Sailors Beware! is a peculiar film, in as much as there are some very funny gags, great cast and the sets are quite lavish, compared to the majority of the boys’ early Hal Roach pictures, yet the film just sort of ambles along and doesn’t really go anywhere.
Once again Stan and Ollie, as part of the ‘Roach All-Stars‘, are set against each other, rather than facing the world together. Stan plays the part of Chester Chaste, a cab driver who is unwittingly loaded with his (burning) cab on board a cruise liner. Ollie plays the part of the ship’s Purser Cryder. There are some recognisable ‘Ollie’ traits on display here. His genteel smoothness with the ladies is quite lovely and very ‘Ollie-like’ (despite the fact that the Purser is in fact a bit of a lecherous creep), but then very un-Ollie-like he is very aggressive and abusive to the male passengers. Perhaps most noteworthy from a historical perspective is that this film is the first L&H short in which Ollie performs a trademark look directly into the camera and connects with us viewers. Because of this one moment, I really think this film is a bit of a turning point in the development of Ollie’s character. Whilst it’s true to say that this is not the first time Ollie has performed this on screen (he used it earlier in his career at the likes of the Vim and also Lubin Studios and most notably in the 1925 Arrow Pictures short ‘Stick Around‘), he is here certainly perfecting his craft.
Stan once again turns in a great performance with a scattering of trademarks (I think there are a record number of cries so far in this film). Some of Stan’s gags, whilst making me laugh-out-loud were also unexpected. For instance the scene where he pushes a couple of bathers into the pool, seemingly just because he feels like it and when he pushes the ‘baby’ down a flight of stairs in its pram. Funny scenes, yes, but probably funny because I don’t expect that from Stan and they took me by surprise.
There are once again a few nice exchanges between the boys and its just a real shame there weren’t more of them. One of my favourite scenes in this film is the skipping scene, where Stan joins in with a lady skipping, then Ollie, who is pursuing Stan, has to literally ‘count himself’ in to the skipping also, so in the end all three are jumping the rope together. Just brilliant!
Joining the boys for her second film in a row is the excellent Anita Garvin, who plays an ‘International Crook’. Garvin’s partner in crime, played by Harry Earles, is a dwarf who tricks fellow passengers into believing he’s Garvin’s baby, whilst actually scamming them out of their money and valuables. Most known for his role in ‘Freaks’ (1932), Earles was 25 years old during the making of Sailors Beware! and plays his part extremely well – any scene with a baby smoking a big cigar is always worth a laugh.
Reviewing the film ‘Moving Picture World’ (September 24th 1927) wrote:
“‘Sailors Beware’ Pathe – Two Reels: With Anita Garvin in the leading feminine role, Stan Laurel is the star of this Hal Roach comedy which rates as a good slapstick offering. Stan is cast as a boob taxi driver whose car with him in it is accidentally hoisted on a trans-oceanic steamship. He is forced to work his passage as a steward and succeeds in unmasking a pair of jewel thieves. A novel touch shows the woman, played by Miss Garvin, aided by her husband, portrayed by a midget. The midget dresses as a baby in order to aid her and disarm suspicion but the scheme goes blooey. There is a lot of chase stuff and farce comedy mixups. Oliver Hardy, Frank Brownlee, Lupe Velez and Viola Richard are included in the cast and Hal Yates directed.”
As mentioned above and featured in an uncredited role, playing the part of Baroness Behr, is Mexican born, Lupe Velez. This was only Velez’s second film role, but her two films with Hal Roach were enough to kick start her movie career, as an article in ‘Screenland’ magazine (March, 1928), states:
“Pep incarnate is what Hollywood call Lupe Velez. She is a little devil on the screen, and a lot of it isn’t acting…When Lupe danced , she packed the house. They cheered, they threw her flowers, money, jewels… After a time her fame reached California and she was signed for a featured dance in the Hollywood Music Box Revue. Hal Roach, comedy producer, thought he would take in the Music Box show one evening. Contrary to his custom, he had the very dickens of a time to obtain seats. After he had seen Lupe dance, he knew why. It came to him that she was the very star he needed for his comedies, and she signed a contract that evening in her dressing room. It was only necessary for her to make two comedies for Roach, What Women Did For Me and Sailors Beware! and straight away Douglas Fairbanks found out she was the only leading woman possible for The Gaucho…So, Lupe Velez is made.”
After appearing with the boys before they were even an official comedy team, Velez would go on to make one more film with them, sharing a tit for tat, egg-breaking scene in 1934’s MGM spectacular ‘Hollywood Party’.
So, one step closer to being a team? Possibly.
What was your favourite scene in Sailors Beware! Or did you hate the film from start to finish? Share your thoughts below…