Summer Sounds Of Silents

This August meeting was held at the vibrant Clifton Cultural Arts Center in Clifton, here in Cincinnati. It was meant to be an outdoor screening, but with the potential for scattered showers, winds of 5-10mph, and un-summer-like evening temperatures in the mid-60s, we moved the meeting to inside the CCAC. The sixty (60!) persons in attendance joined in the fun as we dug through the early Laurel and Hardy archives, donned our archeology helmets, and explored the transformation of two separate supporting actors into one of Hollywood’s finest and funniest comedy teams.

After a rousing sing-a-long of “The Sons of the Desert” song (DVD courtesy of Ken Runyan from California – thanks always, Ken!), attendees were treated to a cartoon that featured Laurel and Hardy as bit players, “Bosko’s Picture Show” (running time 7:00), which was released on August 26, 1933. The film also featured a sing-a-long to the tune “We’re In The Money”, and our heroes were portrayed onscreen as “Haurel and Lardy”!

The Grand Sheik then related the story of how Stan Laurel was lured back into acting (due to Oliver Hardy’s leg of lamb accident incident), while running scenes silently in the background from “Get ‘Em Young” (the movie Laurel replaced Hardy in due to Hardy’s accident). Then it was time to really get down to study.

We began our formal history lesson with “45 Minutes From Hollywood” (19:17), written and filmed in August, 1926 and released on December 26, 1926. This film was one of the “All-Star Series” of comedy shorts and for this film, every contract player of note in the Hal Roach Studios appeared except for Charley Chase. Including Oliver Hardy and the “new” actor, Stan Laurel.

When released, the film was known as a vehicle for actor Glenn Tryon, but today we remember it as the second instance of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy appearing in the same film – although they didn’t share any scenes together! We noted that Laurel’s name didn’t appear in the credits for this film, although Ollie’s name did.

Stan and Ollie still were not yet a team in this film. In fact, over their next 10 films or so they often appeared in roles that had nothing to do with each other. For about a dozen “All-Stars” films, they flirted with an on-again/offagain partnership, and there seemed to be no rhyme or reason discernible to their eventual character development – they’d be The Boys in one film, then be other characters unrelated to The Boys in the next few films. Which led us to…

…their next film, “Duck Soup” (19:40), which was adapted from a sketch written by Stan Laurel’s father, and filmed in September, 1926 and released on March 13, 1927. This was the first film that Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy appeared together on screen at the Hal Roach Studios. “Duck Soup” was a lost film for almost 50 years; fortunately, in 1974 a print turned up in Belgium. The plot was simple: Stan and Ollie, hiding from forest rangers who want to press them into firefighting duty, hide in the home of a big-game hunter who had just left town. However, when prospective renters knocked on the door, Ollie pretended to be the owner and Stan pretended to be a servant. This movie is notable because it was the first movie in which The Boys appeared in their “Stan and Ollie” characters as a team, playing characters close to their later familiar roles. We recognized the fact that this film was remade in sound three years later as “Another Fine Mess”.

Next we moved ahead one month in the filming schedule, where in October, 1926 “Slipping Wives” (22:21) was filmed. Released on April 3, 1927, The Boys are still not a “team” as such, but they did appear together in almost the whole movie. The plot was simple: a woman, neglected by her husband, asked a handyman to pretend he’s a literary genius and flirt with her at a dinner party – all to make her husband jealous! Stan Laurel literally stole the film with his pantomime of the story of “Samson and Delilah”, which was something else. Meanwhile, Oliver Hardy played the much put-upon butler. Not yet Laurel and Hardy, but by now they each had larger roles, with an obvious chemistry between them, in the Roach comedies.

Putting Pants on Philip” (20:05), our final silent short for the evening, was written and filmed in August, 1927 – ten months after “Slipping Wives” was filmed. By now it had become apparent that Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy made for a fine comedy team. Released on December 3, 1927, this was the first movie to bill The Boys as a comedy duo. However, their usual characters in later films had yet to become obvious, as evidenced by their names in this film: Piedmont Mumblethunder (Ollie) and his Scottish nephew Philip (Stan). Stan played a womanizing Scotsman who had only worn kilts his entire life, and his uncle Piedmont tried to get him to wear pants. Good luck! We kept a watch out for Stan’s famous “scissor-kick”, which he used to good effect in this film.

Although “The Second Hundred Years” (released October 8, 1927) may be considered the first “official” Laurel and Hardy film by many, and “Do Detectives Think?” (released November 20, 1927) was the first movie to bill the duo as ‘Laurel and Hardy’, “Putting Pants on Philip” was the film where Stan Laurel said he realized that he was part of a team that worked well together. Their next film after “Philip” was ”The Battle of the Century”, and from then on they were off and running as the Laurel and Hardy characters we became most familiar with, which continued all through their Hal Roach years until 1940.

Thus, the evening provided a brief overview of how Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy evolved from supporting stock players in the Roach comedy All-Stars to becoming The Boys. We’ll show other silent films made before their official teaming at future meetings, and we hope you’ll join us as we continue to learn how they became “Laurel and Hardy”.

Our next scheduled meeting in October will have a Halloween theme, and children of all ages are encouraged to dress up as either their favorite Laurel and Hardy character or as anything else they desire! Please check our web site for time/date/venue details. There will also be the usual unscheduled cinematic surprises, along with the fabulous raffle (with at least one very special prize over and above anything else we have given away so far!), and a prize or two for the best costume. We hope to see you there for our Halloween Spooktacular!


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