Although the boys had had female co-stars playing their girlfriends in earlier films and also whilst acknowledging that there would be better examples to come in future films, ‘Their Purple Moment’ was the very first Laurel & Hardy comedy where we find our heroes pitted against overbearing, domineering and conniving wives.
For the remainder of their movie careers, Stan & Ollie would keep returning to this basic, yet reliable theme and from it would come some of their most iconic comedy moments. Who can forget H.M. ‘Beanie’ Walker‘s title cards for the boys’ 1932 short ‘Their First Mistake’: “Mr. Hardy was married – Mr. Laurel was also unhappy.”
In another first, ‘Their Purple Moment’ was the first of the boys’ films to be directed by James Parrot (brother of Roach Star, Charles Parrot, aka Charlie Chase). As Randy Skredvedt explains, Parrott was a popular and loyal member of the Roach staff and was also friends with Stan and Babe, often socialising with them both (although not at the same time, as the boys didn’t socialise with each other during the Roach years). Parrot would direct many Laurel & Hardy comedies over the following years ………
As the film opens and we find Stan standing on his own doorstep, getting his story straight in his head, before entering his house and joining his battleaxe of a wife, who is waiting for him, or rather, she is waiting for his pay packet. Stan’s wife, Mrs. Pincher, clearly lives by the code ‘what’s yours is mine and what’s mine is mine’. However, we soon learn that somehow, Stan has been holding back a few dollars each time and stashing his money in a very clever place, but unbeknownst to Stan, his suspicious wife spots the stash and secretly retrieves the money, replacing the cash for cigarette coupons.
Next up is Ollie and his equally hard-line wife, also arriving at the ‘Pincher’ residence. Ollie’s miserable, downtrodden appearance is just perfect and his facial expressions and body language wonderfully convey his misery.
The comedy here is all in the boys’ little gestures, looks and body language. Their physical discomfort, especially Ollie’s, is just a joy to watch and I think is another illustration of what a brilliant actor Oliver (Babe) Hardy was. I absolutely loved his attempts to share his tales of woe with his buddy, without his wife witnessing, of course.
We learn that Ollie’s wife had also discovered and confiscated his stash of cash, but as soon as Stan announces (wrongly) that his wallet of secret money is still in place, Ollie’s eyes light up and he suggests they go out and spend it on the town.
Incredibly, under the pretence of heading for the bowling alley, they are allowed out and they waste no time in making a quick exit. As they leave, they are passed on the path by another visitor to the house, the local gossip, played wonderfully by Dorothea Wolbert.
Whilst our boys are walking down the street they witness a couple of guys, who can’t pay their bill, doing a runner from The Pink Pup, a nightclub built on the Roach Studios’ backlot. The Pink Pup is a recognisable venue to most people familiar with Laurel & Hardy’s films. It features to lesser or greater extents in ‘Putting Pants on Philip‘, ‘Love ‘Em and Weep‘ and ‘That’s My Wife’, to name but three.
The Maitre d’ of The Pink Pup, Tiny Sandford, is left standing on the pavement along with the two guys’ girlfriends, played by Kay Deslys and L&H regular, Anita Garvin. “Which one of you Dames is gonna pay this bill?” Tiny Sandford demands.
After feeling Stan’s pocket, to check his wallet (stuffed with cigar coupons) is still there, Ollie does the idiotic…err the gentlemanly thing and offers to “assume all responsibility” for the ladies and their bill…The ladies, of course, accept graciously (all secretly witnessed by Dorothy Wolbert’s ‘Gossip’ character, who turns on her heel to fetch the wives!) and everything goes wrong from there!
On top of the existing bill, the group proceed to run up an even greater one, ordering drinks, large plates of steaks and treating a group of performing midgets to candy (as you do), oh and then there’s the ladies taxi driver waiting for his fare to be paid – whilst all the time the meter is still running. So what do the boys do? Of course, they invite the cab driver, played by Leo Willis, to join them for a steak while he waits.
The boys sure do know how to attract strange ladies too! Whilst waiting for the food to arrive, Stan and Ollie are shown the concealed weapons carried by the ‘dames’ and are told what will happen to their previous boyfriends, if they ever catch-up with them. You’re left wondering, just what will happen to the boys once the ladies realise there’s no money to pay this even bigger bill, but the weapons are never mentioned again, which is a little odd. Oh, and another thing – given that Anita Garvin and friend have already run up one huge bill, it’s amazing how voraciously they attack their plates of food, like they’ve never eaten before! Anyhoo…
It’s at this point that Stan discovers the lack of cash in his wallet and shares the news with Ollie. Once again, the comedy is all in the reactions and facial expressions, as we visibly see the reality of the situation sinking in. Some very funny moments follow as the boys try several times to slide off their seats and sneak out under cover of darkness during the floorshow.
The situation gets worse when the wives arrive at the club and after much running and crawling in order to escape unnoticed, the boys find themselves in the kitchen, quickly joined by Tiny Sandford and the wives.
The finale, whilst mildly amusing is somewhat disappointing. Ollie pins the blame on Stan who throws a fruit pie at Ollie, only to succeed in hitting Ollie’s wife in full in the face. Matters quickly descend into a food fight, a sort of poor man’s version of the Battle of the Century climax, and the film fades out with Ollie’s pie covered face looking exasperatedly into the camera.
I couldn’t help but feel a little cheated…” but what happens with the wives? You can’t leave it there!” I shouted at the screen. But they could and they did – ninety years ago, so there’s no going back and changing it now!
However, there was reportedly an alternative ending filmed but subsequently deleted in which the boys dress up in drag as a couple of midget ladies, take part in a dance number with the midgets’ floorshow and are then chased down the street by all four angry ladies. Stills exist of some of these scenes, one includes Edgar Kennedy talking to the cross-dressing pair.
This deleted ending makes much more sense (!!) or would certainly have tied up some loose ends better than what we were left with. Things like, a) Stan and Ollie should have been seen to have their comeuppance for cheating on their wives b) why were we shown the potential for violence in Anita Garvin and friend, when they just disappear from the film after the boys run off and c) what happens to the ladies and the unpaid bill?
But, after all – this is the comedy world of Laurel & Hardy and freak endings etc, so I suppose not everything has to make sense. Maybe I should just shut up and enjoy laughs…?
What was your take on ‘Their Purple Moment’? Let me know in the comments below or on the Facebook page…