Laurel and Hardy

“Mother knows best… ” 13 seconds of Laurel and Hardy in “On the Wrong Trek” (1936).

If you’re a Laurel and Hardy completist (and of course you are), then you’ll definitely watch a Charley Chase 2 reeler because you know that Stan and Ollie will be in it for all of 13 seconds.

Charley Chase works in an office in Salt Lake. He is telling his co-workers about his disastrous holiday, a road trip to California (rather than his preferred Michigan) with his wife and mother in law. Mother in law’s word is law, because the repeated maxim “mother knows best” is allowed to conclude any and all arguments.

Early on they are robbed by a very nasty gang who pour ketchup on themselves and pretend to be road accident victims in order to get motorists to stop. Their clothes are stolen and they are given rags in return (or rather – Charley and Rosita’s clothes are stolen – Mother’s clothes are too large to be of any use).

They then manage to destroy someone else’s vehicle while trying to borrow gasoline from them and end up being turned away at the Nevada/California border because they look like hobos. This sinister border, policed in defiance of what you might regard as federal norms and federally guaranteed freedoms, is a reminder of the cruelties and petty oppressions of the Depression era, when state and local law enforcement took it upon itself to repel undesirables in the harshest fashion possible.

The highlight of the film occurs in a hobo jungle replete with its own campfire and skiffle group. In order to get a bowl of food and a space by the fire, the Chase party is told that they have to provide some kind of entertainment. What ensues is one of the most delightful little song and dance routines you’ve ever seen. Charley Chase and Rosina Lawrence perform a number called “Let’s Make it a Big Day” that is warm, affectionate, and elegant. The hellish experience of the holiday so far is almost redeemed by a soft shoe performance that will live in everyone’s memory. You feel that this marriage will have been consolidated and prolonged by each evocation of this performance.

After a run in with the law after the family is suspected of being the same gang who fleeced them early in the film, we return to the Salt Lake office. Unfortunately, it turns out that Charley’s new boss is the very same man whose car got trashed during the vacation. Charley initially thinks he’s gone unrecognised but he is soon hurled through a door by way of mutual reminder. The end.

And Stan and Ollie? Well, they show up three minutes and thirty seconds into the film. We’ve seen a string of unsavory looking hitch-hikers and the mother in law likes the look of Stan and Ollie, who are dressed in rags but have a huge quantity of luggage. They have been jabbing their thumbs in opposite directions – to Ollie’s belated annoyance. And then thirteen seconds later Laurel and Hardy are gone, leaving Charley to declare that they look like a couple of horse thieves before ruffling his own hair Stan style to register his contempt.

Stan and Ollie and Charley were of course great friends. Charley’s appearance in Sons of the Desert (1933) is a highlight of a film made exclusively of highlights. And Charley’s dismissal of Stan and Ollie in On the Wrong Trek demonstrates something of the slagging and/or roasting that typifies very close and assured friendship. Oliver Hardy and Stan Laurel and helping out here, just as they helped out Thelma Todd and ZaSu Pitts in On the Loose (1931). They are using their own celebrity to boost the prestige of work by people they like and care about. In this film they are in character, and they are themselves, at one and the same time.

I’ve written about some other Laurel and Hardy films.

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