Filmed March 14 to March 30, 1927 Produced by Hal Roach, Directed by Fred Guiol, Titles by H.M. Walker Main Cast: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, James Finlayson, Anita Garvin
‘With Love and Hisses’ is once again a Hal Roach penned Stan Laurel comedy, with Oliver ‘Babe’ Hardy playing a supporting role, as the bruising bully, Top Sergeant Banner. Banner’s irritant for the duration of the film is, of course, Stan as Private Cuthbert Hope. The relationship between the boys is, once again, that of the bully and the bullied and whilst it is not the same as their long standing ‘Stan and Ollie’ characters, it does work quite well here.
Similarly, what also works well here are the relationships between Stan and the returning Jimmy Finlayson, in the role of the army Captain Bustle, and also between Ollie and Finlayson. Finlayson is at his usual, dependable best, with exasperating expressions and reactions in abundance.
Cuthbert Hope is arguably closer to the ‘Stanley’ character than we have seen in any of the pre-team films, certainly since ‘Duck Soup’. Hope is an innocent, simple fellow, not out to cause trouble, but certainly causing plenty as he stumbles through life. In fact, very similar to our Stan and Ollie, Cuthbert unwittingly sets Hardy’s Sergeant Banner up multiple times.
In one instance, at the train station, (the location of which was the Santa Fe station, well known amongst L&H fans for its appearance in ‘Berth Marks’(1929)), Stan mistakenly thinks that a couple of ladies are waving to him . He starts to wave back, but then realises they are actually trying to get Ollie’s attention. He graciously directs Ollie’s attention to the ladies and Ollie confidently struts over to begin his wooing of said ladies. Unfortunately for Ollie, the ladies were in fact waving to Captain Finlayson, and so he soon finds himself in hot water, thanks mainly to Stan.
One of Finlayson’s ladies is played by the returning Anita Garvin, fresh from her role with the boys in ‘Why Girls Love Sailors’. Following Ollie’s wooing attempts, we have a stand out marker of just how far away from the familiar ‘Ollie’ character we are in this film, as Anita pushes Ollie away, by his head, and in a tit for tat moment, Ollie gets into a rather heavy handed pushing match with Ms. Garvin and pushes her back, also by the head. Not at all what we’re used to from the soft, southern gentleman of the team’s iconic pictures.
I must admit I find it hard to watch these early comedies where Ollie is pitted against Stan, in often such brutal fashion. I guess it’s down to the affection I’ve nurtured for them and their established characters over the many years I’ve been studying them. To then return to view these ‘pre-team’ films is quite a shock to the senses.
But, putting my offended sensibilities to one side, I will say that this is not a bad film. It has some good laugh-out-loud moments. I particularly liked the scenes on the train, especially Stan’s reaction to the stinky food being consumed by the guy opposite him in the train’s cramped compartments and the pie flying through the window into Finn’s face. There’s also some classic moments where Stan is in the inspection line-up and his Captain is not impressed, to say the least.
Building on the ‘special effect’ from the previous film (water down Stan’s jumper), this film includes THREE ‘special effects’. There’s Stan’s inflating and deflating gas mask on the train (very funny), Stan’s throbbing feet whilst on the foot march back to camp and then finishing with the freak ending of hugely swollen bottoms caused by multiple bee stings to their rear ends!
An interesting point to note from behind the camera, as informed by Randy Skretvedt, is the fact that the supervising director at the Roach studios, F. Richard Jones, who was praised with turning the fortunes of the studio around, resigned his post quite suddenly at this time. Replacing him in the role was Leo McCarey, who previously had been only involved with the Charley Chase comedies, but now became supervising director for everything coming out of the Roach Studios, and it was McCarey, who would be given the ultimate kudos for noticing the potential of and eventually teaming Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy together in their own series of comedies.
In a 1972 interview with director Peter Bogdanovich, cited in Wes D. Gehring’s, Laurel & Hardy: A Bio-Bibliography, McCarey himself explained what the role of Supervising Director actually entailed:
“Supervisor meant being responsible for practically everything on the film: story, gags, screening the rushes, working on the editing, sending out the prints, cutting again when the previews weren’t good enough. But in those days, your name wasn’t mentioned in the credits; the industry knew who’d do what.”
Contemporary reviews weren’t overwhelming in praise, but they could also have been worse:
“Oliver Hardy, Jimmy Finlayson and Stan Laurel are about evenly supplied with comedy opportunities in this Hal Roach offering which is a travesty on a military training camp…It is a two-reeler of average amusement value with considerable slapstick and much of the humor familiar with pictures of this type.” ‘Moving Picture World’, August 27th, 1927
“A Grab-Bag of Comics – Here is something that is a little broader than an evident satire on citizen’s training camps. Facial expressions rather than situations and gags contribute to the humor, and in this line of delivery Stan Laurel and Jimmy Finlayson can take a lot of punishment. The point that is most apparently made is that wars can get along without these particular heroes, whose topmost distinction in this free-for-all conflict, is to capture a pullman car on the way to the camp. Oliver Hardy makes things easier on the eye.” ‘Film Daily’, August 28th, 1927
With Love and Hisses is a far cry from the classic Laurel & Hardy films, but the magic is most definitely there and it is certainly worthy of inspection. What it does do is re-enforce to the modern viewer, how much we’d rather see the boys united against the world instead of fighting against each other – or at least that’s my take.
What did you think of ‘With Love and Hisses’? Do you have a favourite scene? Join the discussion and share your thoughts below.