Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Flying Deuces, The (1939)

Stepping away from their usual home studio at Hal Roach Picture, the comedic team of Laurel and Hardy are featured in The Flying Deuces, an independent film and partial remake of a short they made eight years prior entitled Beau Hunks. As in Beau Hunks Laurel and Hardy join the French Foreign Legion, a post they are far from suited to handle. As one of their funnier feature films The Flying Deuces surprisingly is a picture that has fallen into public domain, meaning it is one of their features whose quality for later generations has not been taken care of, but still finds fans in loving Oliver and Hardy followers.

The Flying Deuces is Laurel and Hardy comedy of the two joining the foreign legion and discovering that it is not what it was cracked up to be. A broken hearted Ollie (Hardy) who cannot get over the rejection from a woman he had deeply fallen in love with, Georgette (Jean Parker). Considering that there is nothing to live for Oliver is given the idea of joining the French Foreign Legion in order   to forget her. Of course Ollie pulls Stan along and right away the two do not fit in and are outraged at the amount of work they do for such little pay. Things go from bad to worse as Georgette visits her husband at the legion camp, Fran├žois (Reginald Gardiner), who happens to be the very man that gave Ollie the idea of joining the legion. With Stan and Ollie’s troubles of attempting to desert the legion and Ollie misunderstanding the reason of Georgette’s visit to the camp, now the two are running from Fran├žois and sentenced to death by the legion. Their escape is made possible by mean of a wacky airplane flight by the comedic pair resulting in a tragic crash that take Ollie’s life. However Ollie is reincarnated into a horse discovered by Stan complete with his mustache and hat, an idea stared earlier between the two, becoming a happy coincidence in the film’s quirky conclusion.

With comedy movies, such as Laurel and Hardy pictures, one does not expect the greatest of production value or artistic merit as you would see in an MGM or Paramount drama. However the comedy you receive is first rate hilarious as the two are a comedy team that still produced laughs after years of finely honing their skills.

The Flying Deuces is a very funny feature film that takes major inspirations form one of their earlier works and draws it out into a near 70 minute motion picture. The two at times ham it up for the camera, which is not the norm from the higher end comedians of the period, or even from the silent days of Chaplin or Keaton, but it serves as a moment of pause for laugher that are awarded with the two experienced performances that literally bounce off each other in their act.

Due to the pair not being tied down by the Hal Roach Studios Laurel and Hardy were free to work on projects elsewhere when available. However, when working with other studios Laurel, the true driving force and brains of the operation, usually lost the creative control he received under Hal Roach. Happily this was not the case with The Flying Deuces as Laurel has his hand in the creative process, both writing and being heavy on suggestions for directing. This made director A. Edward Sutherland very annoyed as he put up with the constant insistence of Stan Laurel on what to do. Sutherland, a small time director with experience that goes back to his training under Charlie Chaplin, did not get along with Laurel and his working style. Their friction was very strong, even having Sutherland being quoted for the comment of him to “rather eat a tarantula than work with Laurel again.”

Whatever the working relationship was between director and stars that film is very well assembled and creatively funny throughout. Laurel and Hardy are their usual amusing selves while even the camera gets laughs with its moments and reveals. This is perhaps most evident in the scenes where Stan and Ollie are sentenced to wash all the legions laundry and we are shown a literal mountain of dirty clothes and a wide field of drying lines that can be akin to shot in Gone With the Wind when Vivien Leigh walks through a horde of wounded soldiers as a result of a Civil War battle. Despite the bickering Sutherland and Laurel may have had, the two worked to make this film enjoyable and for the most case it very much was.

Laurel plays tunes and plays his bed like a harp.
A small bit of inspiration can be attributed to Harpo Marx in one scene where Laurel plays a spring mattress like a harp in a prison cell. The performance is very much in the style of Harpo in the various Marx Bros. pictures. A legend states that it is Harpo who is actually playing the music and taught Laurel how to mimic his style for the comedy routine.

As the film centers very much on Stan and Ollie, not much can be said about the supporting cast. Jean Parker, whose carrier spans much of the decade with much the biggest studios in Hollywood, plays the role of the romantic interest to Ollie while Reginald Gardiner plays her Legion officer husband. The goofy-faced character actor known for his double take James Finlayson, a regular to Laurel and Hardy films, is featured once again in another Laurel and Hardy film. This time the comedic performer plays a jailer who is surprised by the men that seem to just disappear in the jail cell he has to watch over, having no knowledge of the trap door in the cell, providing many double take moments.

The Flying Deuces would not be the funniest picture or even the best of Laurel and Hardy, but it would leave an indelible mark on image of the two as fine comedians of their time. Images from this motion picture would be seen for years to come in snippets, most likely because the feature fell into public domain and was free to use. Shots of the movie are seen many times in backgrounds in television shows, movies, and music videos. For a quick mindless laugh The Flying Deuces is an enjoyable comedy in the Laurel and Hardy library that still brings joy to film lovers.

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