Sunday, November 18, 2012

Way Out West (1937)



Director: James W. Home

Oliver and Hardy travel into the frontiers of America in their adventure Way Out West. Transitioning from two-reel pictures to features, albeit pictures that tended to be only a hair over an hour in length, this comedic duo has no trouble making audiences laugh in another one of their comedies. A simple picture tailored to watch our heroes get into trouble, Way Out West makes for a fun romp of jesting that manifests how these two men still have what it takes to make people laugh.

Way Out West is a Laurel and Hardy comedy featuring the duo as men delivering the deed to a gold mine to the incorrect people and their adventures in trying to rectify the issue. Stan and Ollie have the task of delivering the inheritance of a gold mine to a poor lady, Mary Roberts (Rosina Lawrence) in the western town. However, Stan and Ollie are swindled into handing the deed over to Mary’s greedy and selfish guardians deceiving Stan and Ollie into thinking saloon girl Lola (Sharon Lynne) was Mary. When Stan and Ollie discover the mistake, they do whatever it takes to get the deed out of the evil couple’s hands and to the innocent Mary. This includes the troubles of breaking into couple’s house at night, Stan being nearly tortured by tickling, as well as plenty of destruction, but with satisfaction in the end Mary winds up rightfully with the deed and away from her terrible guardians, thanks to her bumbling heroes.

The picture plays very much like any two-reel comedy (a short subject that usually ranged 20-40 minutes), but even though this is not a real lengthy full length feature Laurel and Hardy keep you entertained throughout. From comedy set-ups, cute dance numbers, a short and delightful song they perform, good one-liners, and all the hijinks they get themselves into, audiences benefit with a strong hour a entertainment. It is no masterpiece of cinematic art, but great film does not necessarily need to be. It is a simple plot, with simple camera shots, simply edited, but all timed very well. Even if one is not a Laurel and Hardy fan, there are still smiles to be had in the picture.

Everything about the picture is made on the cheap. Director James W. Home was a short subject director at Hal Roach Studios, who would move into directing serials. There was really nothing difficult to do in shooting this picture other than pointing the camera and recording the two stars, because Stan Laurel, for the second time credited as a producer, was really the mastermind and in full control of the film. The sets are simple and filmed from one side, as if filming a stage, knowing full well there was really only one angle to shoot the picture. Much of the picture is contained in small quarters, the only exception being an outdoor location where Ollie continually disappears in an incredibly deep puddle, a humorous running joke throughout the feature.

The cast would be an assemblage of small Hal Roach players. James Finlayson returns as a supporting actor in a Laurel and Hardy picture, playing the primary antagonist, Mickey Finn, named after the drugged drink produced to knock people out (as in the phrase “to slip a Mickey”). His scowl and double takes can be a bit of ham acting, but it was what made him successful as a character actor for decades. His accomplice is an unknown actress named Sharon Lynne, who while introduced in a musical number plays like a very young Mae West, but turns quickly into a small part in stealing the deed to the gold mine. The 22 year-old Canadian singer Rosina Lawrence plays the damsel Stan and Ollie work so hard to help. Her career would not go too far, retiring from acting soon after being married, just a few years after Way Out West. Short appearances by bit players Stanley Fields and Vivien Oakland as the Sheriff and his wife play towards other comedic trouble that Stan and Ollie have in the picture.

Although the film is so simple and silly, Laurel and Hardy worked very hard to time correctly their comedy, practice their musical numbers, and dancing in their entertaining manner. “Trail of the Lonesome Pine,” a western ditty harmonized by Laurel and Hardy fits right in with the picture and the characters. Surprisingly a recording of it by the duo would not be released on a record until 1973. The music as a whole punctuates perfectly the film and the overall feeling of the feature with its innocent heroes. The picture’s music would even be nominated for best score at the Academy Awards, lending to show how loved Laurel and Hardy films were in their time.

Way Out West was credited as a Stan Laurel production, the second feature to do so, for it was a time of friction between Laurel and Hal Roach, with Laurel demanding greater control in his pictures. All off screen politics aside, the film is a simple and entertaining comedy that was loved at the time of its release and for years following by fans of the duo. As an inexpensive feature to produce, the film would make a handsome profit and build on the legacy of two of the most popular comedians of the era, Laurel and Hardy.

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