Thursday, April 05, 2012
The Laurel & Hardy Project #9: Why Girls Love Sailors
This is just the second time in the series that Laurel & Hardy are paired as the stars of the film, after Duck Soup, though they are not yet an official comedy team and their personae have yet to fully mature. They come close here, with Laurel playing up his crybaby mugging portraying a wimpy-looking young man ( "the great periwinkle fisherman") in love with a girl (Viola Richard, in her first film) who gets kidnapped by a much taller sea captain. Laurel begins the film flirting with the girl, giving her a seashell necklace and twirling away in a bit of Chaplinesque acrobatics. He then rolls around playfully on a bed, childlike and not the least bit erotic. When the captain bursts in and pours a pitcher of water down his shirt, Laurel gives his longest weeping face to date, extending the single joke for almost a minute, until the captain takes the girl. I really don't know what to do with this face. I still don't think it's particularly funny, but it's Laurel's signature move and I'm starting to appreciate the absurdity with which he commits to it.
Anyway, Laurel chases the captain and his girl back to the ship and, pulling his turtleneck up over his head, attacks one of the crew Ichabod Crane-style ("The headless man. . . he gave me the evil eye!" The titles by HM Walker are pretty great). After deciding haunting the ship won't get his girl back, Laurel dresses up in drag (his third disguise, after child and ghost). One by one, he lures the crew members behind a wall, knocks them unconscious, then tricks Hardy (the ship's ornery first mate) to throw them overboard by posing the crew members behind him thumbing their noses and hitting Hardy on the head. Every time this happens, it's filmed from the front, with Hardy looking at the front right and Laurel in the left back corner of the screen, out of sight of Hardy, but clearly visible to us as he does a hilarious happy dance each time a crew member gets thrown over.
The crew dispatched, Laurel goes after the captain and flirts with him, a plan which doesn't seem particularly well thought out. Fortunately, the captain's wife shows up and, after knocking out Hardy with one punch, shoots the captain while Laurel and the girl make their escape. In the last shot of the film, the wife shoots at them too, blowing their pants off.
This is clearly a showpiece for Laurel, and while it has some funny bits and his mastery of physical comedy is obvious, the film never really escalates to anything particularly interesting or chaotic. Hardy is wasted, his character doesn't have much to do or much personality, and while I like the idea of a woman knocking him out after Laurel had been throwing things at his head all night to no effect, it's weird that his character just disappears in the final act. This film was out of circulation and considered lost for decades. Wikipedia cites this factoid, "Why Girls Love Sailors went missing in the U.S. for nearly fifty years. Cinémathèque Française had a 16mm print, French film critic Roland Lacourbe saw it in 1971, and pronounced it mediocre." Which sounds about right to me.