Two of the most endearing of all Laurel & Hardy’s qualities, to me at least, is their blind faith in their own abilities and their determination to succeed in whatever they’re doing. No matter how suitable, or perhaps more appropriately, un-suitable they may be to the task at hand, they set about it with unwavering confidence that fools themselves (and maybe us) into believing they can be successful. Endlessly, they falter, they fall and they fail, but they always pick themselves up and either try again or failing that, move on to a fresh challenge. And, that is the order of the day again in ‘Double Whoopee’.
At the start of the film, and returning to a familiar theme from ‘From Soup to Nuts’ (1928), the boys arrive at the very swanky Frontenac Hotel to commence their new roles of employment as Doorman and Footman, with a sheepish recommendation letter in hand from the agency that sent them:- “These boys are the best we could do on such short notice. There is some reason to believe that they may be competent.”
But, before we and the hotel staff are informed of the reason for the boys’ arrival, we are treated to our first gag.
The opening scene shows a busy hotel and the first title card reads: “The hotel lobby buzzed with excitement – The Prince was coming-” …and indeed he was. The Prince, played by John Peters – the convincing lookalike for Erich von Stroheim, has just arrived outside the hotel, along with his thickly bearded Prime Minister (Charlie Rogers). The news of his arrival spreads like wildfire through the assembled guests and hotel staff in the lobby and everyone’s eyes become eagerly fixed on the door. But, before the Prince and his entourage enter, in walk Stan and Ollie and march right up to the front desk. Everyone wrongly assumes that our two heroes are the Prince and Prime Minister and the crowd follows the boys to the desk, where the waiting staff becomes very deferential to them.
There follows a lovely scene where the boys are asked to sign their names in the guest book. Ollie does it with his usual pretentious aplomb and Stan takes an age to use the dip pen to mark the page with an ‘X’, but not before he’s soaked one page with ink and also one of the guests too!
The Hotel manager (William Gillespie, notable for his appearance in ‘Wrong Again’ (1929) and also in many Harold Lloyd comedies) appears on the scene to officially welcome his esteemed guests, and Ollie, completely unaware of the mistaken identity, presents his employment letter to the manager, who is non too pleased with the error. The boys are whisked away to be given their uniform just as the real Prince and Prime Minister enter the Hotel.
Thanks to the boys, who are blissfully unaware as usual, the Prince, who seems to have a penchant for dazzlingly white outfits, finds himself, not once but twice, falling down to the bottom of a filthily oily lift shaft and ends up looking like an angry albatross that’s been caught up in an off-shore oil spill.
But this is just the beginning (and at the end). As expected, Stan and Ollie bring their own particular, yet loveable brand of ineptitude to their positions, and the hotel’s door has never been so badly managed. In amongst a lot of door opening shenanigans, they manage to tear the shirt right off the back of a gentleman in the lobby and also and more famously, trap Jean Harlow’s dress in the door of a taxi cab that she’s just disembarked, causing it to be torn off as the cab departs.
For me, the highlights of the picture are the few sequences in the middle of the film, where L&H regular (and my personal favourite co-star) Charlie Hall turns up as a taxi driver and another regular, Tiny Sandford reprises his role as a cop on the beat.
Ollie finds a mysterious whistle hanging from his uniform. He gives it a quick blow only to find that its purpose is to summon a taxi cab for departing guests. Charlie Hall pulls up and finds only Ollie standing there. Annoyed, Charlie berates Ollie and tells him “…don’t let it blew again!” and he drives off around the block, to await a real call for passengers. Not long after, the inevitable happens (and let’s be honest, we be disappointed if it didn’t), Stan spots the whistle and gives in to his childlike instinct and gives it a blow. Quick as a flash, Charlie’s cab screeches into the frame and when he realises he’s been messed about again, he’s out of the cab to confront Ollie; “You blewed it again, sweetheart!”
This leads to a lovely bit of tit for tat, which whets the appetite for their later spats in 1935’s ‘Thicker Than Water’ and ‘Tit For Tat’. Although not on the same prolonged and destructive level as in the aforementioned talkies, this scene in ‘Double Whoopee’ is just as much fun, especially when Tiny Sandford gets drawn into it the fray.
The film’s finale is set in the Hotel lobby and is another hilarious re-working of the tried and tested mass-carnage scene, so commonly associated with the boys’ silent films. Indeed with only two more silent films left, this is the last time we are treated to this kind of finale in a Laurel & Hardy silent picture. This one includes a smattering of the old faithful shin-kicking, countless fingers poked into countless eyes, often not the fingers’ intended eyes, thus drawing more and more people into the melee. At one point Stan even sticks a large sheet of flypaper onto a man’s bare chest (the same man who had had his shirt liberated earlier) leaving him to tear if off and wax his own chest. ..OUCH!
Randy Skretvedt refers to ‘Double Whoopee’ as one of the boys’ “minor” films and I guess he’s right. It’s not mentioned much in the social media forums and it doesn’t really break any new ground – but what it is, is a good, solid, and reliably funny Laurel & Hardy comedy.
But, what do you think of ‘Double Whoopee’? Do let us know your thoughts, either in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter.