Tuesday, June 20, 2017

PARDON US (1931)

(Post 5 of 20)

 Oliver Hardy and Stan Laurel in the prison classrom
in Pardon Us

The only film the 1001 book lists starring Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy is Sons of the Desert. I felt since I was doing films from the 1930's, I'd look at one more old favorite. 1931's Pardon Us

The team had already became famous by the release of this time through their silent shorts and talkie shorts, but the Hal Roach studios were beginning to branch out into full length films in 1931 and Pardon Us was their first. Full length being a relative term since the film runs 68 minutes. I'm assuming Pardon Us is sort of a parody of the popular prison pictures of the day such as The Big House and 20,000 Years in Sing Sing. The boys get thrown in prison trying to sell beer to a cop (Prohibition is still with us in 1931). They get thrown in jail. Stan has a loose tooth that keeps squeaking and makes it sound like he is giving someone the raspberry every time he talks. They meet up with a tough prisoner named Tiger who is planning a jail break. After the jail break, they end up hiding with some black field workers (using  black face of course) until they run into the warden and Stan's tooth gives him away and they are thrown back in jail. The recaptured Tiger and his crew plan another jailbreak which Stan inadvertently foils by shooting off a smuggled machine gun. After a wild prison revolt is squashed, the boys are released.

There are lots of funny bits in this film for fans of the duo. The classroom scene with teacher James Finlayson is my favorite. The constant problems with Stan's whistling tooth are usually pretty funny including a strange trip to the prison dentist! The blackface scenes may be a little uncomfortable for modern audiences, but does include a nice song from Oliver (Ollie had a nice singing voice) and an accompanying dance from Stan (Stan had some moves).

I'm glad they showed Laurel and Hardy films on television during the time I grew up. You won't see them on much anymore, but thanks to the glory of YouTube, you can relive a lot of them there.  
And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to..(tie) James Finlayson/June Marlowe
Anyone who is a big Laurel and Hardy fan probably knows the name of James Finlayson. He played the comic foil against the lads in many of their best films (The Music Box, Big Business). He was sort of to Laurel and Hardy what Margaret Dumont was to the Marx Brothers. Fin could squint and scowl with the best of them. A modern frame of reference is that Don Castellana had said the inspiration for Homer Simpson's catchpharase "D'oh" comes from Finlayson using the same expression of irritation in many a picture.

Finlayson plays the prison school teacher who just can't seem to get his students to do what he'd like them to do in Pardon Us in what I think is the funniest scene in the film. 

 James Finlayson as the exasperated teacher
in Pardon Us

 Oliver Hardy, Stan Laurel and James Finlayson
in the short Big Business

Speaking of school teachers...June Marlowe has a small role as the warden's daughter in Pardon Us. She is featured in the finale of the film where she has to be rescued from a burning building by Stan and Ollie during the film's climax. Unlike a lot of my Elisha Cook winners, June had a pretty short film career, ending in 1932 when she wasn't even thirty years old yet. I include her here for here work in six short films she made from 1930-1932 for  Hal Roach Studios as the pretty teacher named Miss Crabtree (Even prettier than Miss McGillicutty!) in the Our Gang/Little Rascals series. She was always the object of the affection of Jackie Cooper (and sometimes Chubby) in these shorts. This brief period of films was really the high point of The Little Rascal film series and here's to you June and every teacher that any student ever had a crush on!

 The brunette June Marlowe as the warden's daughter
in Pardon Us

Blonde June Marlowe as Miss Crabtree in one of her
Our Gang shorts as Jackie Cooper, Mary Ann Jackson
and Chubby Chaney look on

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