Sugar Daddies heralded the start of a new era for all at the Hal Roach Studios, as it was the first film to be distributed under the newly negotiated deal with Hollywood giants MGM. As Randy Skretvedt explains, unlike Roach’s previous distributors Pathe Exchange, MGM could throw a LOT of money at Roach’s new projects and they also had a hand in practically every part of the movie business, from the making of the films, to their distribution, to even owning the movie theaters that would screen them.
So, I have to think that these must have been exciting times at the studio, full of optimism and potential. It’s such a shame then that the first film Roach handed over to MGM for release was ‘Sugar Daddies’. Whilst it’s a fairly pleasant farce, it’s not particularly funny, managing to raise only the occasional amused chuckle.
‘Sugar Daddies’ is yet another standard ‘Roach All-Stars‘ picture, which is headlined by Stan and James Finlayson, with Babe Hardy supporting quietly in the background. As noted in a number of reviews, the film is practically a re-hash of ‘Love ‘Em and Weep’, with a number of similarities.
The film opens with Babe, playing the part of butler to Finlayson, who is once again, taking on the role of a successful business man, this time he is oil tycoon, Cyrus Brittle. Brittle has apparently had one hell of a night on the town, as he is awoken by Babe, with a pulsating hangover (the inflating skull-cap is not exactly discreet). His hangover is not, however, the only unwanted thing threatening to spoil Finlayson’s day/life. Babe informs him that his new wife (Charlotte Mineau), is waiting for him downstairs!
In a drunken stupor, it appears that Finlayson has met and married a complete stranger, with the barman acting as best man…Not only that, she has a completely gormless daughter in tow and a giant thuggish brother, played brilliantly by Noah Young and brandishing a revolver, with which he plans to threaten Finlayson, with the purpose of extracting $50,000.
Yes, once again, naive businessman Finlayson is the target of blackmailers. There was blood in the water and the sharks were circling.
Realising he’s made a humongous mistake and in a desperate attempt to nullify the marriage, Brittle sends for his lawyer Stan. Sadly and rather frustratingly looking and acting nothing like the ‘Stanley’ character he’d been gradually creating over previous films, here, he is not even given a name (apart from ‘Our Hero’). With his slicked-back hair and little round pince-nez style glasses, he actually appears to be reprising his role as the lawyer character from the 1927 Charlie Chase short ‘Now I’ll Tell One‘.
The boys have little to do together throughout the film with perhaps the best scene at the beginning, where Ollie answers the door to Stan and gets rapped on the nose by Stan’s knocking umbrella handle for his trouble. Stan then steps inside and there follows a lovely bit of business where Ollie tries to take Stan’s hat against his wishes. Again, unlike the submissive Stanley character, this pre-team Stan will not roll over and show his belly easily, instead he is determined to keep his hat on, and succeeds.
Ollie is recognisable here, despite some rather fetching sideburns, but his character is still sadly lacking in any resemblance of the Ollie we know and love. We should say that his performance is still great, as Babe always was a wonderful actor, regardless of the role, but with our knowledge of what was to come, anything other than our ‘Ollie’ is always a tad disappointing.
The film ambles along in fairly mediocre fashion and eventually Finlayson, Stan and Babe attempt to flee the murderous blackmailers. The only other part particularly worthy of mention are the scenes leading up to the finale. Noah Young – as grotesquely menacing as ever, his sister and her daughter are giving chase to our three boys through an amusement park, identified by author and Laurel & Hardy historian, Randy Skretvedt as The Pike Amusement Park in Long Beach, California, and the pursuit ends up crashing through a ‘House of Fun’, which provides a number of small laughs along the way.
Arguably, the film’s most noteworthy moment is a gag re-worked from ‘Love ‘Em and Weep’, when an unconscious blackmailer, Mae Busch, rides on top of Finlayson’s shoulders, covered in a long cloak and is escorted out of the house by Stan, attempting to fool Finlayson’s wife. Here, it is Stan in drag, riding on top of Finlayson’s shoulders, and escorted through the amusement park by Babe, in an attempt to fool the homicidal in-laws.
The picture’s release was received with lukewarm reviews. The ‘Moving Picture World’ August 13th 1927, stating:
“‘Sugar Daddies’ is a two reel slapstick featuring Stan Laurel, with Oliver Hardy, Jimmy Finlayson, and Edna Marion…It is rough work, but generally amusing”
Yet again, we find no attempt made in this film, to use Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy as a double act, but, Sugar Daddies would prove to be the last time that would happen and the comedy world would never be the same again.
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