As a kid of the early 80s, UK TV had few things to offer me outside of its’ cheaply produced school holiday programming. For six weeks in the summer, two weeks at Christmas and the odd week here and there through the rest of the year I’d be glued to the set watching Junior Kickstart, Why Don’t You?, Wide Awake Club and…the adverts. Outside of these hedonistic holiday times TV was for grownups and I, comfortable with my own company (I was an inveterate loner), sat there and soaked up all that proper grown up goodness. Bruce Forsyth’s ridiculous hair, hours of David Attenborough, Tomorrows World and of course every single film. The blacker and whiter, the better.
For me the best of these old films (now I’d call them ‘Classic’) were the Laurel and Hardy films. The slapstick obviousness of the jokes appealed to my childs’ brain. I related to those two clowns. Stans’ sadness, his lack of awareness, his fear and Ollie’s quiet seething, fourth wall breaking looks straight at you and his pathos rich attempts at dignity clicked with me in a way that not much else did. With hindsight I reckon these were my formative years. To this day I feel more at home with old films, their black and whiteness, their scritchy sound and the personalities on screen than I do with CGI driven super hero flicks without a hint of anything real in them.
So I’m glad to say I can finally get to review a Laurel and Hardy film. ‘Pack up Your Troubles’ is a 1932 pre-code feature. Just their second feature film as it happens after knocking out mostly shorts in the years since they began working as a double act in the mid 20’s. The story picks up with our two heroes trying to hide from a recruiting officer. They feign disability (badly of course) and are forced to sign up. Following some high jinks during basic training they’re off to war. They make a friend (who dies) and they end up doing something heroic by mistake.
After the war they’re back home and looking for the daughter of their dead chum to make sure she gets looked after by his parents. All of this, of course, with plenty of falling over, doing things wrong and punches on the nose. Jeez people punched each other in the face a lot in the 1930s. Anyone does the slightest thing to annoy someone else….punch on the nose. Mix up someone’s identity for someone else?.…..punch on the nose. Drop stinking rubbish in an army generals’ front room…..you guessed it. Giant, haymaking punch on the nose.
The real guts of the story is the search for their dead pals’ parents. The backdrop of the Great War serves as little more than to help set this all up. Is the film funny? In parts yes. I laughed out loud once or twice. But, for the most part, it’s the usual array of early Hollywood, Keystone Cops, Charlie Chaplin stuff. Falling over, walking into doors, that kind of thing. And that just isn’t funny to me. I struggle to think that viewers back in the 1930’s would’ve been rolling about in the aisles either, but I must be wrong about that I suppose because these two truly are megastars of the era.
The real star of the film for me is the four year old girl in the daughter role. She’d previously starred in a few Hal Roach ‘Little Rascals’ films. There’s a whole long gag that resolves around her telling Stan the Goldilocks story. She puts on funny voices for the different bears and Stan slowly falls asleep in the background as she sits on his lap. It’s funny and on the evidence of this film she could’ve been the next big thing.
However, according to her Wiki page, after this film her father started demanding more money for her and the studio let her go. That was the end of her career, years active: 1931-1932. She lived out her life in anonymity until her son bought her a video tape of this movie in the 1990s. The movie was introduced by Laurels’ daughter Lois who mentioned the pair had searched for her as they grew older and their movie careers came to an end. Her and her family contacted the Laurel and Hardy fan club (The Sons of the Desert) and she was famous once more. Nice story.
The production is pretty much what I’ve come to expect from 1930’s Hollywood. The editing is a bit rough around the edges, and the story jumps about a bit but for the most part the story is well told. There’s a musical accompaniment throughout the whole thing which helps mask the scratchy, fuzzy audio. It doesn’t hang around either coming in at 68 minutes start to finish which is great news for my short attention span.
The DVD I have comes with two versions of the feature, one in black and white and the other one in colour! Far out brussel sprout! Colour! In 1932. Well not real colour, it’s ‘Colourised’, which I suppose means someone has basically painted each and every frame of the film. Even so it makes a difference. I watched the first half in black and white and then flipped to the colourised version. It made for a very different, and slightly better experience overall.
All up this is an okay film from some true legends of Hollywoods’ Golden Age. Laurel and Hardy are the giants whose shoulders all future comedians are standing on. It’s funny in places and I can forgive it the unfunny bits because it’s 1932. As it happens I played a few bits to my seven year old and she liked the falling over and bumping into doors bits so I reckon I probably first saw these films at around the same age.
Would I recommend it? Why not, it’s only an hour long. The young girl is great and the bad jokes are outweighed by the good. Keep an eye out for the silent screams behind Hardy’s eyes as he briefly breaks the fourth wall on a couple of occasions. Should you want to watch it I found it on the youtubes and have made it my Public Domain Film of the Week. Enjoy.