Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Way Out West (1937) - A Classic Laurel and Hardy Comedy

Way Out West 1937 film poster
"Way Out West" (1937).

Some folks don't like black and white films, but they are missing out on a lot if they don't take in "Way Out West" (1937), directed by James W. Horne. Starring Stan Laurel>/span> and Oliver Hardy, "Way Out West" is arguably Laurel and Hardy's finest work, and it has some truly classic scenes. Ever want to see the first music video ever made?  Start right here, my friends, because the boys do not one, but two old-time numbers and make them their own. There are too many classic comedy scenes to list, just watch out for those puddles!

Way Out West 1937 Stan Laurel Oliver Hardy
Stan and Laurel feel the urge to dance in "Way Out West"!

This film really deserves all of the accolades it gets from connoisseurs of fine comedy. It really makes you feel sad for people who are too stuck in the present to appreciate the gems of the past.

"Way Out West" concerns the boys' attempts to deliver the deed to a gold mine to the daughter of a deceased friend who lives, well, way out West. Naturally, it isn't as simple as all that, and all sorts of comic complications ensue.

Laurel and Hardy were at their absolute peak here, and they would stay there for about another five years.  They blend all sorts of different routines into their act, which keeps it fresh. They sing, they dance, they do slapstick, they do stand-up - it really is a tour-de-force that probably hasn't been matched since. Their genius wasn't in coming up with anything original, but in timing, delivery and the perfect realization of their characters.

Way Out West 1937 Oliver Hardy
This is a fine mess that you've gotten me into!

Everybody who's seen this film has a favorite scene or two. The most obvious are the two musical numbers. I don't want to denigrate Abbott and Costello, who were brilliant in their own way, but compare the musical numbers here to the ones in "Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd." In "Kidd," Abbott and Costello basically stand aside for others to sing and do some very weak slapstick during the singing. Here, Stan and Laurel sing (their actual voices! - well, except for the comic insertion of Chill Wills and a female singer at one point), they dance (really quite good soft-shoe which has become an Internet meme), and they use the songs to enhance their characters (note Laurel's switch from tenor to alto after a knock on the head from Stan). As always, there is a knowing element to bits like this, it is understood that the boys are stepping outside the movie slightly and commenting on their own performance at times (Stan and the bartender knowingly getting out the mallet to knock Laurel's head and change his singing voice). It works brilliantly.

I like some of the subtler bits just as much. By "subtle" I don't mean "easy to overlook," I mean scenes that are obvious set-ups but pulled off brilliantly anyway. When "Mickey Finn" (a brilliant James Finlayson, master of the squint-eyed double-take) is looking for the boys, he "kicks the bucket" (not the way you might think) and then does some classic reaction shots. The mule being pulled up to the second floor of the hotel is just classic as well. One of my personal favorites is when the four fools (the boys, Finn and Finn's wife, played by Sharon Lynn) are chasing the deed, blowing it across the floor, tickling each other to get it, and generally mixing it up. And let's not forget the classic "Stan keeps falling in the lake" bit.

Way Out West 1937 Stan Laurel Oliver Hardy
An epic clash breaks out over a certain document in "Way Out West." Give it to me!

Well worth your time. The film definitely picks up steam as it enters the last half hour, so give it some time. Highly recommended.


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