Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Honesty Is The Best Politics

Sons Of The Desert(1933)
Director: William A. Seiter
Cast: Laurel and Hardy, Charley Chase, Mae Busch

Long regarded as the greatest comedy team of all-time, Laurel and Hardy have recently had all of their Hal Roach classics released on DVD. So, what better way to celebrate than to review the team's best film, Sons of the Desert? Laurel and Hardy have made several unperishable comedy classics, including Way Out West(1937), March of the Wooden Soldiers(1934) and Block-Heads(1938), among many short films as well. Sons of the Desert is the stand-out though, perfectly capturing the team's unique brand of comedy perfectly, while suggesting a blueprint for the situational comedies that will flourish on television in the future.

The plot is a familiar one to fans of classic comedy, as the boys devise a plan to sneak out to a fraternal convention of the Sons of the Desert, though Ollie's wife(Mae Busch) objects and wants to go to the mountains. Ollie feigns illness and convinces his wife that he is very sick and Stan must take him on an ocean voyage to Hawaii! The boys attend the convention, where they endure a musical number called, "Honolulu Baby" and obnoxious conventioneer, Charley Chase. When the boys arrive home, they discover that the ocean-liner they were to take has sunk, and with it, their plans. Scrambling to find an alibi, they end up trapped in the attic(where they are like "two peas in a pod'ja!") and eventually find themselves on the roof and in the rain. They explain to their wives, who are wise to the scheme now, and in one of their best bits, spin a wild yarn involving ship-hiking. Stan breaks down and confesses however, allowing Ollie to suffer the wrath of his wife, who bombards him with every kitchen utensil at her disposal. Stan is awarded for his honesty, proclaiming it to be the best "politics" and gets a pan thrown at him by Ollie.

A perfect mixture of slapstick and subtle build, Sons of the Desert is still a fresh and funny vehicle for the beloved comedy team, emphasizing their best assets as a duo. Many memorable vignettes are present, from the great anthem of the fraternal organization to the comic antics of the convention, and the wild finish, containing some of my favorite comedy bits. Stan has some of his more ridiculous moments(that's saying something!), including hiring a veternarian to look after Ollie(who proceeds to treat him like a dog) and his tearful breakdown to his wife, one of his best on film. Of course, the lines are great, though lines like the repeating and pronounciation of the word, "pods" and Stan's line about Mohamed(Very random) work best by seeing.

Ollie has some wonderfully subtle moments, his reactions continue to get funnier and funnier upon repeat viewings, especially as things spiral out of control and Stan does very little to help matters. Ollie's reaction to the "doctor" and his hilariously over-the-top sick act, are highlights. The rest of the cast add immeasurably, Mae Busch playing her typical nitpicker of a wife, who becomes fed up with her child of a husband. Dorothy Christie as Stan's wife is more understanding(she let Stan go to the convention) and despite her demeanor, clearly has more of a tolerance for him. Charley Chase plays against type as the conventioneer, in a role he reportedly hated, though he's hilarious, pulling practical jokes on everyone. This was the only film to be directed William A. Seiter for the boys, and that's a shame, because he's great at handling the nuances of the team, understanding there is more to them than slapstick.

I think the reason Laurel and Hardy stands the test of time so well, is the theme of friendship and warmth transcends time. Unlike, many comedians, Laurel and Hardy are characters that we care about, and do not exist soley as vessels for comedy. Undeniably, The Marx Brothers were hilarious, but never appeared to be sympathetic or believable characters, existing as almost comedic representations of our id, saying and doing what we all wish we could. Likewise, The Three Stooges and Abbott and Costello, while talented, never achieved the warmth required to really make them loveable. There's a certain innocence to Laurel and Hardy. They are like childhood never ending, without resorting to the "manchild" of today's lackluster and lowbrow comedies, because they actually mean well. Sons of the Desert is such a practice in innocent comedy, warm and fun all the way through. It's not just one of the best comedies ever made, this is one of the greatest films of all-time. An antidote to any bad day, it proves that laughter is indeed, the best politics, er, policy.

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