish wife Mae Busch, and Stan bottling wine and getting increasingly tipsy in the process (a particularly brilliant scene that ranks as one of Laurel's finest moments in any of their films). The funniest moment is also the simplest: Oliver sees Stan eating a banana and tells him to give him part of it, and Stan casually hands him the peel, which Oliver just tosses away with a resigned shrug. A little gag like that is all they need to reduce me to tears of laughter.

Monday, September 08, 2014

The Bohemian Girl (1922)

British silent film adaptation of the Michael W. Balfe opera about the daughter of an Austrian nobleman -- kidnapped in childhood by gypsies -- who, unaware of her royal heritage, falls in love with a young renegade Polish soldier seeking refuge in the gypsies' band from her father's troops. Upon learning her true identity, the girl is torn between her noble background and her love for the young soldier. The film boasts an impressive cast, including Gladys Cooper, Ivor Novello, C. Aubrey Smith, Constance Collier, and celebrated English theater star Ellen Terry in a rare screen appearance.

Harley Knoles' direction is generally unremarkable, favoring wide, static compositions and flat lighting throughout, and relies too heavily on title cards to convey the plot. Still, it's undeniably an elaborately-produced film with its lavish period settings and costumes, and there is one camera move -- a high-angle tracking shot across the length of the ballroom set -- that stands out as a singularly impressive bit of technical flourish. It also reflects the international talent -- both in front of and behind the camera -- that English films of this period frequently employed, and stands as an interesting work in the all-too-often neglected history of British silent cinema. Interestingly, the assistant director was Josef von Sternberg, and it's tempting to consider what he could have done with the material if given the opportunity. Originally released at eight reels, surviving copies are missing the first two reels.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Just Imagine (1930)

Sci-fi musical comedy set in New York City of 1980, where citizens are identified only by their serial number and marriages are arranged by the state. Trying to describe the plot of this zany film is a bit complicated: it involves a young man, J-21 (John Garrick), who volunteers for an experimental mission to Mars after the court rejects his application to marry his true love, LN-18 (Maureen O'Sullivan). But this set-up is just a pretense for a parade of bouncy Brown-DeSylva-Henderson tunes, neat retro special effects, pre-code sex jokes, and a chorus of scantily-clad Martian dancing girls.

There's also a visitor from the past (1930, that is) played by comedian El Brendel, who is brought back to life as part of a scientific experiment and then unceremoniously left to fend for himself as soon as the doctor is through with him, and one's enjoyment of the film may depend on one's tolerance for Brendel's vaudeville shtick delivered in his trademark "Swedish" accent, a little of which can go a long way. David Butler's direction keeps the show moving at a good pace, and the music numbers benefit from clever choreography by Seymour Felix. However, the main attraction here is the set design by Stephen Goosson and Ralph Hammeras, a delirious blend of Art Deco and Futurism that is among the very best of its kind and recalls Fritz Lang's METROPOLIS. Good, pre-code fun.

The Canary Murder Case (1929)

First of the "Philo Vance" screen adaptations, starring William Powell as S.S. Van Dine's suave, urbane sleuth as he uncovers the murderer of a blackmailing showgirl known as "The Canary". Originally made as a silent film and directed by Malcolm St. Clair, it was re-tooled as a talkie by Paramount, with some of the silent footage dubbed, and new scenes shot with synchronized sound by director Frank Tuttle. The result is a sometimes awkward and static hybrid that is nonetheless a solid and entertaining whodunit.

Powell's remarkably assured and comfortable performance in this early talkie demonstrates the qualities that would soon make him a major star, and he would go on to play Vance again in three more films. The supporting cast includes James Hall as a young man blackmailed by the scheming showgirl, Jean Arthur as his girlfriend, Ned Sparks as the showgirl's gangster husband, Eugene Pallette as sputtering Sgt. Heath, and silent screen icon Louise Brooks in a brief but memorable role as "The Canary" of the title.

Though Brooks filmed her scenes for the silent version, disagreements with Paramount caused her to refuse to come back to dub her lines, so her dialogue is instead spoken by Margaret Livingston. This was Brooks' final film before leaving for a brief but celebrated career in Germany, where she famously made two films with director G.W. Pabst. Though she would return shortly afterward, her career in Hollywood never recovered and she retired in 1938.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

The Laurel and Hardy Sound Shorts (1934-35)

A strange little two-reeler, with Hardy answering an ad in the personals to marry a wealthy widow (Mae Busch). He soon learns that she has married seven other men named Oliver before her, all of whom met with death by having their throats cut, and that he is "Oliver the Eighth". English comedian Jack Barty is quite effective as the loopy butler. He plays cards with an invisible deck, and serves the boys an invisible meal (a surreal and funny sequence that looks forward to their synthetic meal in the later SAPS AT SEA). Hardy, ever the gentleman and not wanting to be rude, goes along with the charade, and of course Laurel actually begins to enjoy the non-existent "food".

Next the boys are off to bed, and rig an elaborate set-up to keep eachother awake in case the widow comes in to cut Ollie's throat during the night. Of course, Ollie is soon distracted from the fear of having his throat cut by Stan's constant interruptions and near-fatal accidents with a shotgun ("Isn't it bad enough that I'm going to have my throat cut without you trying to shoot me first!"). This sequence also contains a great line that sums up Stan's ability to convey an odd logic even through illogical-sounding statements: when Ollie finds Stan sleeping instead of watching the door, Stan tells him, "I was dreaming that I was awake, and then I woke up and found myself asleep".

Released in England as THE PRIVATE LIFE OF OLIVER THE EIGHTH, its title a joke on Alexander Korda's hit film THE PRIVATE LIFE OF HENRY VIII, released the year before.

Well-constructed and solid comedy with Laurel and Hardy as chief witnesses in the trial of gangster Butch Long that puts him behind bars for life. Butch warns the boys that he will break out and get even with them if it's the last thing he does. Deciding to flee town, the pair advertise for a companion on their journey to help share expenses, and the person who answers the ad turns out to be Butch's girlfriend, who is helping her fugitive boyfriend get away. The ending contains another one of those grim sight gags Laurel liked to include every so often: Butch lives up to his promise of tearing the boys' legs off and tying them around their necks! Despite the grotesque final gag and some pretty brutal slapstick (Walter Long is poked with a drill and scorched by a blowtorch), this is one of the team's funnier efforts.

There's a little moment I noticed for the first time on this viewing, when Laurel opens a window, and a breeze blows the curtains open slightly. It's the kind of thing I have missed through many viewings over the years, and has absolutely nothing to the story or gags, but it's a good example of the care and attention to detail that went into making these films.

A top-notch, leisurely-paced little short, with Stan and Ollie taking a trip into the mountains while Ollie recovers from a case of gout. With this film, they returned to the kind of escalating "tit-for-tat" sequence that had appeared in many of their best silents, but which they'd never quite figured out how to adapt to sound. Here, they solve that problem, by reducing the scale and focusing on a smaller situation and the reactions by each character after each new attack has been delivered, thereby avoiding the problem of staging large-scale battles that relied on frenetic action and quicker editing between the various participants.

Another "fright" comedy, a format that Laurel and Hardy had pretty well exhausted by this point and that was never particularly suited to their style of humor in the first place. Here the boys are shanghaied into sailing on a supposedly haunted ship. Fright comedy requires a certain degree of broadness that was not really compatible with Laurel and Hardy's more subtle, character-driven approach. In order to work, the "scares" must be genuine and effective enough to really be frightening, so that the comedian's reaction then diffuses the horror, and allows the audience to enjoy a nervous laugh out of relief. Abbott and Costello took one approach in their horror comedies, with Costello usually scared speechless, and wildly mugging and gesticulating in panic when confronted by a monster which would be relieved when Abbott re-entered the scene and the monster would disappear. Bob Hope, in films like THE GHOST BREAKERS, took another approach, delivering clever one-liners to diffuse the spooky proceedings.

Laurel and Hardy never needed such situations from which to derive laughs, as this film demonstrates. They created their own chaos to react to. THE LIVE GHOST is not one of their weakest efforts, however, and in fact contains some very funny moments, but the broad, almost cartoonish material could have been played as well by other comedians.

A sequel to THEM THAR HILLS, with the boys running an electronics store next to Charlie Hall and Mae Busch's supermarket. Continuing their feud from the previous film, the premise runs out of steam a bit before the two reels are over, but there are still plenty of good gags here. The best is a running joke with an affable little shoplifter systematically cleaning out the inventory of the boys' shop. Contains the classic "Laurelism": "He who filters your good name steals trash."

I've never particularly cared for this one, although I must admit I find it interesting that the premise is so unusual and rather complex, especially considering that it was the second-to-last short that the team made. It's a romantic farce with the boys as greeting card salesmen that come across an unhappily married woman, whose husband - a temperamental artist - has been ignoring her. Ollie agrees to help her out by allowing her husband to think they're having an affair, which will re-ignite the artist's passion for his wife. Instead, it ignites his fierce temper, as he challenges Ollie to a duel to the death. This one feels like a case of compensating for a lack of ideas by creating an unnecessarily complicated plot with an overwritten script, and with its lackluster ending, is one of their most forgettable films.

Laurel and Hardy's final starring short is a charming little domestic comedy that contains a rather disjointed and loose plot, but it's funny enough that it hardly matters. There are two sequences in this film that should be mentioned as being among the finest the boys ever did. The first involves Stan, Ollie, Daphne Pollard and James Finlayson trying to track down what happened to the money for a furniture payment. It requires a verbal dexterity and precision of logic that, like the best of the Abbott and Costello routines, is impressive for the comedians' ability to pull it off successfully. The second is the auction sequence that finds Stan and Ollie bidding against each other, which works so well because it's perfectly in character for them.  The final gag, in which the boys swap personalities after a botched blood transfusion, is a cute wrap-up to their last starring short comedy.

Friday, September 05, 2014

The Black Hand (1906)

"Ripped from the headlines" crime drama about a group of extortionists who threaten to harm a local businessman's daughter unless he pays them off; when he refuses, they kidnap her and hold her for ransom until the police rescue her.

Photographed by Billy Bitzer with a documentary-like authenticity, especially in the kidnapping scene, which plays out in an extended long take as pedestrians move about in the background until the girl enters the shot and is whisked away by the gangsters in a waiting carriage. The action unfolds like a procedural, depicting in great detail the methods of the police to track and rescue the girl. The direction and photography maintain a realistic style throughout, though the scenes shot on painted sets lack the immediacy of the street scenes.

This was one of the many narrative films directed by Wallace McCutcheon for the Biograph company before Griffith's arrival, and a good argument could be made that it was he, rather than Porter, who played the more significant role in establishing storytelling approaches in early American cinema.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

The Laurel and Hardy Sound Shorts (1933)

After the classic TOWED IN A HOLE, it's disappointing that the team's next effort should be this forced, gimmicky domestic comedy centered around the concept of the boys playing both themselves and their own wives. It doesn't help any that the voices of Stan and Ollie's "wives" are annoyingly dubbed for no good reason, which only distracts from both the performances and the pacing. The highlight of this otherwise lackluster short is the scene in which Stan goes out for ice-cream and uses up all his money calling home to ask what flavors to get. Maybe my least favorite of the sound shorts they made for Hal Roach.

This is another one of their comedies constructed around milking the potential of a single comic situation; in this case, the piecing together of a giant jigsaw puzzle. The set-up involves Ollie preparing for his wedding to his boss's daughter, which will catapult him into the social stratosphere, when Stan surprises him with a jigsaw puzzle as a wedding present. Before long, the boys get distracted trying to put the puzzle together, and eventually everyone from the butler to the local cop join in, and the wedding is delayed as they search for a missing puzzle piece. It sounds funnier than it is, however, for once the writers establish the situation, it never really quite builds enough momentum as it nears its rather weak and anti-climactic conclusion.

Since their characters were frequently if often inadvertently finding themselves on the wrong side of the law, it was an interesting departure to cast Laurel and Hardy as policemen. There are some very clever moments here, such as officer Laurel coming across a safecracker at work, and - not comprehending the situation - offering to help him open the safe. When Hardy finally intervenes and issues a summons for the charges, the safecracker argues with the boys over which day best suits his busy schedule to appear in court! The second half of the film is an extended slapstick sequence with Stan and Ollie attempting to apprehend the Chief of Police, whom they've mistaken for a burglar trying to break into his own home. Not top-tier Laurel and Hardy, but very funny.

Certainly one of the team's finest shorts. The premise of Laurel and Hardy working at a sawmill is all the set-up they need for one brilliant sequence after another. The opening scene, with the boys happily and casually driving to work, exemplifies the kind of joyful simplicity that marked their best work. This one also contains an exceptional number of really funny and inventive sight gags, from Hardy being caught in the debris disposal system, to the boys' car being sawed in half. Like TOWED IN A HOLE, this one demonstrates the kind of material that Laurel and Hardy excelled at more than anything else.

Almost certainly the strangest film the boys ever made, right up there with OLIVER THE EIGHTH. Laurel and Hardy are chimney sweeps called out to the home of a mad scientist (Lucien Littlefield), who is experimenting with an age-reversal formula. The scenes of Stan and Ollie cleaning the chimney with characteristically disastrous results are perfectly funny and enjoyable; why they felt compelled to add the mad scientist subplot is a bit of a mystery, as it's neither particularly interesting nor particularly funny. The whole film is really quite uneven, moving between straight slapstick and cartoonish, slightly surreal fright comedy with mixed results.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

The Laurel and Hardy Sound Shorts (1932)

Ranks alongside BIG BUSINESS and THE MUSIC BOX as one of the truly great Laurel and Hardy films. The boys' inability to clean up the house without reducing it to a shambles in the process sums up the essence of their comedy, and the endless succession of assaults on Hardy's dignity take on epic proportions here. Perhaps the highest compliment one can pay is that they make it look so easy.

Never cited as one of the team's better efforts, usually due to its grim tone and unpleasant atmosphere. With its story of the boys rescuing a cleaning girl from a forced marriage to brutish Walter Long, the film plays like a send-up of old melodramas. The unpleasantness of the first half is offset a bit by the comic boxing-match that takes up the second half, though this scene too is a bit of a disappointment, and lacks the grace and timing of the prizefight sequence from their earlier THE BATTLE OF THE CENTURY. Overall one of their least inspired efforts, not helped by the uncharacteristically dark tone.

1932 was certainly a good year for Laurel and Hardy. The team managed to produce not one but three of the very best works of their entire career. So much has already been written on this film that it is difficult to add anything new. From as simple a situation as trying to move a piano up a staircase, Laurel and Hardy mine the depths of the comic possibilities to be found in the eternal struggle of trying to succeed at a task and failing. Like some of the best W.C. Fields comedies in this respect, the boys' humor remains as fresh and relevant as ever because it speaks to something universal and timeless.

One of the team's stranger efforts, though still pretty funny. When James Finlayson's circus closes down, the employees each get to take home a part of the show in lieu of payment. Laurel gets the flea circus, while Hardy is stuck with Ethel the performing chimp. Looking for a place to stay, the boys sneak Ethel into a seedy boarding house while hiding her from the landlord. A slight re-working of their earlier comedies ANGORA LOVE and LAUGHING GRAVY, this one works as well as it does because of the expressive and funny performance of Charles Gemora, Hollywood's number one gorilla impersonator, in the title role. Other highlights include Hardy in a tutu being chased by a lion, Laurel's flea circus getting loose in bed, and Ethel's impromptu ballet number, which borders on the surreal. It also contains some decidedly risque pre-code humor, such as the landlord believing that the boys' are hiding his wife in their room, and the chimp snuggling with Hardy in bed.

This one gets less funny with each viewing for me. The idea of Stan visiting Ollie in the hospital is loaded with potential, but they just never quite make the most of it. And the finale, with the wild car chase shot entirely in front of a process screen, fails to deliver either the necessary thrills, or the kind of reflexive humor that W.C. Fields got out of similar back projection scenes in THE FATAL GLASS OF BEER or MAN ON THE FLYING TRAPEZE. Still, it's a solid if minor effort, and there's plenty of fun moments to enjoy here -- it just doesn't hold up as well for me over repeated viewings compared to their best work. It does contain one of Laurel's best "food" sequences, where he manages to reduce me to hysterics just by eating a hard-boiled egg on screen.

Like OUR WIFE, this is another one of the team's situation comedies that tends to get overlooked when mentioning their funniest films. It's an expertly written and performed farce, and is one of their few films that feels almost like an ensemble piece, with the fine supporting performances of Vivian Oakland, Rychard Cramer and Arthur Housman contributing greatly to the fun.

Another one of those films that seems to be as much about Laurel and Hardy exploring their characters as it is the gags and situations. Ollie adopts a baby thinking it will help save his marriage; however, when he comes home with the baby, he finds his wife has left him, and he talks Stan in to staying to help him raise it. Not one of the team's more inspired or memorable efforts, and the situation never quite builds much comic momentum. Contains the classic pre-code exchange in which Ollie tells Stan that his wife complains that he thinks more of him than he does of her. "You do, don't you?", Stan asks. Ollie replies, "Well, we won't go into that."

The third Laurel and Hardy classic released in 1932. The boys are fish sellers who decide to cut out the middleman by catching their own fish, so they pick out an old boat to restore and go about repairing it with predictably disastrous results. Watching this film, one gets the sense that the team really had reached an artistic peak around this point, at least as far as their sound films are concerned (certainly their work in the late silent period of 1928-29 achieved a remarkable consistency of high quality, and produced at least two classics). Every movement, every gag and every bit of slapstick is so perfectly choreographed, timed and executed that you really do get the sense of watching two great artists at the very top of their game, working with utter confidence and mastery of their craft. Due in no small part to Laurel's creative guidance and expert filmmaking craftsmanship, it's remarkable how seamless the formal aspects of their films had become by this point compared with their earlier talkies of just a couple years prior. Their best directors achieve a real invisibility of style that never calls attention to itself and always works to emphasize the performances and gags.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Jackie Brown (1997)

Probably my favorite Tarantino film. I didn't see this one until after I had seen the rest of his filmography, and had heard mixed reactions toward it even from confirmed Tarantino fans, but I was pleasantly surprised by it. Coming between his earlier works and the KILL BILL films, it forgoes stylistic excess in favor of plot and character. Working from Elmore Leonard's novel "Rum Punch" as his source material, Tarantino creates an interesting cinematic pastiche borrowing from earlier crime dramas and the Blaxploitation genre, and deftly combines the two with his assured direction. Despite its 2 1/2 hour running time, it never lags and the suspenseful climax is particularly well-handled in being presented from the different perspectives of the characters involved.  Great cast including Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster, Robert De Niro and Bridget Fonda, among others. Reportedly Leonard's own favorite among the many film adaptations of his work.

Monday, September 01, 2014

The Laurel and Hardy Sound Shorts (1931)

One of the team's least inspired efforts. This is another film frequently cited as a contender for their weakest, specifically for its protracted sequence with Stan trying to remove a tight boot from Ollie's foot. Usually they could mine a simple situation like this for all its comic potential, but in this case, the results are only mildly amusing and wear thin quickly. The fact that it's a three-reeler doesn't help the pacing issue. Unlike an early talkie such as BERTH MARKS, say, where they were still adapting to sound film, this one feels like a step backward after they had already made great progress in the new medium.

This is one of Laurel and Hardy's more interesting films, and probably their best film from 1931. It's a remake of their silent LOVE 'EM AND WEEP (1927), with Hardy as a mayoral candidate who finds his campaign threatened by the re-appearance of an old flame. Laurel has to keep her at bay while Hardy entertains important political guests at his home. Mae Busch is especially effective here as the woman from Hardy's past, and James Finlayson has one of his funniest roles as Hardy's suspicious butler. Usually in their comedies, the boys start out with nothing and end up with nothing again at the end of the film, whereas this one begins with them as successful businessmen in positions of power and prestige, providing an added gravity to the pitfalls they encounter.

A re-working of their silent ANGORA LOVE, this is another poignantly funny comedy, like BELOW ZERO before it, that focuses as much on their characters as it does the gags and situations. The premise is simple: the boys try to hide their beloved dog in a seedy boarding house whose landlord has a strict "no dogs allowed" policy. Charlie Hall, playing the landlord, brings the perfect mix of humor and menace to the part. It does contain one of those grim endings - with the landlord blowing his brains out after learning that he and the boys will have to be quarantined inside the house together for two months - that represents the kind of dark comedy the team dabbled in occasionally. An alternate ending was discovered in which Laurel inherits a fortune on condition that he sever all ties with Hardy, which is another indication that they were just as interested in exploring the characters here as they were in creating solid laughs.

An oddly overlooked title in the Laurel and Hardy canon. It seems that their farce comedies tend to inspire less passionate reactions from fans and critics, probably because they do not contain the kind of really dexterous slapstick and distilled, almost poetic simplicity of shorts like HELPMATES or THE MUSIC BOX. But this is one of their very best in the farce tradition. Unlike ANOTHER FINE MESS or CHICKENS COME HOME, the situation here is simple: Ollie can't marry his sweetheart because her father (James Finlayson) objects, so they decide to elope (with Stan's help, of course). There's a great sight gag when Laurel hires a tiny car for Hardy and his fiancee to make their escape in, and the three of them are forced to pile inside, with Laurel pressed up against the windshield. But the highlight is the cameo appearance by Ben Turpin as the justice of the peace who performs the marriage ceremony with predictably mixed-up results.

Of all the Laurel and Hardy comedies, this was one of the very last ones that I saw. For some reason, I never came across it on TV, nor on any of the video releases, and only saw it for the first time a decade ago, in a 16mm print at a Sons of the Desert tent screening. Perhaps because of this, it doesn't stick in my mind as clearly as their films I've seen many times over the years. The pacing lacks the requisite energy, and the situations feel underdeveloped and even tired. It also features one of those strange, surreal endings the team employed occasionally, with Laurel disappearing down the bathtub drain after Hardy pulls the plug. Contains the classic "ice cream shop" routine, where the boys proceed to ask Charlie Hall for every flavor that he's out of.

One of the Laurel and Hardy's more interesting efforts, if not one of their funniest. The exposition required by the plot contrivances slow things down a little, but the comedy is good-natured and gentle, at least until the unexpectedly violent climax! Here the boys are even more down-on-their-luck than usual, victims of the Depression, which gives the comedy an air of pathos.

In order to forget the lover who has jilted him, Hardy enlists in the Foreign Legion, and insists that Stan join up with him. Much of the humor is pretty standard service comedy stuff, combined with very mild satire of legionnaire pictures such as BEAU GESTE. The best scenes are the boys' interactions with stern commandant Charles Middleton. There doesn't seem to be enough material to really justify the four-reel length, and the ending is disappointingly weak stuff, though the running joke of all the men joining the legion to forget the same woman results in a funny wrap-up gag. Overall, it's one of their weakest efforts. The basic premise was later re-worked as THE FLYING DEUCES (1939).