Just as Laurel & Hardy’s 1927 silent short ‘Hats Off‘ was the genesis of their later talkie ‘The Music Box’ (1932), ‘We Faw Down‘ has the bragging rights of being the inspiration for one of the boys’ best loved feature films ‘Sons of the Desert’ (1933). Further still, not content with being the tiny two-reeler ‘seed’ that spawned a full length masterpiece, ‘We Faw Down’ was also looted for its finale gag for another of the boys’ features, 1938’s ‘Block-Heads‘. Further again, a telephone gag, where the boys pretend a call is from ‘their new boss’ is looted for use in ‘Their First Mistake‘ (1932); and even further than that, a number of sequences that were completely cut out in the editing room, were taken and expanded to make Stan and Ollie’s very next release, the wonderful ‘Liberty’.
So, with all this rich material contained in one small film, surely ‘We Fawn Down‘ must be one of, if not THE best of the boys’ short films…yes?? Well…err, no actually – it’s not. It’s an amusing little Laurel & Hardy outing for sure, but one of their very best, it ain’t.
The first notable thing about this movie, from the get-go, is our friend Leo McCarey‘s billing as ‘Director’. We’re used to McCarey’s name appearing at the start of every L&H film, of course, but usually as ‘Supervising Director’, whatever that means in reality (come to think of it, if the studio were happy to play that game, one has to wonder why Stan Laurel’s name couldn’t have appeared as ‘Supervising Director’ for every Roach film – but what do I know!)
As we discussed in a previous blog, McCarey’s influence in shaping Stan and Ollie into ‘Laurel & Hardy’ cannot be downplayed. His guiding hand slowed the speed of the comedy down from frantic slapstick to a gentler, softer pace. His direction therefore, in ‘We Faw Down‘, is very evident, or to put it another way, is about as subtle as a jealous boyfriend’s machete (that line will make more sense if you’ve actually watched the film!).
The incredibly slow pace of the film is it’s greatest hindrance. Don’t get me wrong, the boys could stand in front of a camera and not move for the full two reels and I’d probably still enjoy it, but I can’t help but feel that many of the scenes could have used a little injection of something.
As mentioned above, the plot is very close to that of ‘Sons of the Desert’. The boys are desperate to get away from their incredibly stern wives, played by Bess Flowers and Vivien Oakland (better known by L&H fans as the Sheriff’s wife in ‘Way Out West’ (1937)) and go for an afternoon of Poker at their ‘boys’ club’. There are some wonderful facial expressions in the first few shots, both from the fierce and overbearing wives and also the plotting husbands in the adjoining room – Ollie’s face in particular, when he thinks his wife has seen him gesticulating to Stan, is just wonderful. Babe Hardy is the master of provoking an immediate burst of laughter with just a look or expression.
After pretending they’ve received a call from ‘their boss’, who’s requested their presence at the Orpheum Theatre (as all good bosses do!) the boys excuse themselves and make their way into town (hilariously tripping over a small hedge by the door as they go).
Whilst they’re out, and here the plot mirrors ‘Sons of the Desert‘, a fatal disaster occurs unbeknownst to the boys. On this occasion the Orpheum Theatre burns down and we’re treated to some wonderful old footage of a vintage, horse-drawn fire engine, charging hell for leather down the street, apparently on its way to the burning theatre. This event, naturally, makes the newspaper headlines and the newspaper makes its way in to the hands of the waiting wives…
Meanwhile, back in town…the boys become swiftly embroiled with a couple of young ladies, played by Vera White and Kay Deslys (Their Purple Moment (1928), Should Married Men Go Home (1928)). Deslys, who plays the girlfriend of ‘One-Round Kelly’, a boxer with a face that could stop a clock, loses her hat in the gutter, under a parked car, just as our heroes are walking past. Being the gentlemen that they are, Stan & Ollie attempt to retrieve the hat and end up getting soaked by a passing street sweeper. The ladies, feeling sorry for them, invite them back to their place, to dry their clothes out.
The usual mix-up then plays out, with ‘One-Round Kelly’, played by George Kotsonaros, eventually walking in on them and becoming immediately jealous – and this is where the machete comes in…(see above)
Still in a state of undress, the boys leap out of the window, witnessed by their wives, who just happen to be on their way to theatre, to discover what has happened to their husbands! Rather than confronting them immediately, the wives run home and wait for the dirty rats to come home.
According to Randy Skretvedt’s ‘Laurel & Hardy: The Magic Behind the Movies‘, this scene originally had Stan & Ollie exit the window, mistakenly wearing each others’ trousers. There then followed a number of sequences where the boys would try to discreetly swap back, but they keep on getting discovered. These are the scenes that sadly ended up on the cutting room floor, but happily became their first short of 1929: ‘Liberty’.
Back at home the boys are forced to tell their wives all about their afternoon’s entertainment at the theatre, which Ollie attempts in rather amusing fashion, with Stan out of sight, miming in a charades-esque kind of way. There are some funny moments as Ollie mis-interprets Stan’s mimes, I particularly liked Ollie’s version of Russian dancing!
In the end the boys spot the newspaper headline and realise the game is up and they are chased out of the door by Mrs Hardy (Oakland), brandishing a shotgun. The finale gag is wonderful and much better than the ‘Block-Heads‘ re-creation ten years later. The boys run through an alleyway, in an attempt to escape the punishment of Mrs. Hardy’s shotgun and as she empties both barrels, about a dozen half-dressed, presumably adulterous men leap out of numerous windows, and run for their lives.
Randy Skretvedt recalls Leo McCarey remembered how dangerous this shot was to film, with all these men leaping out of second story windows. The gag was captured in one-take and really is a joy to behold.
In conclusion then, ‘We Faw Down’ has all the right ingredients, but the pace lets the film down.
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