‘Two Tars’ is a spectacular return to form for Laurel & Hardy – and thank goodness for that! This is exactly what was required following the confusing and, without wanting to sound melodramatic, traumatic experience of watching the boys’ previous film ‘Early to Bed’.
What a relief to read the opening title cards. Gone is the spectre of one-miss wonder Emmett Flynn, supplanted by our old friend James Parrott, back in the director’s seat. With the usual suspects; Messrs McCarey, Stevens, Currier and Walker, this was already feeling like I was sliding my feet back into my favourite slippers, having just painfully tottered around in my cramped winklepickers…
If that wasn’t reassurance enough, the very first glimpse we get of the boys settled me completely; Laurel & Hardy driving down the street, in their Model T Ford, the best of friends. ‘Early to Bed‘ must have just been a bad dream after all – as here we were, business as usual.
‘Two Tars’ has Stan & Ollie as two sailors on the ‘Battleship Oregon’, returning to the USA from the high seas of the far east. Seemingly on shore leave, the boys are out for a good time. Straight away the gags start thick and fast, with driver Stan almost crashing their car into a streetlamp. Ollie berates him and takes over in order to give Stan a demonstration of ‘good driving’. In true L&H fashion, this, of course, ends badly as Ollie smashes the front of the car into, you guessed it, a streetlamp. The following reactions from the boys are just delicious, as Ollie glances at us down the camera, before the glass dome atop the street light falls off and smashes over his head, much to the amusement of Stan.
After fleeing from the scene, the boys pull up at the roadside and spot a couple of ladies, played by Thelma Hill and Ruby Blaine, outside a store, struggling with a gumball machine. We are treated here to some lovely, childish flirting between the boys and girls, with embarrassed waves and smiles aplenty. The manly sailors then rush to the girls’ aid and Ollie shakes the gumball machine vigorously, causing it to shatter and the gumballs roll all over the pavement. Enter shopkeeper Charlie Hall!
‘Two Tars’ is obviously a silent film and up to this point, I hadn’t missed hearing dialogue at all, but as soon as little Charlie Hall enters the fray, I found myself really longing to hear his complaints and beratings, as he would later dish out, with a wonderful wagging finger, in films such as ‘Thicker Than Water’ (1935) and ‘Tit for Tat’ (1935).
Some great bits of business between the boys and Charlie, eventually lead to the ladies having to wade in to sort out the altercation themselves. The newly acquainted foursome then drive off, leaving Charlie to two broken gumball machines, a broken table and a pavement covered in gumballs.
A handy title card informs us that the new friends then proceed to go off and have a “perfect day”.
These opening scenes make up less than half the total length of the film. That’s because they are really intended to set up the traditional Laurel & Hardy grand finale, which is typical in its levels of wanton destruction and wonderful in its inclusion of everybody within fruit flinging radius.
The scene of carnage this time takes place on a country road, where, at the day’s end, the newfound friends come upon a huge traffic jam. Not content to sit patiently at the back of the queue and egged on by his fellow passengers, Ollie takes to the opposite side of the road and drives past the standing vehicles. This action inspires a number of other motorists to follow suit and there is very soon two lanes of stationary traffic.
Our old friend Edgar Kennedy is in the car directly behind the boys and accidentally shunts our heroes car in the back. Not to be shown up in front of the ladies, Ollie returns the gesture and reverses into Kennedy’s radiator grill. This goes on backwards and forwards for some time until more and more motorists start getting involved.
Fruit starts being thrown, hitting people other than the intended targets and thus dragging them into the fracas. Headlamps are ripped off, windscreens smashed, tyres punctured…the list is endless – and this is very funny stuff. I think the genius in these scenes is that time is given to every confrontation. Over half the film is dedicated to this tit for tat ‘reciprocal destruction’ and so, it doesn’t need to be rushed, every move can be considered and every assault can be avenged – and so it is, with gusto!
Eventually, a motorcycle cop appears and demands to know who started it all. About a hundred or so fingers point to Stan and Ollie, who are by now sitting angelically back in their car. The boys are made to wait while the policeman clears the traffic jam, which sets up one of my favourite gags in the whole film. It’s so simple but is just pure Stan and Ollie. Each car that has been wrecked slowly makes its way past the boys, who are sitting, chastised and waiting for their final punishment. However, as the boys see the procession of destroyed vehicles coming past them, they can’t help but giggle with delight like naughty schoolboys, until the cop looks over at them and the laughter is immediately stopped until the cop’s back is turned and the next wrecked vehicle comes scraping past and the giggles return. Ultimately, the giggles become uncontrollable and this is the last straw for the cop. The boys drive away (fleeing the scene of a crime for the third time in the same picture!) and the cop is unable to give chase, due to his motorcycle being crushed under a truck and every remaining car no longer being fit for purpose.
A number of motorists, however, do chase the boys and all end up driving through a railway tunnel and seconds later the same cars are seen reversing back out, just ahead of a huge steam engine powering out through the tunnel. But, the boys’ car isn’t among those that reversed! Our final image of Stan and Ollie is of them in their squashed thin Model T, gingerly making their way out of the tunnel.
But, what do you think of ‘Two Tars’? Please feel free to share your thoughts below: