It was a dark and story night… well, it eventually got dark, and it didn’t storm, but besides all this, forty (40!) intrepid souls gathered to view examples of Laurel and Hardy on the job, working to earn money. Working with wood to be specific. Laurel and Hardy earning money by working with wood? Wouldn’t work you say? Exactly! “Wood ‘n Work”!
A big ‘tip of the cap’ and thanks to Ken Runyan out in California for putting the entire evening’s film program on a single DVD – it made it soooo much easier to run the films that way! The DVD was popped into the player, and the festivities began: after a rousing sing-a-long to the “Sons of the Desert” song, our first selection was the June 11, 1955 animated Warner Brothers cartoon featuring Bugs Bunny, “Rabbit Rampage” (6:56 running time). Directed by Chuck Jones and written by Michael Maltese, this cartoon was very similar to 1953’s “Duck Amuck” with one big difference: here it’s Bugs who gets the artist’s “treatment” in a wacky way.
This was followed by Laurel and Hardy’s silent film, “The Finishing Touch” (19:07), shot in November and December 1927 and released February 25, 1928. The film was directed by Clyde Bruckman and Leo McCarey, and also starred Dorothy Coburn (she of the no-nonsense nurse variety), Sam Lufkin, and Edgar Kennedy. Here, Stan and Ollie are hired to put “the finishing touch” to a newly constructed house; they’re offered extra money if they can finish the house in a day. The house just happens to be near a hospital, so a cop (Kennedy) and a tough nurse (Coburn) must forcefully persuade the boys to work quietly. Laurel and Hardy as builders? You can only imagine the results, which define the phrase ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’! We noted 2 pieces of trivia associated with this film: 1) The final gag, in which the boys’ truck slams into the house, was a misfire. The script called for the truck to drive all the way through the house, but the carpenters had not built the house to property man Thomas Benton Roberts’ specifications, and the house was too sturdy. As a result, the truck was unable to penetrate it completely and only lodged halfway through and ground to a stop. Rather than rebuild the house for one gag, the cast and crew chose to keep the end gag as filmed. Laurel was philosophical about the foul-up. “Oh, well,” he told Roberts, “maybe it’ll be funnier that way.”; and 2) An internet source, reliable or not, says that this film was used as a training film at the United States Department of Labor! What was it used to train people about? The common mistakes that ordinary people make in construction sites or similar situations that place themselves in danger, of course!
We then watched a short clip of ‘then and now’ scenes, showing the sites and locations used in filming “The Finishing Touch” and comparing them to how they look today. Take it from us, a lot has changed in that neighborhood in 83 years!
Next we watched the Our Gang comedy, “Birthday Blues”, filmed July 30 to August 4, released November 12, 1932 (19:15), directed by Robert F. McGowan, and with music by Leroy Shield and T. Marvin Hatley. It starred Dickie Moore, Spanky McFarland, “Stymie” Beard, Dorothy DeBorba, Pete the Pup, and others. If you have ever seen this film before, even once, you will remember it quite clearly when you heard that sound! What sound? Read on…Dickie and Spanky’s witness their father forgetting their mother’s birthday for the second year in a row. He also refuses to pay for a mail-order dress. Dickie decides to buy his mother a different dress, so acting upon the advice of Stymie, Dickie and Spanky decide to raise money for the dress by baking a cake with hidden prizes. They’ll then auction off pieces of cake at ten cents a slice. The only problem is that Spanky adds a few surprises to the prizes — soap, shoes, gloves, and so on. The resulting baked cake resembles a huge square and is a breathing pastry that makes noises (THIS CAKE NOISE is the noise you’ll remember!) as they ice it. The kids don’t like the “prizes” and demand their money back, starting a pie fight. Dickie’s father gives Dickie a spanking for the mess just as mother comes home and learns the reason for the mess, and the father is humbled and learns a good lesson. Interestingly, the homemade-cake sequence had its origins in a nearly identical segment from “Ten Years Old”, the March, 1927 Our Gang release. During this period around 1932, the depths of the Depression, in one economy-minded expedient, the Roach studio was reworking whole blocks of silent film material intact. Charley Chase did it, Laurel and Hardy did it, but none so heavily (or successfully) as Our Gang.
The intermission followed, which featured the fabulous raffle. Congratulations to the lucky prize winners, who were envied by those unfortunate not to win. Next time, buy more raffle tickets! (a word to the wise…)
A new series short was introduced when the second half of the program commenced. We featured the Joe McDoakes one-reeler “So You Want To Build A House” (10:51). which was released on May 15, 1948. Joe McDoakes was the protagonist of a series of 63 black-and-white live action comedy one reel short subjects released between 1942 and 1956. The Joe McDoakes shorts are also known as the Behind the Eight Ball series (for the large 8-ball Joe appeared from behind in the opening credits) or the So You Want… series (as most of the films were titled). George O’Hanlon, who would later provide the voice of George Jetson, starred as Joe McDoakes. Anyway, in this particular short, Joe McDoakes decides to build his own home. As the project progresses, he sees his dream house turn into a nightmare. Cast: George O’Hanlon (Joe McDoakes), Art Gilmore (narrator), Jane Harker (Alice McDoakes), Donald Kerr (Andy McGoon), Ralph Littlefield (building inspector), Ralph Peters (Happy Jack, the Laughing Irishman), and Clifton Young (Homer).
Laurel and Hardy then returned with their October 31, 1931 release, “One Good Turn” (19:39). The film was directed by James W. Horne, written by H.M. Walker and also featured Mary Carr, James Finlayson, and Billy Gilbert (in his first Laurel and Hardy film). This short takes place during the worst days of The Depression. Stan and Ollie are down on their luck and experiencing unemployment and homelessness. They decide to ask for food at an old lady’s house, and the lady is kind enough to offer them a nice meal. While they are eating they overhear a villainous landlord (Finlayson) threatening to evict her if she does not pay the mortgage. Not realizing that they are hearing a rehearsal for a play, The Boys, who believe that ‘one good turn’ deserves another, decide to auction their car to raise money to help the woman. In the confusion surrounding the auction, Stan somehow winds up with a cash-heavy wallet. Ollie accuses Stan of stealing the old lady’s money, making quite a scene of it. However, when the truth comes out, the worm turns and it’s Stan who metes out punishment to Ollie! We noted that the finale in the film, where Stan retaliates against Ollie, was inspired by Stan’s daughter (Lois). After Lois had seen so many movies in which Ollie mistreated Stan, she became fearful of Ollie (known to her as “Uncle Babe”). So, Stan decided to write a scene that showed his character could stand up for himself. After that, Lois got along just fine with Ollie.
Making a refreshing reappearance on The Chimp Tent’s film program, Charley Chase took over the screen for “The Wrong Miss Wright”, filmed around April 8-12 and released June 18, 1937 (16:52). Co-starring with Chase here were Peggy Stratford and John T. Murray. By 1937 Charley Chase had left the Hal Roach Studios and signed on with Columbia Pictures – this was his third two-reeler for them and the set-up goes like this (a remake of Chase’s 1926 silent film “Crazy Like A Fox”): Charley finds true love on a boat sailing from China to the USA. Charley is only returning to the USA for matrimony – his arranged marriage a woman he hasn’t seen since childhood that was set up by both sets of parents years ago! So he tries to get out of this marriage by acting crazy, knowing that the girl’s father will call off the marriage. THEN Charley will be free to marry his shipboard romance! However, unbeknownst to Charley, his shipboard romance is actually the girl he is supposed to marry in the arranged marriage! When he finds out that his bride-to-be is the same girl from the ship that he fell in love with, his explanations fall on deaf ears and so drastic action is taken – will Charley be able to marry the girl of his dreams, or will the girl’s father put a stop to it? We found out!
Our final short film of the evening was “Busy Bodies”, the Laurel and Hardy short film released October 7, 1933 (18:24), directed by Lloyd French, and featuring Charlie Hall, and Tiny Sandford. The crazy theme in this movie is a typical day at the woodshop for Stanley and Oliver. The entire film is set in a sawmill, and there is really no central plot. The film is just a series of incidents (the usual episodes you might expect from these two such as getting jammed in windows, puncturing water pipes, getting stuck to glue brushes, having tiffs with their co-workers, and finally getting their car cut in half in a giant band-saw, etc.) which show what can happen when Stan and Ollie are let loose in this type of work environment. This setting was the perfect place to showcase Laurel and Hardy’s basic characters because if they’re given a basic task such as building a house (“The Finishing Touch”), fixing a boat (“Towed In A Hole”), or putting a radio antenna on the roof (“Hog Wild”), tasks which require a certain amount of physical dexterity and skill, you’re in for a wild ride of mishaps, misfires, and mistakes leading to mayhem and mirth!
Well, we certainly left them laughing after THAT last film. It is hoped that our attendees enjoyed the evening’s film program, and The Chimp Tent hopes that everyone will continue to join us for yet more laughs at our future meetings. In this regard, please circle the calendar for Saturday night April 9 when our next film evening (“Speechless”) takes place in Clifton (NOT at the Seasons despite whatever propaganda attendees might have picked up during tonight’s show)! Please check our web site for all the details. Bring friends, family, and anyone you know who likes to laugh! Thanks for all who came out and joined The Chimp Tent tonight, and we hope to see you again very soon.