Laurel and Hardy

An antiheteronormative marriage made in heaven. Laurel and Hardy in “Our Wife” 1931

There’s a kind of sublime silliness to this film. ‘Tis Oliver Hardy’s wedding day and he couldn’t be happier. He’s preening himself and humming Mendelssohn and rehearsing different ways of saying “I do”. Stan meanwhile is fussing about in the kitchen and breaking dishes. Then he spots insects on the wedding cake. How do you swat flies on a wedding cake?

When the wedding cake is finally and inevitably destroyed, it’s with an elegant totality that also destroys every single wedding decoration in the room.

But these cosmetic disasters have been superseded by the more fundamental concern that Dulcy’s father has suddenly forbidden the marriage at the last minute. It might seem a rather less than solicitous parent who would wait until the morning of the wedding to learn the first thing about their beloved daughter’s husband to be. But that’s James Finlayson for you. When Dulcy shows him a photo of Oliver Hardy, he recoils with an exclamation of thunderstruck horror that would do justice to… well… James Finlayson.

Ollie responds to this setback with admirable calm and immediately suggests an elopement, to which Dulcy enthusiastically assents.

(Stan has of course been listening in on the phone extension and his cheerily unexpected “Goodbye” to Dulcy is a little highlight of the film. It’s almost as good as the cheerily inappropriate “Goodbye” he offers in Come Clean.)

When they arrive at Dulcy’s house, Stan simply rings at the door and announces the elopement. Ollie of course has bad luck with ladders and were it not for Dulcy’s own spirited initiative it’s hard to see how the escape could be effected.

And then there’s the “limosine” that Stan has rented especially for this occasion. There is brilliant sequencing here – because when you first see the car you have no sense of scale until Ollie and Dulcy arrive in front of it. A vehicle that would have trouble accommodating one normal sized human has to accommodate two super-sized individuals. And Stan. And a suitcase. When the car is finally bursting at its seams with overlapping human flesh,it tips backwards sending Stan’s head through the roof.

One of the most strangely funny sequences occurs at the doorstep of the judge’s house as Stan attempts a relay conversation involving Ollie (still stuck in the car) and the judge’s very tall and hostile daughter (played by Blanche Payson, who had played a fairly brutal character in Below Zero and who would later feature prominently in Helpmates.) There’s something about the slowness and inefficiency of this conversation that feels positively Beckettsian (unsurprising, given Samuel Beckett’s debt to the music hall tradition).

Eventually “pa” is dragged out of bed and a ceremony of sorts takes place.

Now when Ben Turpin, the cross-eyed judge, marries Ollie to Stan instead of Dulcy, is he really making a mistake? In the twenty first century of course, it takes a slightly awkward effort to recover an original viewing context that imagines that the notion of two men marrying one another is inherently ludicrous.

There are other films which allude in various ways to the fact that Stan and Ollie are, in effect, a married couple. When Ben Turpin congratulates them, he’s merely confirming a commitment to lifelong co-dependency. Has Turpin’s cross-eyed vision merely revealed a deeper truth?

You have to feel most sorry for Dulcy in this situation though, played by the delightful Babe London, whose love for Ollie seems to have a purity and a breathless excitement about it. The title of the film would seem to suggest that a polyandrous arrangement in which Dulcy (like everything else in Stan and Ollie’s life) is shared – is the only possible long term outcome you can extrapolate from the situation.

I’ve thoughts about some other Laurel and Hardy films like…

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