Sunday, 3 February 2013

Sons of the Desert (1933)



Gøg og Gokke på Vulkaner
I grew up with Laurel & Hardy. Or “Gøg og Gokke” as they are called in Denmark. I must have seen a ton of episodes, but only few that I actually remember in detail. That is partly because it was long ago and I was a child, but also because the stories are subordinate to the antics of the duo. Story apart the duo is iconic to a degree where a silhouette of them is recognized in a split second by just about everybody and they are a widely used by-name for clumsiness.

So, of course I do not need to introduce them.

The scandal here is that they only get one entry on the list, though the answer is obvious. With the plot being of minor interest you just need to pick a representative film and the label “Laurel & Hardy” is covered. That is the list’s common procedure for comedians. Why W.C. Fields gets two movie and Laurel & Hardy only one beats me. It ought to have been the other way round.

The one item selected to represent Laurel and Hardy is “Sons of the Desert”. Personally I would have picked “The Flying Deuces”, but “Sons of the Desert” is not a bad pick. If you grew up in the wilderness somewhere and never heard of Laurel & Hardy, “Sons of the Desert” is certainly a nice film to get acquainted with them.

The Sons of the Desert is a fraternity lodge composed of men wearing fez and having a jolly good time. The Exhausted Leader of the lodge has made all the brothers swear an oath that they will all attend the lodge convention in Chicago. That is all good and well, except that Oliver’s (Oliver Hardy) wife, Mrs. Hardy (Mae Busch) has planned a trip to the mountains. Despite all his cockiness he is NOT the king of his castle so he and Stanley (Stan Laurel) embark on a complicated, ridiculous and ultimately disastrous scheme to attend the convention without the wives finding out.

Hardy is as always the smart guy whose clever schemes always backfires and Laurel the simpleton who gets away with ridiculous feats, though more by luck than clever design.  Certainly Hardy consistently underestimates Laurel and overestimates his own cleverness. This leads to countless comedic situations, both slapstick, situational and dialogue sorts. I love their scheme with the veterinarian they hire to diagnose a bad case of Canis Delirious (crazy dog, or dog madness), for which the only cure is an ocean voyage to Honolulu. The scene where the wives, thinking they went down with the boat from Hawaii, suddenly see the two airheads making fools of themselves in a newsreel from the convention in Chicago, is simply priceless.

But those are just two of the many many hilarious moments. They are literally back to back as Laurel and Hardy cannot do a single thing without screwing it up.

“Sons of the Desert” would not be half as fun without the wives. They are only identified as Mrs. Hardy and Mrs. Laurel (Dorothy Christy), but in no way they are beneath their husbands. In fact these are two tough women. Not mean like W.C. Fields wives always are, but strong and determined and not willing to take any crap from their men. This is of course what makes it so funny when Ollie and Stan try and fail to run corners on them.  Stan’s wife is an upright woman who goes duck hunting while Stan is a crying wimp who breaks down as soon as she looks at him. Yet they do get along because Stan accepts this.

Ollie on the other hand keeps trying to outsmart his wife. Not by confronting her, because he is mighty afraid of her, but by lying and sneaking around, which pisses her of in a really bad and loud way.

I know I should feel sorry for the two clowns, but they really have a talent for getting themselves into trouble and watching them squirm is just hilariously funny.

Laurel & Hardy was a favorite when I was a child and they have not lost their power. This is comedy that never grows old and I was having a grand time re-watching this one.

4 comments:

  1. You're right that it seems like short shrift that we only get one entry from them, but at the same time, other double acts (Abbott and Costello) who get completely snubbed.

    The truth is, it's more about establishing their personae--their films are almost always funny, but they are sort of the same at a deeper level.

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    1. Yes, that was my conclusion as well, though you could say the same of W.C. Fields.

      That said their iconic status is in my mind up there with Keaton and Chaplin. Laurel & Hardy were for the thirties what Keaton and Chaplin were for the twenties. And while I cannot claim I ever saw an Abbott and Costello film, Laurel & Hardy are as famous and iconic today as they were back then.

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  2. Sons of the Desert was also the Laurel and Hardy entry picked for the AFI Top 100 Laughs list. Perhaps that is because, as Steve and you mentioned, it best introduces and represents their screen personae.

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    1. Indeed this one is a good introduction to what Laurel & Hardy were all about. A sort of quintessential Laurel & Hardy film.

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