#251) Sons of the Desert (1933)

Sons-of-the-Desert-Poster

#251) Sons of the Desert (1933)

OR “Comic-Con”

Directed by William A. Seiter

Written by Frank Craven

Class of 2012

No original trailer, but this fan-made one hits the spot.

The Plot: Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy (Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy) are members of the Sons of the Desert fraternal lodge who have taken an oath to attend the national convention in Chicago. Knowing their wives (Dorothy Christy & Mae Busch, respectively) won’t approve of them going, Oliver fakes an illness and gets a doctor (Lucien Littlefield) to prescribe a cruise to Hawaii, knowing full well that Mrs. Hardy hates travelling by boat. The ruse works, and the boys have a great time in Chicago. But they come home to discover that the cruise ship they were supposed to be on was hit by a typhoon and sank. With their wives on the verge of figuring out their ploy, the boys get into one fine mess after another.

Why It Matters: The NFR calls it “the duo’s finest feature film” and commend the boys for making the successful transition from shorts to features.

But Does It Really?: One of my notes simply read “Jesus this is funny.” Laurel & Hardy get my vote for filmdom’s best comedy duo, and this film’s reputation as their best is well deserved. “Sons” can feel like several shorts strung together at times, but Laurel & Hardy make it work, and prove they are more than capable of starring in a feature. The laughs come at a pretty strong pace, and the boys’ chemistry only improves with age. “Sons of the Desert” made me laugh out loud more than most modern comedies, and is a welcome (and long-time coming) addition to the Registry.

Everybody Gets One: Director William A. Seiter had been helming films since the silent era when “Sons of the Desert” came along. Although this was his only film with Laurel & Hardy, longtime L&H producer Hal Roach praised Seiter for being one of their best collaborators.

Wow, That’s Dated: This film has such 1933 things as a shoutout to the National Recovery Act, and our appropriation of Hawaiian culture once it became a U.S. territory.

Take a Shot: This movie makes a good drinking game. The boys’ fraternal order gets mentioned just enough throughout, including towards the end when Mrs. Hardy uses it as an expletive.

Seriously, Oscars?: The Oscars loved L&H when they did shorts, but once the boys jumped to features they stopped getting awards (though “Way Out West” was the exception that proved the rule).

Other notes

  • I love that this movie doesn’t even bother with character names. They are Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy; it’s just easier on everyone that way.
  • Were Laurel & Hardy the first man-children of cinema?
  • Hardy’s takes to the camera will never not be funny. They kill me every time. It’s like he was physically incapable of not staring at the camera.
  • Laurel’s malapropisms are a fun running gag through all of their films. In this one he mentions the “exhausted ruler” of the lodge, and that their ship “floundered in a typhoid”.
  • A common thread throughout a lot of the comedies on this list is that the execution of a gag outweighs its cleverness. By themselves, each gag in “Sons of the Desert” isn’t particularly funny, but paired with our two well-defined main characters and impeccably delivered one right after the other, they’re a riot.
  • “You wax eater” is my new favorite insult.
  • Yes, both of their wives are particularly shrewish, but part of that is based on the boys’ real-life marital issues. Laurel was in the midst of a divorce during filming, and Hardy was estranged from his wife at the time (Don’t feel too bad for them; they were not lacking in female companionship. Laurel was already seeing his future second wife).
  • Oh right, hazing. That’s why I never joined a frat.
  • Longtime Laurel & Hardy collaborator and fellow film star Charley Chase plays the overly playful lodge brother at the convention. By all accounts, he was quiet and reserved when the cameras were off, but was also an alcoholic known to take sips between takes.
  • The “Honolulu Baby” number has a quick overhead shot of the dancers. Are we sure Busby Berkeley didn’t guest-direct this scene?
  • I suspect the boys would not be able to get away with their scheme if you were remaking this film today, what with cell phones and social media. They would have to be way cleverer about the whole thing.
  • Wow, a shoutout to the prophet Muhammad. Did not see that one coming.
  • If they had been born 20 years later, Laurel & Hardy could have had a sitcom that would have rivaled “Lucy”.
  • I appreciate that neither of the boys’ wives are completely stupid. They definitely hear L&H stumbling around in the attic.
  • Stan’s whimpering is also the best.
  • While not the first of their films to use the phrase, this may be the definitive reading of Hardy’s line “Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into.”
  • Wow, this thing is more violent than a Three Stooges short.

Legacy

  • The Sons of the Desert is the name of a fraternal organization comprised entirely of Laurel & Hardy fans. Stan Laurel endorsed the first “tent” shortly before his death in 1965, and they are apparently still going strong.
  • I feel like several “Honeymooners” episodes followed this plot. And, by association, several “Flintstones” episodes as well.
  • Seems like as good a time as any to reference “A Fine Mess”, the Ted Danson/Howie Mandel vehicle so awful director Blake Edwards told people not to go see it.

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