I can’t remember the last time I watched ‘Slipping Wives’, but for some reason, I wasn’t really looking forward to revisiting this one. I needn’t have worried – I actually really enjoyed it. Although Stan & Babe are not a ‘team’ in this film, when they are in scenes together, their on-screen chemistry is certainly evident.
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’s. Here Babe Hardy plays butler to an artist who is so focused on his work he is neglecting his wife. Stan, on the other hand, 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, whose husband had become neglectful of her…
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”.
There’s something quite satisfying about this nod to their previous work, especially the film that they are recreating, at that moment, in front of our eyes. I’m not altogether sure, if this has happened in any other of the boys’ films, apart from perhaps the mention of “habeas corpus” in the film ‘The Big Noise’ (1944), (see the blog link for more details). But, here in ‘The Fixer Uppers‘, Stan is clearly describing himself in his role as Ferdinand Flamingo in ‘Slipping Wives‘, some eight years earlier. I can’t think of many movies/artists, from this sort of period at least, which make such subtle references to earlier works. The closest I can come up with is Groucho Marx in ‘Room Service‘ (1938), asking “What’ll we do now, sing ‘Sweet Adeline’?“, which refers back to the brothers’ rendition of that song in the opening scene of their 1931 classic ‘Monkey Business‘.
So, as mentioned at the start, despite the boys being anything but a team, in the conventional sense of the word, there are several moments in the film, where they get to interact and their magic has the chance to shine through.
For instance, within seconds of butler Ollie answering the door to Stan they are engaged in a comic tussle on the doorstep – a classic L&H 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 & Hardy fan. This is also the very first film in which the boys share a bed. The reason for this is Ollie is ensuring he can keep a very close and suspicious eye on Stan, through the night.
While the clean-shaven butler’s character doesn’t bear much resemblance, either appearance 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 artists wife. He still displays that frenetic, volatile energy, carried through from his solo career, but little by little, the ‘Stanley’ character is emerging.
Although Priscilla Dean is the film’s headliner, it is, for all intents and purposes a Stan Laurel comedy, with everyone else playing supporting roles. A particularly memorable scene, possibly the best scene in the entire film, sees Stan 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.
A contemporary review in ‘Moving Picture World‘ (April 23rd, 1927), was very positive, particularly about the ‘straight’ actors:
“‘Slipping Wives’ Pathe – Two Reels: 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“.
All in all it’s enjoyable with a few good laugh-out-loud moments, my favourite being when Stan headbutts the piano – ouch!
A step closer to the finished article for Stan, but sadly Ollie’s character still has some miles to go before he becomes our recognisable friend.
What do you think of Slipping Wives? Join the discussion by commenting below…