The first thing to say about ‘Why Girls Love Sailors’, is that we should feel very lucky to have it. It was considered a lost film until some time in the 1970s, when it was discovered in a French collection, and even then it only became available for wider viewing over a decade later.
To get the best enjoyment from this picture, the viewer needs to know from the outset that this is not a typical ‘Laurel & Hardy‘ comedy, that way expectations are more easily met. Having said that, this is a pleasant little comedy, with nice performances put in by all the players.
Stan is once again the star of the show, with Ollie playing a small supporting role as a ‘heavy’ – and not the primary heavy either! In this film he plays a rather unpleasant bully who is first mate on board a cargo ship, ‘The Merry Maiden’. The ‘Moving Picture World’ (26 Feb 1927) announced Hardy’s inclusion in the picture:
“Oliver Hardy, Hal Roach contract player and motion picture golf champion, has been added to the cast of the latest Roach Star Comedy, an untitled sea story directed by Fred Guiol. The balance of the cast includes Stan Laurel, Viola Richard, Charles Althoff, Polly Moran, Malcolm Waite and others”.
The honour of the film and ship’s main bully goes to the surly Captain, played by Malcolm Waite, notable for his roles in Chaplin’s ‘The Gold Rush’ (1925) and also a bit part in Hardy’s solo Roach film ‘Zenobia’ (1939).
At the start of the film, we meet Willie Brisling (Stan), and his fiance Nellie, played by Viola Richard, appearing here for the first time with the boys. Viola would go on to be a familiar face in the early Laurel-Hardy comedies, appearing in five silent shorts and she also had a small part in their 1935 classic ‘Tit For Tat’.
One debuting actor who also shares this scene, albeit briefly, is one of Stan’s old vaudeville colleagues, Charles Althoff. But, according to his entry on IMDB, he appears to have had the majority of his scenes cut from the film. ‘Moving Picture World’ (12 Feb 1927) stated:
“Charles Althoff, known on most of all the leading vaudeville stages in the country as a Yankee fiddler, will make his debut in pictures under the Hal Roach banner. He is contracted for one picture to play opposite to Stan Laurel”.
The role he was contracted to play was that of fiddle playing Grandpa Grisling and his participation in the finished film is nothing short of fleeting. I suppose that one could argue that a professional fiddler’s value to a silent film is pretty limited. Happily for him, whilst this may have been his first, it would not be his last appearance in moving pictures.
The story begins with Stan, flirting with Nellie and there’s a delightful part where his childish embarrassment at kissing his fiancee’s cheek sends him whirling around the room, falling over everything in sight and rolling all over the bed in glee. Unbeknownst to them both, they are being watched by the villainous captain, who has improper and unlawful plans for Nellie.
Stan’s character development clearly continues to progress in this film as we see more of the ‘Stanley’ mannerisms including the big trademark smiles and also quite a bit of his animated crying routine.
Nellie tells Willie to show the captain his tattoo of a boat, which Willie does. The captain feigns interest in looking at the tattoo, which is on his Willie … sorry, chest!! The tattoo is on Willie’s chest! – (Too many Willies in this paragraph…) Whilst looking at the tattoo, the captain pours a jug full of water down Stan’s sweater, causing it to bulge and slosh up and down when he moves. This ‘special effect’ puts one in mind of the ‘freak’ endings in later films such as the bloated stomach in ‘Below Zero’ (1930). This results in more crying from Stan.
The captain has taken a fancy to Nellie and he drags her away to the dock, where his ship awaits. But brave Willie gives chase. There follows another laugh-out-loud moment, when, in his attempts to stop the kidnap of his fiancee, the captain grabs hold of Willie (!!) and throws him around like a rag doll (Stan was substituted for something very much like a rag doll in mid-scene and the effect is obvious, but still very funny).
The kidnapper gets away with his victim and drags Nellie on board and into his cabin. The basic plot of ‘Why Girls Love Sailors’, which was written by Hal Roach himself, is that Stan must now sneak on board the boat, and rescue his beloved. To do this, however, he must get past Hardy’s nasty First Mate character and do away with the majority of the ship’s crew.
He sets about doing this by dressing up as a woman and using his ‘allure’ (these sailors MUST have been away at sea for a LONG time), to trick them into following him to a quiet corner of the boat where he smacks them over the head and they wind up being thrown overboard.
Stan and Babe do get to share one scene together, in which Hardy, who has also been seduced by Stan‘s drag act, does his best to woo him/her. There’s a nice bit of L&H ‘business’ during this exchange, but Stan manages to get away and gains access to the captain’s room, where his intended is being held against her will. This scene with the boys’ playing off one another really stands out and is a joy to watch, with both actors playing the parts brilliantly. Although Babe’s character is nowhere near ‘our Ollie’, his performance is superb and it’s great to get a chance to use different aspects of his acting skills opposite Stan.
Willie tricks Hardy and quickly skips away from him. He then attracts the captain’s attention by coyly waving to him through a porthole, and he is immediately invited into the cabin. Without going into too much detail, the film ends with the surprise appearance of another familiar and much loved face in the Laurel and Hardy world. Anita Garvin makes her first appearance of many with the boys, playing the role of the captain’s jealous wife. As usual, Garvin takes a great part and comes across as very fearsome indeed.
At first she finds her husband bouncing a very dodgy looking lady up and down on his knee. When she threatens to shoot them both, Stan quickly whips off his wig and tells her it was all a ruse, to make her jealous, so that her husband could discover her true feelings for him. All seems forgiven until the Captain mimes to Stan that he’s going to ‘take care’ of him later, despite the fact that Stan has just saved his bacon.
Stan’s quick thinking, then turns the tables again, by using Anita Garvin to his advantage. He opens a door to reveal a real lady, i.e. Nellie, hidden in the captain’s room. He happily skips off with his fiancee, leaving the captain to his wife’s fury (and loaded blunderbuss!).
On 19th March 1927, ‘Moving Picture World’ was very complimentary about the casting for the picture, reporting:
“Guyol Finishes M-G-M Film; Excellent Cast – Fred Guiol has completed the latest Hal Roach Star comedy, and one of the most interesting from a player viewpoint. Viola Richard, newcomer to fame, just signed on a long term contract by Roach, Stan Laurel, Malcolm Waite, Charles Althoff and Oliver Hardy played the principal roles. Malcolm Waite arranged the comedy engagement between two feature roles, and Althoff was taken from vaudeville after thirteen years’ constant appearance as “The Yankee Fiddler.” The location of the story is on and around a small harbor craft and the docks. The “true love of a sailor lad” is pictured with Stan Laurel as the sailor and Viola Richard as the girl. Hal Roach now is affiliated with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, who hereafter will release his comedies.”
Roach did indeed strike up a new deal with MGM to release his comedies, but the first Laurel & Hardy picture to be released under the new contract would be another six films down the line, namely ‘Sugar Daddies’ (1927).
A few months later (July 23rd, 1927), the same publication, Moving Picture World, reviewed the film positively, acknowledging Stan’s skills:
“Stan Laurel has the lion’s share of the opportunities in this Hal Roach comedy which is a burlesque of the heavy sailing ship melodramas. There are quite a number of amusing moments growing out of the story which centers in the fact that a rough sea captain kidnaps Stan’s girl and takes her aboard ship. Unable to lick him, Stan uses strategy, masquerades as a vamp, captivates the captain and when said captain’s jealous wife appears on the scene she does the rest and Stan escapes with the girl. Viola Richards is the girl in the case, Anita Garvin the wife and Oliver Hardy the rough sea captain (sic). Stan demonstrates that he can get a lot of laughs out of impersonating a member of the fair sex.”
So, on the whole ‘Why Girls Love Sailors‘ is fair to middling. It has some nice moments that true Laurel & Hardy fans will enjoy, but, I have to admit, that after watching the film, I still have no idea why girls love sailors…although I think that’s probably an irrelevance.
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