Stan and Ollie: Why I Like Them (Well, Some of the Reasons)

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Of all the many feature films and shorts Laurel and Hardy made together I think i have seen their 1939 RKO film The Flying Deuces more than any other. The film is one of the few my Grandmother had on VHS and, after coming to love the team through osmosis rather than design, it was possibly the one I had the easiest access to. Although it is not necessarily held in very high regard by  all Laurel and Hardy fans, The Flying Deuces has a number of great things going for it. Not least of which is Ollie’s rendition of Shine On Harvest Moon; a musical number that crops up for no dramatic reason during the climax of the film and brings the action to a standstill. On paper it shouldn’t work but on film the simple charm of listening to Oliver Hardy’s voice combined with the whimsey of Stan’s on screen dancing make the scene one of the highlights of their career.

The film also features what is perhaps my favourite Laurel and Hardy scene of all time. Overcome by the rejection of his marriage proposal to a beautiful waitress, Ollie decides to end it all and throw himself into the Seine. Stan, being the faithful friend that he is, comes along to help. Here is the scene, in very slightly edited form.

While not widely acknowledged as a classic by many this scene has everything that, to me, makes Laurel and Hardy great; Stan getting confused, Ollie being bossy, well-planned slapstick capers and a dash of black humour. It also features an exchange that I think sums up Stan and Ollie’s relationship.

STAN: What have I got to jump in there for? I’m not in love.

OLLIE: So that’s the kind of a guy you are. After all I’ve done for you, you’d let me jump in there alone. Do you realise that after I’m gone that you’d just go on living by yourself? People would stare at you and wonder what you are and I wouldn’t be here to tell them. There’d be no-one to protect you. Do you want that to happen to you?

STAN: I never thought of that. I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings, Ollie. I didn’t mean to be so dispolite. 

OLLIE: That’s alright, Stanley. Let bygones be bygones. This is going to be easier than you think.

At first this may seem to be the ultimate case of Ollie’s bullying Stan – he is, after-all, literally driving him to suicide – but to look past Hardy’s bluster and bossiness is to view a man stating what we all know to be true. A Laurel without a Hardy is as incomplete as a car without an engine. Ollie may be harsh in his phrasing but he means well and he needs Stan just as much.

Some people I have known to dislike Laurel and Hardy have expressed the misgiving that they feel uncomfortable, “when the fat one hits the thin one.” They can’t understand why Stan would stick around with Ollie. Now, I’d hate to go into too much depth – Laurel and Hardy are simply funny because they are – but I think the teaming works because of this co-dependency. Ollie may get frustrated and boss Stan around, but he does so for their mutual benefit. Stan says and does very silly things but always does so in the process of trying to help out his friend. If anyone assumes that a Laurel and Hardy film consists of nothing more than two men kicking each other in the pants I don’t think you could do any better than to point them towards this film. 

Laurel and Hardy are friends, and in watching their films they become your friends. What’s more, they have the same problems that you do. They struggle with women, with money, with modern technology, with keeping a job, with going to the dentist. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that people who like their films return so often to the duo. Spending time with them is spending time with kindred spirits.

The Flying Deuces is one of many Hollywood films to have lapsed into the public domain. This lack of a copyright holder means that literally anyone is free to use it as they wish, on television, video, DVD, CD or print. As such, the film, alongside Utopia a.k.a. Atol K, has become the most widely available Laurel and Hardy film worldwide. I argue that this is a good thing. Imagine if one of the teams’ feature length operettas had succumbed to the same fate. While showcasing many great comedy sequences, these plodding, musically laden, romantic sub-plot driven films do not showcase the duo in anywhere near as pure a form as The Flying Deuces.

NOTE: I would advise, however, that you look for this French edition, which features an excellent transfer of the film and some fun extras to boot. Ordering from Amazon France is a doddle if you already have a UK or US account.

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3 Responses to “Stan and Ollie: Why I Like Them (Well, Some of the Reasons)”

  1. masterpieceinme Says:

    I love The Flying Deuces. It has always been one of my Laurel and Hardy favourites, amongst Way Out West, Men O’ War and Sons of the Desert.

  2. Interesting point about Ollie playing the bully. I had never seen it that way having grown up watching each one hundreds of times, everytime just as funny.

  3. My favourite Laurel and Hardy film is way out west I just love the dance they do I can watch that over and over it’s genius. I recently drew a portrait of Laurel and Hardy with the donkey from the film way out west hope you like it. It would be nice to hear what a true fan thinks.

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