Filmed May 26th, 1927 to June 3rd, 1927
Produced By Hal Roach , Directed by Fred Guiol
Photographed by George Stevens , Titles by H.M. Walker
Main Cast: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, James Finlayson, Noah Young, Charlotte Mineau, Edna Marian
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 Pathé 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 theatres that would screen them.
These must have been exciting times at the studio, full of optimism and potential. It’s such a shame then that the first film that Roach handed over to MGM, starring Stan and Babe for release was Sugar Daddies. Whilst it’s a fairly pleasant farce, it’s not particularly funny, managing to raise only a few chuckles.
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 rehash 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 businessman, 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 effect of his head pulsating was achieved by using an inflating skull-cap, but as this is not exactly discreet, the effect is amusing, but probably not in the right way. His hangover is not, however, the only unwanted thing threatening to spoil Finlayson’s day and life. Babe the butler 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, 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 earlier 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 parts particularly worthy of mention are the scenes leading up to the finale. Noah Young, at his grotesquely menacing best, his sister and her daughter are giving chase to our three boys through an amusement park, identified by author and locations expert John Bengston, as Venice Amusement Pier, and the pursuit ends up crashing through the ‘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.
Extras to look out for include Laurel & Hardy regular Charlie Hall in the background as a Hotel guest, Dorothy Coburn in the Funhouse and Villie Latimer is the tall lady mistaken by the cop for Stan on Finlayson’s shoulders
The arrival of the first Roach shorts at MGM’s offices in New York was heralded with a report in Motion Picture News, August 5th, 1927:
“Roach Shorts for M-G-M Arrive in New York – Prints of the first three of the forty comedies that Hal Roach will make for Metro-Goldwyn Mayer for release during 1927-28 are now in New York. These three prints represent the first of each of three of the four series of ten each.
The first to be received is Charlie Chase in “The Sting of Stings.” The second is an all star comedy featuring Stan Laurel, Jimmy Finlayson, Oliver Hardy, Edna Marian and Martha Sleeper entitled “Sugar Daddies”. The third comedy is the “Our Gang” vehicle entitled “Yale vs. Harvard.”
Roach’s new distributor’s MGM, did their best to announce the film with as much pomp and fanfare as possible, with a sizeable article featuring in Exhibitor’s Herald, August 20, 1927, reporting:
“M-G-M Holds Press Show…The two newest entrants in the short feature field have launched the new season in earnest…Metro… has just held a press showing at the Embassy theatre in New York, and from those who attended come words of praise for the standard of product comprising the short program…Following are the pictures shown at the Metro preview:
HAL ROACH ALL STAR SERIES – “Sugar Daddies,” with Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Edna Marian and Jimmy Finlayson. Described as a comedy of exceptional merit…”
Despite the promotional blurb, however, the picture’s release was received with some fairly damning reviews, with one exhibitor from the De Luxe Theatre in Kansas, describing it in Exhibitor’s Herald and Moving Picture World, simply as a “Very Poor Comedy”.
Moving Picture World, August 13th 1927, was a little more positive: “‘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”.
Film Daily, August 14th, 1927, probably summed the picture up more accurately than any other, “…It is an average release. Too much rough and tumble business and not enough laughs is a good way to sum it up as any. Stan Laurel is featured but calls for no special commendation”
Yet again, no attempt was made in this film, to use Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy as a double act, but, Sugar Daddies would prove to be the very last time that would happen and the comedy world would never be the same again.
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