Laurel & Hardy

25. Two Tars (1928)

‘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_1928‘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).

Two Tars2Some 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!

two tars5Eventually, 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.

two tars3A 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.

Laurel & Hardy aficionados, Glenn Mitchell and Randy Skretvedt both state that ‘Two Tars’ is often ranked as one of Stan & Ollie’s best silent comedies, on par at least with ‘Big Business’.

But, what do you think of ‘Two Tars’? Please feel free to share your thoughts below:

13 thoughts on “25. Two Tars (1928)”

  1. Whenever I have been asked to name my favourite Laurel & Hardy silent, I struggle between this and “Big Business”. As I was reading your review, I could picture every scene of this film I must have seen dozens of times. My sides now hurt from laughing (bearing in mind I am at work and I’m just reading a description of it). At the same time, I feel a sadness that my Dad is no longer around. It was he who introduced me to Laurel & Hardy and I will forever remember him almost falling off the settee with laughter.

    1. Many thanks for your kind words Peter, I’m glad you enjoyed the blog. It’s a truly great film and one of my faves too! I’m sure you’re dad is still laughing along with you. My dad also introduced me to the boys many years ago, I think that’s a common experience for many fans. I recently introduced my two small boys to them as well. My eldest (5years old) absolutely loved Two Tars. He loved seeing the “olden day cars”
      And even more so as they were being destroyed! Have a great day Peter!👍🏻

  2. It is a tough choice between this and BIG BUSINESS for their greatest silent, but I would have to give it to BB if for no other reason than it is a bit simpler in its construction, the little skirmishes at the beginning only go so far, and we get to the battle royale with Fin quicker. The pacing on BB is beautifully staged, almost like it takes on a life of it’s own, and the sudden end to the war is spot on perfect with Stan stopping abruptly with finally seeing cop Tiny Sanford after completely destroying Fin’s piano (a foreshadowing of THE MUSIC BOX, perhaps?) despite quiet admonitions from Ollie. I usually rank BIG BUSINESS in my top 15 films of all time.

    1. Thanks for commenting, you make some great points. You’re right it is a tough choice and I think BB probably does just shade it with its perfect construction, or maybe that should be destruction!

  3. Well it was good but i wouldn’t call it spectacular! After your traumatic experience with ETB though I can see how you must have been mightily relieved! The problem you have with Ollie’s behaviour in ETB I have a bit with the wanton destruction in this and Big Business which actually IS malicious rather than Ollie’s in ETB which is more mischievous. Just smashing a car window in itself isn’t that funny – it can be in context but here its just seems quite nasty, and repetitive. The best bits for me are Stan’s “What’s rule number 2?” after Ollie hits the lamp-post and Stan’s gumball pratfalls – the ending was good though with the parade of wrecked cars! For me neither this nor BB are anywhere near as funny as The Finishing Touch which is my fave so far.
    best wishes

    1. IMHO, BIG BUSINESS is their greatest film-period, and I usually rank it in my top 20, if not 15 films of all time. It is the ultimate demonstration of the Boys “patient revenge.” This is when you and your adversary-in the course of battle-allow each other to completely finish with their retaliation, make completely sure that they are done, and then proceed to up the ante, again, waiting patiently until the opponent is done.

      They started this motif in THE BATTLE OF THE CENTURY (high point-Stan inside the pie wagon getting pies for people and verifying that someone wants two), continued refining it in THE FINISHING TOUCH, YOU’RE DARN TOOTIN’ (which, while funny, had always been a bit painful as kicking and punching seems much more violent than throwing a pie or pulling the wheels off a car), built up to a more epic scale in TWO TARS, with the zenith being the more “personal” battle in BIG BUSINESS, in that it is just between the Boys and Fin while the neighborhood watches but does not interfere (the one time a neighbor does try to intercede Fin chases them off while wielding a hammer). To me, what makes this trope work is that it is not Stan nor Ollie which does the escalating, it is usually a Charlie Hall or Fin or Edgar Kennedy, which puts the onus on the adversary and lets us root for and identify with the Boys. For me, this takes them out of the “malicious” category and keeps whomever they are fighting with there.

      1. Thanks for sharing these great comments. You’re right, Big Business is wonderful and easily one of their best pictures. I like your point that it’s usually one of their adversaries that escalated things and allows us to root for the boys. Thanks for visiting the blog and taking time to comment 👍🏻

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