On one of the hottest days of the year, thirty-eight (38) persons took the plunge and braved the elements (no air-conditioning) to watch tonight’s seaworthy film program. Entitled “Slaphappy Sea Salts”, viewers cooled off vicariously from the watered-down screen affairs of the evening’s movies. So, we all got ourselves comfortable, scraped the barnacles off our chairs, pulled in a little closer, weighed anchor (“How much did the anchor weigh?”, asked Billy Gilbert in the Our Gang short featured this evening), and we set sail into scenes of sea-faring celluloid silliness.
The Chimp Tent’s good friend in California, Ken Runyan, provided the opening credits and intro music for our program (thanks, Ken! Ken also placed all of the film selections for the evening on a single DVD, making life much easier for Vice-Sheik Victoria Baumgardner, who had to play the durn thing…) After a rousing rendition of “The Sons of the Desert” song (and it actually was sung pretty well by the silver throats in attendance!), aided by our very own Joan Chrislip on piano, we got down to business.
The first offering of the evening was the October 2, 1936 animated release “The Merry Mutineers” (7:29). This Columbia cartoon was originally released in Technicolor and featured Scrappy and Oopy and their (fighting) toy pirate boats. Along with Laurel and Hardy, many other Hollywood stars could be identified among the two ships’ crews. Interestingly, the worst-drawn caricatures were of Columbia’s own stars, The Three Stooges!
We then turned to the Hal Roach film “Why Girls Love Sailors” (17:55), which was released on July 17, 1927. Joan Chrislip provided the excellent live piano accompaniment to this silent film (thanks again, Joan!)This movie was filmed prior to the ‘official’ teaming of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, and also featured Viola Richard, Anita Garvin (in her first appearance in a Laurel and Hardy movie), and Malcolm Waite. The Boys appear here as separate individuals and certainly not as part of a team – this teaming would occur 6 to 8 films shot later in 1927 – and it showed in the characters they played in this film, with Stan as a young sailor and Ollie as a first mate, who is described as “the nastiest brute on board”.
Interestingly, this film was considered “lost” because after its initial run in 1927 it was not seen again until a copy was found in the French Film Archive in 1971. It took until 1986 to get a copy of the film made, and since the original film had French titles, they had to be re-translated back into English for our viewing pleasure. It’s funny how these things happen, isn’t it?
Our Gang made many memorable short films during their 22-years of film-making. One of your Grand Sheik’s very favorites is the October 10, 1931 release “Shiver My Timbers” (20:52), which featured Billy Gilbert as the sea captain, June Marlowe as the Gang’s teacher Miss June Crabtree (why couldn’t any of my teachers in elementary school look like Miss Crabtree?), Harry Bernard as a pirate, and has Wheezer and Stymie in prominent roles (and Stymie’s puns have never been better…I mean worse! With Stymie, “polar bears” become “pallbearers” and so on!). Watch out for Petey (the pup – the one with a circle around his eye!) the pirate, and note that the “pirate” ship itself is the same great set used in “The Live Ghost”, the Laurel and Hardy film we screened at our Halloween show several months ago.
Anyway, here the Gang play hooky from school to listen to the sea captain’s tall tales of swashbuckling and pirate adventures down at the docks. Miss Crabtree asks the captain to stop telling these tales because the kids are missing school. Although the captain agrees to scare the kids (and Petey) away from wanting to be pirates, nothing is this simple. The Gang have some surprises of their own in store for the captain and his “cut-throat” crew.
Mention was made of this short representing the transitional era of the Our Gang comedies, what with Jackie Cooper, Chubby Chaney, and Mary Ann Jackson all having just left the series. For a time, until Spanky McFarland joined the cast, the slack was taken up by Wheezer Hutchins and Stymie Beard. They both really held their own in this film, and listen closely for Stymie’s puns (e.g. polar bears/pall bearers, veal cutlass). Some of the film’s best moments came when he engaged Billy Gilbert in rambling conversations.
We snuck in a “bonus” clip after the intermission, the brief “The Tree In A Test Tube”, which was filmed on November 29, 1941 and released either in the Spring of 1942 or 1943. Pete Smith narrated and Charles McDonald directed The Boys in what was essentially a patriotic industrial film demonstrating how wood products were omnipresent in the American economy. After the Laurel and Hardy bit, the rest of the film (which we didn’t show) is unrelated documentary footage showing us how important wood is for the war effort. The film wasn’t released theatrically, because it was more of an amateur, promotional endeavor. It had been commissioned by the Department of Agriculture.
The Tree In A Test Tube was a forgotten film until Richard Bann discovered its existence in 1967. Shot on 16mm Kodachrome stock, The Tree In A Test Tube is notable for being the only extant footage of Stan and Ollie in color, except for some home movies from the ’50s and a few short clips from the long-lost “The Rogue Song”.
We then enjoyed another “bonus” clip, that of Danny Kaye presenting Stan Laurel’s Oscar, which was awarded to Stan by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on April 17, 1961.
Returning to the seafaring theme of the evening, Laurel and Hardy re-entered the scene with “Men O’War” (18:46), only their third talking film, which was filmed from May 11 to May 18 and released by MGM on June 29, 1929. Our heroes were sailors on leave who met two girls at a park, and offered to treat them to sodas. Soda jerk Jimmy Finlayson uttered his first sound “D’Ohhhhhh” in this film, which in itself merited attention. However, for Stan and Ollie, this simple act of treating ladies to sodas is not so routine! And then we watched as these men – sailors yet – demonstrated their prowess in a rowboat on a lake. Boat? Water? Laurel and Hardy? Guess what happens next … ! Can you say “reciprocal destruction”?
We made mention of the duplication of the soda jerk scene in this film with that of the middle sequence of their 1928 silent film “Should Married Men Go Home?” Laurel and Hardy repeated gags from their silent films into several of their sound films probably due to the fact that silent films were now considered passé and wouldn’t be viewed much anymore anyway.
A special added attraction was the Laurel and Hardy magic act (6:22) from “The Hollywood Revue of 1929”, which was originally released on November 23, 1929. We featured The Boys’ short cameo appearance, which included a youngish Jack Benny (in his very first film appearance).
We then snuck in the 1981 Arby’s commercial featuring Chuck McCann and Jim McGeorge impersonating our heroes. Did you know that Arby’s stood for “America’s Roast Beef, Yes Sir!” Well, that’s what we learned from this commercial!
We concluded our swelterfest (I mean it was HOT in that room!) with Laurel and Hardy’s “Any Old Port” (20:02), which was released on March 5, 1932 and featured favorite bad guy Walter Long (as Mugsie Long), Harry Bernard, Charlie Hall, and Julie Bishop (who was billed as Jacqueline Wells in this film). In this movie, Stan and Ollie were sailors on leave who checked into a sleazy hotel. There they find Mugsie intends to marry a young girl against her wishes, and it’s The Boys to the rescue! After this, they’re on the run from the enraged Mugsie, and out of money, and then an offer is made to Ollie whereby they can earn some money by fighting in a boxing match that evening. Ollie volunteers Stanley as the fighter, but guess who Stan’s opponent is at the boxing match? If you guessed Mugsie Long, you win the prize! This film originally had a different beginning, but the first reel was deleted at the film’s preview. After previews the entire first reel was cut, and the original second reel became the first reel, and a new final ten minutes was shot. Sadly, scenes involving Jimmy Finlayson as The Boys’ captain, and those of Tiny Sandford as a sailor have been lost.
At this point we dropped anchor and set everyone back ashore. We hoped you enjoyed the program this evening and that you’ll tell family and friends about our meetings. In fact, bring them all along to our next gathering this summer on July 31, an all-silent film evening that we’re going to call “Silents Are Golden”. Check your email and our web site for additional details over the next week or two or so.