Filmed Oct 20, 1926, to Nov 3, 1926
Released April 3, 1927
Produced by Hal Roach, Directed by Fred Guiol
Photographed by George Stevens, Titles by H.M. Walker
Main Cast: Priscilla Dean, Herbert Rawlinson, Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Albert Conti
Despite not resembling a typical ‘Laurel and Hardy’ comedy in almost every respect, Slipping Wives is actually quite an enjoyable picture. Okay, so Stan and Babe are not a ‘team’ in this film, but at least they do appear in scenes together, and when they do, their on-screen chemistry is certainly evident.
As part of the ‘Roach All-Stars’ series, the boys are cast as the film’s supporting comedy providers, with the leading names of the picture being Priscilla Dean and Herbert Rawlinson, both formerly big, box office names. Hal Roach was developing a considerable reputation for signing to his studio numerous ‘falling stars’, in other words, successful actors that had begun to fall from favour, but that still had some box office pulling power. Roach saw the potential in these celebrities to provide an extra attractive element and gravitas to his two-reel shorts, an element that could give him the edge over his closest competitor, Mack Sennett. An article in The Yonkers Herald, September 7th, 1927, illustrates that Roach’s strategy had indeed been noticed:
“An unusual attraction is the appearance of Priscilla Dean in a screen comedy. It is of course a Hal Roach offering – one would expect that for who but Roach could get a star of Miss Dean’s prominence to appear in short comedy. It seems almost too far-fetched to be true though. We can Picture Priscilla, that dynamic fascinating personality in an exciting crook melodrama and exotic feature, but not in comedy. But here she be, and according to advance notices she does real well.
As if the appearance of Miss Dean were not enough, the gentleman who plays opposite her is almost as well known in fields not akin to comedy. He is Herbert Rawlinson. The picture is “Slipping Wives” a veritable riot of fun. It has often been said that the clown aspires to drama and the tragedienne to comedy, and if this is true the picture should prove an interesting experiment. It is safe to expect that there are plenty of laughs for that is what Roach always puts in his comedies – those and stars.”
As Roach intended, the appearance of big-name dramatic actors in two-reel comedies certainly caused a stir and made headlines, as this extract from an article in The Yonkers Statesman, September 9th, 1927 illustrates:
“It is well directed slapstick, has a preposterous plot, with the best laughs to be found in the titles. It certainly smacks of topsyturveydom to the movie fan to see Priscilla Dean in a film of this type, remembering her former appearances in feature productions exploiting crook melodrama and exotic environment. A parallel comparison would be to find a former clergyman working as a bartender.”
To say the boys are not a team is actually downplaying it somewhat, as Babe’s character spends most of the film trying to find ways to kill Stan. Babe Hardy plays butler to an artist (Herbert Rawlinson) who is so focused on his work he is neglecting his wife (Priscilla Dean). Stan plays the part of Ferdinand Flamingo, an innocent paint delivery man, who is hired (against his will) to make the artist/husband jealous.
Sound familiar? It should. The plot was revisited and re-worked for the boys’ 1935 short The Fixer Uppers. Interestingly, in this later film, Stan tells Ollie and Mae Busch, taking on the role of the neglected wife…
Stan: “You know what? I knew a woman once that had a case just like yours, but you know what she did? She got a fella to make love to her, in front of her husband, and it made the husband jealous!”
Ollie: “Then what happened?”
Ollie: “So what?!”
Stan: “Well, when the husband got jealous, his wife knew that he was in love with her, just because he was jealous. You see, if he hadn’t have been jealous, he wouldn’t have paid any attention to the fella that made him jealous…see?”
Ollie: “Well, what’d the husband do? Go out and shoot the other fella?”
Stan: “No! When the husband found out, he was so pleased that he was jealous, he took his wife and kissed her and they went out again and got married all over and then he kissed her again…”
Ollie: “Just a minute! What happened to the other fellow?”
Stan: “When the husband found out he was jealous, he was so pleased that the fella had made him jealous, he gave the fella a lot of money because he’d made him jealous and they all lived happily ever after”.
Here, in The Fixer-Uppers, Stan is clearly describing himself in his role as Ferdinand Flamingo in Slipping Wives, which had been produced some eight years earlier. There’s something quite fun and satisfying about this nod to their previous work. Direct references to previous films don’t happen very often in Laurel and Hardy movies. The boys made only one sequel, Tit For Tat (1935), which continued the story from Them Thar Hills (1934). Also, in Babes in Toyland (1934), when observing Stan’s skills with a pee-wee, Ollie states that whatever Stan can do, so can he. Stan disagrees and to prove his point he demonstrates the ‘Kneesy-Earsy-Nosey’ and ‘Finger Wiggle’ games, being a direct reference to a scene from Fra Diavolo (1933).
So, despite the boys being anything but a team, in the conventional sense of the word, there are several moments in Slipping Wives, where they do get to interact and their magic has the chance to shine through, and shine through it does.
Within seconds of butler Ollie answering the door to Stan they are engaged in a comic tussle on the doorstep – a classic bit of business. So too is the scene in which Ollie is chasing Stan around the bedroom trying to force him to take a bath. Very pleasing stuff to watch and well worth watching for any Laurel and Hardy fan.
The film also contains an interesting bit of trivia, being that this is the very first film in which the boys share a bed. The reason for this is Ollie has been instructed by his employer to keep a very close eye on Stan throughout the night, so Ollie presses his arm over the top of Stan and falls asleep, leaving Stan with the problem of finding a way to slide out from underneath the heavy arm and escape.
While the clean-shaven butler’s character doesn’t bear much resemblance, either appearance-wise or personality, to the Ollie that we know and love, Stan is actually getting visibly closer to perfecting his recognisable mannerisms. Here we see that glorious wide smile and his naive embarrassment at being told to ‘make love’ to the artist’s wife. He still displays that frenetic, volatile energy, carried through from his solo career, but little by little, the ‘Stanley’ character is emerging.
Priscilla Dean was clearly and firmly promoted as the star of this picture, with her name and likeness adorning all the Roach studio marketing materials. Yet, even so, the film feels, for all intents and purposes, very much a ‘Stan Laurel Comedy’, with everyone else playing the supporting roles. A particularly memorable scene, possibly the best scene in the entire film, sees Stan wonderfully performing the tale of Samson & Delilah in front of his hosts, in true pantomime fashion, harking back to his music hall/vaudeville training and roots.
The overall response to the picture was very positive, particularly about the ‘straight’ actors’ contributions as reported in the following contemporary reviews:
Motion Picture News, April 8th, 1927
“Well-known names for the marquee, Priscilla Dean and Herbert Rawlinson, and the comedy antics of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy under the skillful direction of Fred Guiol – a combination of this type deserves booking…”
Moving Picture World, April 23rd, 1927
“Not one, but two well-known stars of feature productions are offered by Hal Roach in the cast of this two-reeler, Priscilla Dean and Herbert Rawlinson, with several of the familiar Roach comedians in support, making this an exceptional aggregation even for a Hal Roach comedy.
The presence of the stars together with the good word of the supporting players, plus amusing situations and gags should make this a good attraction for any type of audience. Miss Dean is cast as a wife who is losing her husband’s love. She hires another man to make love to her and between this and the fact that he mistakes another friend for the real husband, he manages to ball everything up for the merriment of the spectator. In the main, it is farce comedy although Stan Laurel in the role of the paid lover introduces considerable slapstick“.
Mr. Roach must have been very satisfied indeed.
All in all Slipping Wives is enjoyable with a few good laugh-out-loud moments. It’s a step closer to the finished article for Mr. Laurel, but sadly Mr. Hardy’s character still has some way to go before he becomes our recognisable friend.
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