I grew up in a family that went to church every Sunday, and I mean every Sunday. I can’t remember a single Sunday from the time I was a little kid until I left for college that we missed. We even went to church when we spent a week at the lake on vacation; we’d trundle all the boys into town to the local Methodist church and be embarrassed when all the locals stared at us. Or at least I felt like we were being stared at. That’s a horrible feeling when you’re a young teenager, you know.
The family always went to church. But once in a while one or two of the individual kids didn’t, because sometimes we caught the flu, or the measles, or some other childhood disease. That happened to me a few times, and that’s when I discovered something important. That’s when I made the important discovery that Channel 4 from the Cities had a program every Sunday morning starring Laurel & Hardy. Sunday mornings were the time when the seed of my love for “the boys” was planted.
It was a whole new world for me, those old black and white movies of another time and place, with silly, skinny Stan and fat, funny Ollie always getting into trouble. I had never seen anything like it.
There were movies like “Way Out West” with the boys on a search for young Mary Roberts, whose father had died and left her a gold mine in his will. Their hijinks were memorable, but that movie included a couple scenes that remain very special for all L&H fans. In one, the boys join in a song in a saloon started by one of the “Avalon Boys”, a cowboy singing group. The song actually became a hit in England in the 80s; it was called “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine”.
The other was a little dance routine to another song by the Avalon Boys, starting off slowly with a little move of the fingers, tapping of the feet, and pretty soon blossoming into a full-blown soft-shoe dance. Ah, those were wonderful times!
Every New Years Eve Channel 4 would have a special show to ring out the old year – they would show the only movie the boys made that won an Academy Award – “The Music Box”. While some purists would argue that it’s not their greatest film (myself included) it truly was one of their great ones. Who could ever forget their crazy attempts to carry a piano in its crate up a steep stairway of probably 100 steps or so to a house on top of the hill, and all the times that piano went careening down the steps to the very bottom and the boys had to go down and start all over again. Then when they finally get to the top of the stairway, they are told by the postman that they didn’t have to do that – there is a road that comes up to the house; they could have driven their cart right up to the top! Upon discovering that nobody is home, they proceed to try and find a way of getting the piano into the house, not realizing the front door was left unlocked! They try hoisting the piano through an upstairs window using a block & tackle, both of them winding up in the fountain outside, along with the piano! When they finally get the piano into the house, they proceed to ruin the carpet by opening the piano crate which is now full of water. The owner comes home and becomes furious because the boys have ruined their house, and besides, he hates pianos! He proceeds to get an ax and absolutely destroys the piano! But then his wife comes home and tells him she bought it for his birthday! What a wild and wacky movie!
Some people don’t care much for Laurel & Hardy, thinking they’re just plain stupid. Others (who don’t know) think the boys did a brand of slapstick comedy much like the mindless junk done by the Three Stooges. Nothing could be further from the truth! No, the boys were lovable, endearing; often two guys down on their luck back in the days of the Great Depression, just trying to find some way to make a buck, out looking for their next meal. Once in a while they played fairly well-to-do gentlemen, but much more often we saw them in ragged, baggy old clothes and dirty derby hats, driving (if they could even afford to drive) an old beater that was already way out of date by the time the movie was made.What a lot of people don’t realize is that Stan was actually the comic genius of the pair. He directed a number of the pair’s films, and even produced them for a short time. It was Stan who came up with the funniest routines. When some other writers tried to write routines for them, the result was invariably stilted, because the writers really didn’t understand what the boys were all about. So their very last few films are not nearly of the quality of their earlier films.
But no matter what the film, they’re all valuable to the L&H fans! Next time you see in your TV listings that some channel or other is showing Laurel & Hardy, be sure you watch it, and even tape it if you can. You won’t be sorry!
I have lots more to talk about as far as “Masters of Mirth” goes, so it looks like I’m going to have to write a few more “parts” to this story. I still have to talk about the Marx Brothers, and Abbott & Costello, and maybe a few others as well.