#271 Sons Of The Desert

(1933, William A. Seiter)

“Well, here’s another mess you’ve gotten me into”

This review was originally intended to posted on Tuesday, April Fool’s Day, but I never got around to it. That’s why there are references throughout to the day despite today being, well…not April Fool’s Day. Normal service will be resumed next week.

Laurel & Hardy are considered one of the greatest comedy acts of all time, with a vast library of films stretching from the silent era and on into the early 50s. So it seems fitting that today, on April Fool’s Day, we take a look at Sons Of The Desert, the only film from the duo on the 1001 Movies list.

As members of the fraternal lodge Sons Of The Desert, Stanley and Oliver find out there is to be a conference where the various chapters of the lodge from around the country are to meet up and have a huge party. The problem is, they need to convince their wives to let them go, with Oliver trying to convince his wife that he’s too ill to go on a trip to the hills with her, and that he should go to Honolulu to recuperate (giving him a cover story that prevents his wife from following him). Shenanigans ensue.

Sons Of The Desert is a product of its time. The storyline is largely based around the idea that wives don’t let their husbands have any fun and like to nag a lot. Men should be men and not allow themselves to be hen-pecked because a man who meekly does everything his wife says isn’t a real man.

It’s also heavily reliant on slapstick, a form of comedy that I’m not particularly fond of at the best of times. It’s a relic from the silent era that Laurel & Hardy carried over to the “talkies” with very little to change it up. I’m a fan of wordplay more than physical comedy, so something centred so heavily on the latter concerns me a little bit.

There is also an unnecessary musical number in the middle because all 1930s comedies apparently needed to bring one in to justify their light entertainment roles. And you know how I feel about musical numbers in general.

So, with all this working against the movie, why on earth did I find it so damn funny? I hate slapstick, and I tend to be very twitchy around outdated gender stereotypes such as “women like to nag a lot” and yet I enjoyed every minute of Sons Of The Desert. That took some skill, and I honestly don’t know how these two did it.

Everything about Sons Of The Desert is a mark of a great comedy. Every scene is meticulously pieced together with expert comic timing, with the slapstick being so over the top and absurd that it’s impossible not to laugh. Yes, it’s dated and you could never make a film like this now, but it somehow holds up as a brilliantly fun movie.

Even the negative aspects of the nagging wife trope are negated by the fact that the duo themselves are portrayed as ridiculous man-children anyway, and much of the humour comes from the fact that Oliver acts like the cool, smart one, when in fact he’s just a bumbling oaf. He criticises Stanley for being hen-pecked by his wife, but in fact Stan and his wife seem to have a pretty stable and relaxed marriage and Oliver feels that he has to sneak around his wife to do what he likes.

The absurdity of the plot also keeps things going. It doesn’t really make sense as a serious plot, but it’s not even trying to do that, and instead is determined to just ramp up the silliness at every turn and see how far it can go, until we reach a point where the wives think the duo died in a shipwreck, and as such the duo have to hide in the attic to avoid the fallout that would ensue from their deception being obviously discovered.

Sons Of The Desert is a live-action cartoon, and it works so damn well. Watching this single movie has convinced me that Laurel & Hardy’s enduring popularity is well-deserved. This is a fantastic comedy that has stood the test of time to the point where even its more dated elements don’t hold it back. A genuine comedy classic.

Starring Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Charley Chase & Mae Busch
Written by Byron Morgan
Produced by Hal Roach
Music by William Axt
Cinematography by Kenneth Peach
Edited by Frank Terry

Favourite Scene: The attempts to help cure Oliver’s “illness” were pretty damn hilarious.
Scene That Bugged Me: There’s a joke involving wax fruit that kind of runs a little too long for my liking.

Watch it if: You appreciate classic comedy
Avoid it if: You’re a Friedberg & Seltzer fan

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Posted on April 6, 2014, in 1930s, Comedy and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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