One of the greatest elements that made Laurel & Hardy a huge success, not only during their own time but for every subsequent generation, is their ability to connect with the audience. They had/have the ability to win us over, to disarm us, to gain our sympathy and importantly to make us see a little bit of ourselves within them. It’s their constant struggle against the perils and pitfalls of everyday life that we understand and empathise with, possibly even on a sub-conscious level.
‘From Soup to Nuts’, the boys’ twentieth film together, is a prime example of one of those situations. We are informed that Stan and Ollie are ‘experienced waiters’ and have been sent to work at a very swanky society event at the home of the nouveau riche Mr & Mrs. Culpepper, played by Tiny Sandford and Anita Garvin. We are, however, also informed that whilst the boys are indeed experienced waiters, their experience has been gained working in ‘railroad eating houses’. Yet even though they’re completely out of their depth, they press on undeterred, to do the best job they can do – and one has to admire their complete belief in themselves and their abilities. Not for a moment does the possibility of failure or humiliation cross their minds. They’ve been given a job to do and they’re going to do it with grace and dignity and at the end, they’ll be successful! Now, we as the viewers all know, of course, that they are going to fail and not only that, it’s going to be epic, and its this juxtaposition that makes us fall in love with these characters, again and again, film after film. We love them for their naive innocence and their unfaltering confidence and belief in themselves and each other. They will try, they will fall but they will always get up, dust themselves down and start over.
For the third film in a row the boys are teamed with Edgar Kennedy. In the previous two films, ‘Leave ‘Em Laughing’ and ‘The Finishing Touch’, Kennedy plays a cop in a state of constant frustration with Stan & Ollie, however, in ‘From Soup to Nuts’ he takes up a position, not in front of the cameras, but behind. This was Edgar Kennedy’s first of two back-to-back attempts at directing Laurel & Hardy comedies and it has to be said, he did a pretty good job.
The film takes place solely at the Culpepper’s dinner party and makes the most of the boys’ ability to generate a ton of comedy out of a very simple situation. There are numerous quality moments during this picture and as a result, it is well represented in the 1965 Robert Youngson compilation ‘Laurel & Hardy’s Laughing Twenties’.
‘From Soup to Nuts’ is arguably most well known for Anita Garvin’s scene, where she is pitted (no pun intended) against a worthy adversary – a fruit cocktail. This gag is a reworking of an identical one performed by Stan, only a few films/months earlier, in ‘The Second-Hundred Years‘. After awkwardly deciding which piece of cutlery to use, Anita ends up chasing a cherry around and out of her fruit bowl with a spoon, and as soon as she finally succeeds in getting it to her lips, her art deco-style tiara slips from her forehead, covering her eyes and making her drop the fruit. Garvin’s performance here is excellent, as is her timing with the falling tiara.
This is not the only re-hash of this material either. The whole scenario was used for a third time, in ‘A Chump at Oxford’ (1940), where Stan & Ollie are once more last-minute stand-in waiters, who succeed in ruining a dinner party. The main difference on that occasion, however, is Stan returns to his cross-dressing guise as Agnes the maid, as per ‘Duck Soup‘ and ‘Another Fine Mess’.
Stan also still shows some signs here of the frenetic character from earlier in his career. He quite aggressively attacks the cook for not removing his hat, despite a couple of warnings – the resulting tit-for-tat is very funny, with larger and larger piles of dishes being smashed over each other’s heads. Later Stan’s temper boils over again, this time in the direction first of Ollie, who has slipped on a banana-skin and fallen head-first into a huge cake, and immediately afterwards his attentions turn on the dinner party guests who have started to annoy him. He punches host Tiny Sandford in the jaw and then manhandles a guest’s chair back under the table. Seeing this sustained level of aggression is, on the one hand, funny in and of itself, but it also jars with us, as we know what a slow, gentle character Stan becomes for the majority of the boys’ films.
As the film nears its conclusion, Stan is asked by Ollie to “Bring in the salad…undressed!” and Stan in his innocence strips down to his long-johns and proceeds to serve the salad. When he is finally spotted, Ollie attempts to hide his friend, but Mrs Culpepper has also spotted him and is not pleased.
Ollie’s most memorable contributions to this film are his pratfalls into gigantic, sloppy cakes. They count three in total, the last of which is the very final scene, when Mrs. Culpepper smacks Ollie up the face and sends him careering, face-first, into the cake trolley…fade to black.
Overall, the film’s concept is simple, the execution from all the players is outstanding and it all adds up to an enjoyable twenty minutes or so.
What are your thoughts on ‘From Soup to Nuts’. What was your favourite or worst scenes? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section at the bottom of this page and join in the discussion…