Now, don’t get too excited! Although the boys do appear in this film, it’s not their film and their contribution, as wacky as it is, lasts only for a few minutes.
The Hal Roach studio were very keen to push Laurel & Hardy, their ‘new’ comedy team, in front of the public as much as possible and as such, they crow-barred them into this Max Davidson comedy. Stan and Ollie shot their few scenes just days after filming ended on The Second Hundred Years, which is why they can still be seen sporting their shaven heads. Randy Skretvedt notes cameraman George Stevens‘ comments that “The boys were just too good to be kept inactive, so they were put almost right away into the next picture, brush cut and all“.
Along with fellow Roach All Stars, James Finlayson and Charley Chase, they appear as patients from an asylum, located right next door to Max Davidson’s house. Davidson and his family have been so driven to distraction by the patients’ frequent noisy cavorting in the garden, they decide to sell up at the first opportunity. So keen are they to move that they quickly agree to swap their house for another, merely from viewing it in a photograph presented by a complete stranger…as you would! As the plot unfolds, the ‘new’ house turns out to be a disaster zone, and one could easily believe it was the house built by Stan and Ollie in their classic short ‘The Finishing Touch (1928)‘.
The boys’ scenes, although brief, are enough for their quality to shine through and lift a fairly mediocre film. They lark around on the lawn in fancy dress, with childish abandon. At one point they recreate the famous William Tell scene, but Stan fires his arrow not in the apple that is sitting on top of Ollie’s head, but straight into his friend’s bottom. These comic scenes feel very natural and free that one could easily imagine that they were ad-libbed.
If you watch this film expecting a Laurel & Hardy comedy, disappointment awaits. More involvement by the boys would have been wonderful, but the star of this particular outing was Max Davidson not Stan and Ollie.
Davidson, a German-born comedian, had his own series of Hal Roach comedies during the silent era, but is less well known today due to a seeming reluctance to revive his films, owing to their Jewish characterisations. Author Glenn Mitchell however points out that this is a shame as Davidson’s comedies had a “sympathetic approach”, with gags that were not “exclusively ethnic and are of a high standard”. Based on Glen Mitchell’s review I can only assume that he’s seen more of these comedies than I have. I have to admit that Call of the Cuckoos is the first Max Davidson comedy that I’ve seen and given my reaction to it, it’s very likely to be the last one too. Although parts of the film (without the boys) brought a few smiles, I found it a challenge to make it to the end, but I’m glad I did as I was rewarded with one final scene with Stan, Ollie, Charley and Fin who wave to Davidson from the garden of their new asylum – next door to Davidson’s new house!
Contemporary reviews from theatre owners/operators were lukewarm at best:
“Very Good, though I have seen better from Davidson“, Central Theatre, Selkirk, Manitoba, Canada in ‘Exhibitors Herald and Moving Picture World’, May 5th, 1928
“Hardly as good as I expected from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer‘, Crystal Theatre, Watseka, IL, May 12th, 1928, in ‘Exhibitors Herald and Moving Picture World’, May 12th, 1928
“Hardly a laugh in the whole two reels. Don’t see where they get this bunk, for a comedy“, Joyland Theatre, Corning, Ark., in Exhibitors Herald and Moving Picture World, May 19th, 1928
“Good for kids. Too silly for better houses“, Community Theatre, Ridgeway, IA in ‘Exhibitor’s Herald World’, January 19th, 1929
For the legions of Laurel & Hardy fans today, ‘Call of the Cuckoo’ is a great opportunity to watch Messrs, Laurel, Hardy, Chase and Finlayson all fooling around on screen together, albeit briefly, but that’s about all it has to offer. It appears the motivation behind the boys’ inclusion in the film was only to capitalise on another opportunity to promote their newly launched comedy team.
Although this would not be the boys’ last cameo appearance, the success of the Laurel & Hardy team, grew so rapidly that there was never the need to use such appearances as promotional publicity stunts ever again.
What do you make of Call of the Cuckoo and/or Max Davidson? Please share your thoughts in the comments below…