I’ve always known that Laurel & Hardy are magic, but seeing them here playing a pair of magicians seals it!
One particular magic trick they manage to pull off is to make ‘The Hollywood Revue of 1929’ actually worth watching – well, for about six minutes anyway. Okay, so perhaps I’m being a little unfair, but if it was not for Stan & Babe’s cameo appearance, this film would be a pretty dire affair. Not even the great and otherworldly Buster Keaton, who also cameos in the film, could have saved this – especially with his bizarre turn at the end.
So, if you haven’t seen this one, I’ll put you in the picture.
By the end of the 1920s and into the early 1930s the big movie studios had completed their conversions to talkies and were looking for a way to show off the wealth of talent on their books and so edge themselves ahead of their competition. As such, all the big players put out big lavish musical-revue style pictures. ‘The Hollywood Revue of 1929’ was MGM’s answer to ‘Paramount on Parade’ released earlier that year (with the notable absence of the Marx Brothers) and in also in November, Warner Bros released ‘The Show of Shows’, with Universal Studios hot on their heels, releasing ‘King of Jazz’ in April of 1930.
Unfortunately, these shows, for me at least, haven’t stood the test of time. Contemporary audiences lapped them up though and, according to Randy Skretvedt, ‘The Hollywood Revue’ was a huge success, turning in a profit of $1,135,000, making it MGM’s second most successful film that year and even receiving an Academy Award nomination for ‘Best Picture’ – unbelievable!
The film was billed as an “All-Star Musical Extravaganza” and is presented as a theatre variety show, with Jack Benny and Conrad Nagel as hosts. Act after act, including Joan Crawford, Marie Dressler, and the aforementioned Buster Keaton all get their turn to entertain. After about 40 minutes or so of sitting stoney-faced, knowing I’m not getting this time back, the curtains open, and ‘magicians’ Laurel & Hardy are revealed to us – Hallelujah!
The boys, of course, are a couple of extremely inept magicians, but their naive charm and willingness to entertain the ‘audience’ is completely dis-arming and we are immediately won over.
Interestingly, Stan doesn’t utter a single word throughout the performance and it is Ollie who forces proceedings along.
Most of the magic tricks don’t even get past their introduction. Stan tips his hat to the show’s host and in doing so releases a dove, saved for a later trick. During a tussle between the two boys, Ollie is pushed back by Stan, and his hands land in a bowl, crushing the eggs inside. Ollie kicks Stan in the seat of his pants and so crushes the egg that was secreted in his back pocket, leaving Ollie to declare to the ‘audience’ “The egg trick is out!”.
It’s six minutes of typical Laurel & Hardy magic, that is to say, their usual brand of comedy magic, rather than the ‘Siegfried & Roy’ variety, shoehorned into 116 minutes of outdated dross. I’m sure that if I was a cinema-goer in 1929, I would probably have loved it (although, I’m struggling to imagine that).
Thankfully, for Stan and Ollie, it was straight back to the Roach Studios for business as usual. A Sunday picnic with gout ridden uncle was beckoning – sounds like the perfect day?!
I’d love to know your thoughts on ‘The Hollywood Revue of 1929’ and whether you agree or disagree with my less than positive take on it. Please share your thoughts below or on our social media pages.