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Biopics tend to be either really good or really bad. Either way, they usually make me cry for various reasons.
In 2007, when I first watched Not Only But Always, Channel 4’s 2004 film about Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, I cried a lot. Double acts have always made me emotional, and when you combine one of my favorite double acts ever with high-quality British television, you get a tearjerker.
The BBC’s going to make me cry a lot more in 2014 because they’ve got a biopic coming up about a double act with a really good relationship that tells a story from later in their lives about their friendship.
BBC One has commissioned Stan And Ollie, a biopic focused on the later years of Laurel and Hardy, the double act who became famous worldwide for their slapstick comedy films.
The 90-minute show, which is being overseen the corporation’s in-house comedy department, aims to tell the tale of the duo’s 1953 UK tour.
The one-off TV episode has been written by Jeff Pope, who recently worked on the movie Philomena, and prior to that the TV comedies The Security Men and The Fattest Man In Britain.
Stan Laurel was an Englishman, whilst Oliver Hardy was American. Laurel entered the world of theatre aged 16, and set sail for America a few years later on the same ship as Charlie Chaplin with the aim of appearing in films.
He forged a successful solo career in Hollywood, however after starring in the silent short film Putting Pants in 1927 with the heavyset Harlem-born Oliver Hardy, the duo soon became a double-act. As a team, they went on to perform in 107 films, including the likes of Big Business, and became an inspiration to generations of comics, including Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise.
Speaking about the new production, the BBC say: “It tells the story of the duo’s 1953 UK tour. Their shtick – Stan the wide-eyed ingénue, Ollie the pompous fool, their meticulously rehearsed physical routines and their charming musical numbers had made them superstars all over Europe, South America and beyond. However, a split from their controlling mentor, the vagaries of studio politics and a run of poorly received films had resulted in their star falling. A series of acrimonious divorces, alimony battles and Oliver Hardy’s failing health didn’t help.
“The British tour was supposed to relieve some of the gloom and, despite numerous glitches, the public loved them. Audiences grew and grew as word spread that Laurel and Hardy were back and as funny as ever and, as audiences swelled, so did morale. But as their careers and friendship blossomed, disaster struck as Ollie suffered a heart attack. He tried to carry on performing on the tour, but it became clear that he was too ill. Replacement performers were found to fill in but, without Stan and Ollie’s charm and warmth, the shows simply weren’t the same.
“Eventually, with it clear that Hardy’s health problems were serious, Stan was offered the chance to perform alone, but refused. He realised that neither worked without the other, that they were so much more together than they were apart. Appreciating the sacrifice made by his friend, Ollie roused himself from his sickbed for a few last, triumphant performances, the very last of their extraordinary career.
“Ollie died not long afterwards and Stan never performed again, but their films endure and are still popular all over the world half a century later.”
Charlotte Moore, the Controller of BBC One, says: “Stan And Ollie demonstrates the fabulous range of comedy on BBC One. Written by Jeff Pope, this is a poignant single film about one of Britain’s best loved double-acts.”
BBC Comedy Commissioner Shane Allen adds: “Stan And Ollie is Jeff’s love letter to two pioneers and enduring giants of screen comedy. It beautifully captures the deep emotional bond forged over a lifelong partnership as they reflect on their rollercoaster careers through the prism of this final UK farewell tour. An epic story about the world’s most famous comedy double-act to date, told with great insight and heart.”
The programme will be filmed and broadcast in 2014. Casting details are expected to be announced early next year.
This was, indeed, their last overseas tour, as Babe Hardy passed in 1957, just four years after they were abroad. By this point, both of them were aging and not in the best health, but they had also become extremely close after touring together and essentially being next-door neighbors since the 1940s. At this point in their career, they really were the best of friends, and that makes this even more emotional than it is already.
Basically, I’m ready to sit there and sob for 90 minutes.
I’ve taken Stan and Babe more places now. You think a 24-year-old graduate student wouldn’t take plushies all sorts of places to pose them and whatnot, but I do. Quite a lot, actually.
For their previous adventures, you can read part 1 here.
The boys have become good friends with my cat (the famous Murphy). He likes sniffing their hair.
I take NJ Transit into the city for my commute to grad school…and now so do they. Sometimes.
Just to prove we were in Manhattan, here’s a commemorative photo.
One of my classmates who’s friends with me on Tumblr posed with the boys, too.
A few weeks later, I took the 6 train up to 96th to walk over to the Jewish Museum for the Chagall exhibit. My co-workers and I were headed over there for a work field trip because we work at a historic site that has some Chagall stained glass windows. Guess who came with me so they could see the Pelham 123 train.
That was followed up by me actually having class, so they were very tired by the end of the day. So, frankly, was I.
Sometimes they also come to work with me and keep me company when I get bored because nobody’s visiting. It’s nice to have pals around.
I’m also learning to sew properly so that I can eventually make them some friends, so we’ll see how that goes. It’s been an interesting learning process, but now that I’ve been taking sewing stuffed toys a little more seriously than I did on my previous attempts as an undergraduate I’m actually learning a thing or two about how it’s done, which means I’m improving slowly but steadily. Fingers crossed!
In between graduate school and my 80-year-old grandmother moving in with my family, things have been rather insane as of late. That being said, I’m not going to forget my duties as a historian and recast a modern comedy film for the Great Silent Recasting Blogathon!
Deciding on a film was the most difficult part. I had some ideas for a silent It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, but that film was released in late 1963 and therefore just misses the 1965 cut. I sat down and thought about my favorite post-1965 comedy films and then remembered that for Halloween I’d actually drawn a Comedian Heaven picture with four comedians who’d actually all appeared in silents – and all for Hal Roach Studios at one point.
This is what I drew:
The whole thing started because one day I realized that Harold Lloyd would have made an absolutely perfect Dr. Egon Spengler. It ended up expanding when I remembered that upon the arrival of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man Ray actually says, “I couldn’t help it,” a line often squeaked out by a Mr. Stan Laurel in moments of desperation. Since Stan and Ollie have to stay together at all costs, Ollie filled in as Venkman, and Charley Chase rounded out the group as latecomer Winston Zeddemore.
Were such a film to actually be made at Hal Roach Studios during the silent era, it would have to be after 1927 to have Stan and Ollie officially teamed up as Laurel and Hardy but before 1929, when the studio converted to sound productions. Harold Lloyd would also have to be coaxed back to work with producer Hal Roach one last time, as he’d moved on and was working independently by the late 1920s. Leo McCarey would be present to direct, so he wouldn’t have to be dragged back from anywhere.
To round out the cast, we need a couple of love interests, a villain, and an antagonist or two. Dana Barrett, Venkman’s love interest, would probably be played well by Thelma Todd, who was alternating between Paramount and First National in the late 1920s but was at Hal Roach Studios by 1929, as she appears in Unaccustomed As We Are with Stan and Ollie (their first talking film). Thelma’s certainly adept at playing comedic romantic leads (as her work with the Marx Brothers shows), so we’ll have her play Dana. For Janine Melnitz, the Ghostbusters’ secretary who eventually ends up dating Egon, I thought it would be particularly cute to bring Harold Lloyd’s real-life wife Mildred Davis out of retirement (she briefly did return to the screen in 1927) and have her fill the role because Harold, as mentioned above, is the perfect Egon.
With those two cast, we need to find someone to play Dana’s awkward neighbor Louis Tully. Considering Rick Moranis’s small size, Charlie Hall might be a nice fit height-wise. For the opposing forces, antagonistic lawyer Walter Peck would be played to perfection by Edgar Kennedy, the mayor could be played by the great James Finlayson just because the idea of Fin as the mayor of New York is hilarious, and Gozer’s physical form could be portrayed by – who else? – Mae Busch.
It could work, I suppose, if those nuclear streams used technology that was available at the time – special magnets, for example, or perhaps vacuums. What’s more important is trying to figure out how Hal Roach Studios could pull off the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.
Back in July, I got it into my head that I needed plushies of Laurel and Hardy, and so being the adult I am I went and commissioned them (from Kaxen, who makes great plushies if you want plushies of anyone too!), and on Monday they finally arrived at my house.
So there are lots of pictures already.
She actually draws on the packaging she ships her plushies in, so it’s even cuter!
I made sure they were cozy during their first night in my house…
…and when I ran off to class the next day, because my bedroom can get pretty chilly.
They’re about nine inches or so tall.
I was suffering from writer’s block on a grad school paper this week, so I made Stannie help and gave him some fudge. Except he doesn’t have a mouth, so I had to eat it for him.
The other night we watched a Vincent Price marathon on TCM, but we were doing so after midnight so it got pretty scary.
And now they’re at work with me right now – they were all buckled up during the commute! (Babe may have bed head, though. Whoops.)
They’re all snug in my saddle bag at the moment since I’m at work, but I just felt like having some extra company on the car ride today because having them around has actually reduced my stress by a ton and they’re just so, so cute.
Basically, everyone should have plushies of comedians in their lives. Go commission away!
Apparently when I’m really worried about things I cope by making .gifs now.
In all seriousness, my grandfather had a stroke this morning and we haven’t gotten too much good news yet (recovery takes a long time), so I’ve been watching clips of these two to keep me stable. They’re miraculous that way.
This scene is from Way Out West, of course. (It’s my favorite feature of theirs.)
A Friend Is Someone Who Knows All About You And Still Loves You: The On-Screen, Off-Screen Friendship Of Laurel And Hardy
Where do I even start with these two, seriously?
I spent about two weeks thinking about what I could say about Laurel and Hardy this time (including finding the quote from Elbert Hubbard in the title), because to be fair they’ve had quite a bit said about them over the years. For me, they’re extremely significant because I enjoy studying the double act concept and these two took it to new heights and set the gold standard for what a double act should be. For millions of other people worldwide, they’re a cherished childhood memory that are passed down from generation to generation.
To themselves, however, they were just two comedians going to work every day, and that down-to-earth attitude of theirs makes them even more endearing than they already are – which is pretty darn endearing if you ask me.
I suppose the best way to start this off is by writing an extremely abridged version of how the comedians who portrayed the greatest friendship in film history got together. To make a long story short, both of them had been acting in films (Ollie went immediately to film; Stan started in music hall and transitioned once stateside) and had a brief blind date with a film called The Lucky Dog (which scholars debate the date of – it’s usually credited to 1917 or 1921). They went their separate ways for a few years, then both ended up at Hal Roach Studios. At this point, Stan was doing more writing and directing than acting, but when Ollie burnt himself on a leg of lamb when cooking one night, the studio had his part in a film split into a part for two characters so he didn’t overdo it whilst recovering. Stan filled in the other role (albeit reluctantly since he was still struggling to find an on-screen persona), director Leo McCarey noticed that the boys had extremely good chemistry, and the rest is history.
It took about a year or so for the boys to really become the characters we all know and love today, but once they did, things took off from there just fine. They easily transitioned to sound, a medium that undid a large number of screen stars, and more or less dominated comedy in the 1930s. They didn’t know how popular they were, however, because as mentioned above they just thought of themselves as two people going to work every day. Work was just pretty darn fun. It took a tour or two for their fame to really hit home, and their well-recorded grateful reactions always make me smile because it’s so wonderful to see two people so touched when they found out that their work meant so much to so many people. I imagine they’d be thrilled to know that it still does.
The best part about those tours, though, is that by traveling together they became much closer than they ever had time to when filming and over the course of their lives they actually did become extremely close friends. The bond that you’re seeing on the screen when you watch them is real, and you can feel how strong it is. A lot of double acts didn’t get along off-stage or off-screen (Abbott and Costello quarreled somewhat frequently, for one, and Gallagher and Shean hated one another), and when you watch them you don’t get the feeling of warmth that you do when you watch Stan and Ollie (or, for that matter, somewhat direct descendants Morecambe and Wise). The fact that they got along and genuinely adored working with each other shows, and that makes the friendship portrayed in the films even more believable.
It’s that friendship, really, that makes them so special to me. As an undergraduate student, I had a very close friendship with my roommate, but she was struggling with depression and my attempts to help led to me having a mental breakdown in 2009. The friendship had become unintentionally emotionally abusive towards me and as soon as I graduated in 2011 I put space between us knowing it would help us both recover from everything. Unfortunately, it left me with a fear of opening up and letting people get that close to me in real life – internet friends were safe (and I had – and still have – many of those), but letting a person in real life in was terrifying. My friends from high school that I still have are wonderful, but for a long time after I got back from school I was reluctant to open up because I’d lost my faith in having a best friend. The therapist that helps me with my Asperger’s and I started to work together on this issue which had only served to strengthen my social anxiety, and over time I’ve become less afraid to say things to people in real life and make connections. Until recently, I was still very unsure of myself and my ability to build strong bonds with people.
And then I renewed my comedy studies in order to properly start writing Comedian Heaven, and something about Stan and Ollie just clicked for me.
It’s been a little more than seven months since I devoted myself to the CH project fully, and I’ve changed so much as a person over that time – I’m less concerned with what people think of me at first glance and more concerned with just worrying about treating everyone with the respect they deserve, like I normally do. I’m much more comfortable with trusting people than I was six months ago. Not everyone is out to hurt me – in fact, the great majority of people in the world aren’t, and it’s okay to be myself around people.
Basically, my faith in friendship was renewed by two comedians, and I couldn’t be more thankful.
The more I learned about them, the more in love I fell with them (especially those little details like Stan’s determination to answer every fan letter he got personally). They had a genuine fondness for their fanbase and did their level best to make sure they knew, and the way they became so close in real life over time despite having extraordinarily different hobbies (Ollie’s golfing and Stan’s fishing are both fairly well-known) just reminds me that you can be best friends with someone even though you enjoy different things and are somewhat different people. The relationship between the characters on the screen makes me so unbelievably happy, as well. As Lawrence J. Epstein put it in Mixed Nuts, his book on comedy teams:
One of Laurel and Hardy’s various claims to being the best comedy team ever is that they created the model of two friends struggling against the world, always willing to help each other despite the frequency with which their efforts are met by failure, resulting in many a “nice mess.” Their deep bond is admirable. The underlying friendship, which provoked a deep empathy in audiences, involved mutual acceptance and tolerance, a sense of not being alone in having to face a frightening reality. Neither is able to abandon the other.
Laurel and Hardy faced a painful world filled with indignities, and their characters embodied human foibles and follies. Laurel and Hardy accepted such a world with dignity, with only their friendship to sustain them. Their society, or faith, or their own skills, or even a traditional family couldn’t protect them. Theirs is a case for friendship above all else sustaining a person through the nonsense of life. Nonetheless, Laurel and Hardy were very realistic about friendship. They knew it included mutual aggression, and they were able to define a perfect conflict model, a way of fighting while retaining the friendship.
It’s friendship – realistic friendship – that defines the two characters on screen. It’s one of the strongest cases of a comedic relationship mirroring real life that I can think of – two best friends working their way through life (disastrously), much like we do with our friends (although on a larger destructive scale, no doubt). Growing up, I’d always struggled to make friends due to undiagnosed Asperger’s, and I longed for a relationship like the one they had on screen. I didn’t know it as a kid, but when I became an adult and got more invested in my research I’d find a double act that reflected what I was looking for perfectly. I just wanted a friend to do things with and go through life with, one who wouldn’t judge me even though I had a tendency to screw things up every once in a while. When I really started watching these two in detail, it clicked for me – they were what I’d wanted my whole childhood. I wanted a friend who wouldn’t abandon me, as so many “friends” did, and they had that.
So it probably surprises absolutely nobody when I say that my all-time favorite clip of these two is one from Fra Diavolo (1933) where you can see the friendship is clearly real off-screen:
If you skip to about 5 minutes in, you’ll see what I’m talking about. After ‘getting rid’ of that wine in the first half of the video by essentially chugging it, Stan starts succumbing to a giggle fit for literally no reason. It’s adorable, of course (if you know me you’ll know just how cute I find it because I talk about his stupid laugh all the time – especially since that was his actual laugh in real life), but that’s not the best part of the whole thing. As in Blotto (1930) and Scram! (1932), he drags Ollie down with him, but about halfway through the whole thing it becomes apparent that they’re not acting anymore. They’re both laughing for real, and every time they make eye contact they just lose it all over again and start laughing even harder. It’s obvious why they have to cut to a different shot when Stan starts drunkenly singing – it’s an entirely different take because they literally weren’t able to stop laughing for absolutely no reason whatsoever. (It doesn’t help that Stan was contagious as all hell, of course.) That’s a genuine bond you’re seeing on the screen in that one scene, and it’s beautiful. Those are two people who adore being together and being silly. It just warms my heart beyond belief.
I wrote a primer on Tumblr about a month ago for people who wanted to get into watching these two, which is reposted below because how could you not want to get into watching them after this? The films are in order so as to chart the evolution of their characters (and themselves as comedians).
So here you are – Stan and Ollie: A Love Story.
Prologue: The Lucky Dog (attributed to either 1917 or 1921)
I call this film Stan and Ollie’s blind date because they both appeared in it – hence being on screen together for the first time – but then went their separate ways again for several years before being paired up (likely by Leo McCarey) at Hal Roach Studios. It’s a good thing to watch to get a sense of what they were like before their legendary comedy marriage.
Silent Shorts, 1927-1929
Once being officially paired as a double act, the boys started making shorts together. A lot of the early ones (like Putting Pants on Philip, which is literally twenty minutes of Ollie trying to get Stan to wear a kilt) are interesting because they haven’t fully slotted into the characterizations we know and love yet. Battle of the Century, their last entry in 1927, is particularly notable solely because they attempted – and succeeded – to break a record for most pies thrown in a film. Various reports have the cast throwing between 3000 and 4000 pies in one giant fight.
By 1928, however, they’ve become the Stan and Ollie we’re familiar with, and in Leave ‘Em Laughing we see the familiar sight of the two of them sharing a bed. This one literally ends with nine minutes of the two of them giggling hysterically due to accidentally getting too much nitrous oxide at the dentist’s office which more or less incapacitates them and causes them to cause a major pile-up when driving. Which, of course, just makes them laugh even more. The reason I bring this up is that the two of them use the power of contagious laughter to even greater effect once sound comes into the picture. Believe me, it’s my favorite thing they do.
There are two mandatory viewing shorts from 1929 that I have to bring up before we forge into sound, though – Liberty, in which the boys both accidentally swap trousers and end up on top of a construction site, and Big Business, one of the greatest silent comedy shorts ever made. The latter is a shining example of mutual destruction/tit for tat – Stan and Ollie are selling Christmas trees, and when they try to sell one to perpetual nemesis James Finlayson, it somehow devolves into them destroying his house as he destroys their car. It’s legendary.
Sound Shorts, 1929 on
There’s a long list here, so I’ll just do bullet points.
- Unaccustomed As We Are (1929): the boys’ first sound short, which is why it’s notable. Also, Thelma Todd, Mae Busch and Edgar Kennedy are in it.
- Blotto (1930): Set during Prohibition, the boys “borrow” Anita Garvin’s liquor (which she’s swapped out with cold tea, knowing what’s up). This is the first time you get to hear Stan laugh with audio, and believe me, you’ll fall in love. (It’s made even better that Word of God – aka Stan’s daughter Lois – has confirmed that, although he was acting, that is Stan’s actual laugh in real life.)
- Brats (1930): I unfortunately can’t seem to find a full video for this one (the one I watched on YouTube may have been taken down), but if you can find it, watch it solely for the giant sets they used to make the boys look like kids. They’re amazing. (Also, they’re raising smaller versions of themselves as children. IT’S CUTE.)
- Laughing Gravy (1931): Stan and Ollie have a dog. Landlord Charlie Hall wants the dog to shut up. The dog doesn’t, so the boys keep sneaking the dog back inside after Hall keeps moving it outside. The version I linked to is the alternate ending – the original version has a very dark ending (the apartment building is quarantined, keeping the boys and the dog inside for months, and Hall goes off-screen and shoots himself), but I prefer the alternate version because it really nails the relationship between Stan and Ollie better. They get a letter that’ll fix their money woes – Stan will get a massive inheritance, but on one condition: that he splits up with Ollie. He refuses, of course, and they stay together.
- Our Wife (1931): There is one reason and one reason only that I’m linking this one – they got away with an awfully daring gag for 1931. Ollie and his girlfriend are eloping, and best man Stanley helps them get away from the girl’s father, James Finlayson. After cramming into a car (which is AMAZING to watch), they find a judge to marry them. The judge is Ben Turpin, who was famous solely for being cross-eyed. Guess who gets married instead.
- The Music Box (1932): Probably the most famous short they ever did. I generally sum this one up as “Stan and Ollie win an Oscar for carrying a piano up a staircase for 20 minutes.” (They did get an Oscar – their only one that wasn’t an honorary award – for this film.)
- County Hospital (1932): I was only able to find a colorized version, but this one’s notable because it’s the origin of Ollie’s exasperated “hard-boiled eggs and nuts” complaint that gets quoted a lot.
- Scram! (1932): It’s not one of their better-known ones, but I’m biased towards it solely because the boys have one of those patented giggle fits again. I love those a lot, if you didn’t know.
- Their First Mistake (1932): If you like Ho Yay, this one’s perfect for you. Stan and Ollie raise a baby together and it’s really adorable. (Greek subtitles.)
- Towed In A Hole (1932): Stan and Ollie sell fish. They also end up in the water, as one might expect, and they even have a water fight with each other. (Japanese subtitles.)
- Twice Two (1933): Stan and Ollie are married to each other’s twin sisters, which more or less means this is another film in which they’re technically married since they play both parts.
- Oliver The Eighth (1934): Black widow Mae Busch has killed seven fiances named Oliver. Guess who gets lined up to be number eight.
- Tit For Tat (1935): Named, of course, for the style of mutual destruction the boys were so good at.
Hal Roach didn’t initially jump on the comedy features bandwagon, but as they grew in popularity he ended up nudging Stan and Ollie into more and more of them until by the end of 1935 they were doing them exclusively. The shorts are a lot more polished, as it’s easier to do short subject comedies than feature films, but these are great, as well.
Here are some of the best ones.
- Pack Up Your Troubles (1932): Stan and Ollie return from World War I and end up trying to get the daughter of a fallen comrade to her grandparents. In the meantime, they raise her together, and it’s the most amazingly cute thing. (The scene I linked to is a bit of a role reversal, where Jacquie Lyn, the little girl, ends up reading a bedtime story to Stanley instead and OH GOD IT’S THE CUTEST THING.)
- Fra Diavolo/The Devil’s Brother (1933): My actual favorite scene in any of their entire films is in this one. Of course, it’s the one I’ve linked to – the actual greatest giggle fit ever filmed. And it’s absolutely real, too – you can tell the boys start out acting and crack up for real in the middle and then just keep looking at each other and laughing even more. It’s adorable. (This is actually an adaptation of the operetta Fra Diavolo, and Dennis King and Thelma Todd play great roles in this, as well.)
- Sons of the Desert (1933): More or less an extended version of a short called Be Big! from a couple of years prior, but it’s easily one of their strongest features and it’s lovely. The international fan society for the boys takes its name from this film.
- Babes in Toyland/March of the Wooden Soldiers (1933): Nearly every kid’s gateway drug into Laurel and Hardy. It’s usually aired on TV during the holidays. The boys more or less end up playing unwitting heroes after royally screwing up an order from Santa and making a set of life-sized toy soldiers. Also, Stan’s hand-eye coordination, previously displayed in Fra Diavolo, becomes even more legendary here.
- Way Out West (1937): MY FAVORITE FEATURE THEY EVER DID. This movie’s pacing is wonderful. Its comedy is wonderful. Its everything is wonderful. There are just too many good scenes in it to list them all (fortunately, that link goes to the full film), but the two most famous are the adorable dance number and the scene where they all end up fighting over the deed and Stan gets locked in a room with the female lead and she more or less body searches him. Inevitably, Stan becomes a flailing, giggling mess, and it’s the cutest thing.
- And if you want to cry, watch The Flying Deuces (1939). You will cry. Trust me. You just will.
When I went to write that primer, I ended up putting in the films that I felt best represented the relationship between the two characters, but it’s evident when you watch them closely that there’s some real-life fondness in there. These two just enjoyed working together so much and their real-life friendship is one of my favorite stories in comedy history. There’s just something about it that makes me smile so much.
Thanks, you two, for restoring my faith in myself and in others. I don’t know where I’d be without you.
This post was written as part of Classic Movie Hub and Once Upon a Screen’s dually hosted blogathon on film duos. Seriously, you should go read all the other posts here because they’re just lovely!
I enjoy comedy shorts quite a bit. They’re quick watches, as the term indicates, and more often than not they’re pretty goofy and fun. They’re also pretty easy to screencap, which is why I’m going to go about analyzing them this way – with images to go along with what I’m writing. It’s more fun if you can see what I’m talking about, after all.
Today’s offering is Madame Mystery, a film produced by Hal Roach Studios (a pet studio of mine) in 1926. The reason I chose to explore this one…well, frankly, there’s more than one reason, so let’s just get those out of the way quickly:
- Theda Bara parodies herself. By 1926, vamps had gone from being the sirens of the screen to a subject of parody. By playing a role much like the ones that catapulted her to fame, but in a comedic style, Bara gently mocked herself.
- One of the two male leads in the film is James Finlayson. Fin is better known as that Scottish guy who did the stink-eye and spent a significant amount of time dealing with Laurel and Hardy (and the originator of Homer Simpson’s “d’oh!” catchphrase), but here he displays a completely different comedic characterization, showing his range as a performer.
- Speaking of Laurel and Hardy, they’re both involved in this. Ollie actually appears in the film as the captain of an ocean liner, whilst Stan co-wrote and co-directed the film. Knowing Stan’s involvement, the observant viewer will notice his style of comedy permeating the action even though he doesn’t appear in front of the camera. This film was finished about a year before Stan and Ollie’s official double act teaming (though they had a blind date in The Lucky Dog some years prior) during the time period in which Stan had decided he’d work out better as a writer and director because he couldn’t settle on a particular comedic characterization. Just give him a year and he’ll end up being the Stan we all know and love, though.
All that being established, let’s actually look at the film now. (more…)