What on earth is going on here??! I’d obviously been lulled into a false sense of security! After watching ‘Do Detectives Think?‘ it seemed to all intents and purposes that Hal Roach and his studio team had hit the jackpot. The magic of the Laurel and Hardy characters had been identified, albeit there were some small adjustments to be made, but we were there…weren’t we? So, given that ‘Detectives’ and ‘Elephants’ were filmed pretty much back-to-back in May 1927, how did they go from the accomplished ‘Do Detectives Think?‘ to the bizarre spectacle of ‘Flying Elephants‘? Answers on a postcard please…or in the comments section below is probably quicker!
To watch Flying Elephants CLICK HERE
For this point in the boys career/development, this film, to me, is just plain bizarre. If it was, say 1924 and the film was a Stan Laurel comedy made during Stan’s time with Joe Rock, then I wouldn’t even bat an eyelid, but the boys had started to create well-formed characters and the studio were putting out well thought out films with well developed gags. ‘Flying Elephants’ is like something out of the Ark compared with films like its predecessor. I’m not saying that it’s a bad film, it just feels totally out of place in the L&H chronology.
According to Randy Skretvedt, the film was shot in Moapa, Nevada, which is 60 miles northeast of Las Vegas. Vegas in 1927 was nothing much more than a water stop for the railroads running between Los Angeles and New Mexico, the first casinos not arriving until the early 1930s, as a form of entertainment for the male labourers, who were employed building the Boulder Dam (later renamed Hoover Dam). The whole area was wild and rugged and Moapa was chosen for this reason. Babe Hardy would have been familiar with this area, as he had co-starred in a Roach western called ‘No Man’s Law‘ just a few months earlier and which was shot about 20 miles from Moapa on land actually owned by Roach. To get there location, the studio team, including the boys, James Finlayson, Viola Richard and Hal Roach himself had to travel by train from Los Angeles.
The plot to this bizarre spectacle has the stone-age King Ferdinand ordering all men to marry on pain of death! (Clearly, bizarre laws existed in Nevada even back then!) Big, brutish Ollie the Mighty Giant and skip-happy, effeminate Stan or ‘Little Twinkle Star’ as his character is named, both choose the same girl to woo, Viola Richard, who is the daughter of Saxophonus the wizard, played by James Finlayson.
There are a few amusing gags and the boys display some recognisable mannerisms. Despite Hardy playing the role of a brutish giant, glimpses of the ‘Ollie’ character show through, such as his genteel daintiness and subtle expressions. Stan, on the other hand, plays a very effeminate character who skips and dances his way through a lot of the film and is so far removed from the ‘Stan’ character that he’d been very successfully developing, it’s a wonder to me that he didn’t flatly refuse to play the role.
Interestingly, away from the studios the two actors were having very different experiences domestically. The previous year (1926) Stan had finally managed to untangle himself from a very prolonged and unhappy relationship with his ex. stage partner Mae Dahlberg and by this time in 1927 he was happily married to Lois Neilson and they were expecting their first child together. The baby arrived in December 1927 and was named Lois after her mother.
Oliver ‘Babe’ Hardy was however, not faring so well. He’d been married to Myrtle Lee Reeves since 1921, but things were not easy in the Hardy household. His relationship with his wife was deteriorating due to her problems with alcohol. Despite his love for Myrtle and his attempts to care for her amidst her addiction, at great emotional and financial cost, they eventually divorced around 1933.
It always amazes me how, despite such emotional trauma at home, they were still able to go to work, day in and day out and make the world laugh.
Did you enjoy Flying Elephants? Do you think I’m being too critical or am I on the money? Share your thoughts below and join in the Laurel & Hardy discussion.