‘Blotto‘ is certainly a fan favourite, based on the amount of times I’ve seen clips posted on social media fan pages. This is mostly due to just one scene at the end of the film, where the boys are laughing uncontrollably, in the belief that they are drunk (or blotto). It’s quite an interesting film in this respect, in that it’s basically a long slow build up to one main gag at the end. Now, that’s not to say the rest of the film is wasted, far from it.
Following on from ‘Night Owls‘ being filmed and successfully released with European speaking versions (‘Ladroni‘ in Italian and ‘Ladrones‘ in Spanish), ‘Blotto‘ followed suit, this time with Spanish (‘La Vida Nocturna‘) and French (‘Une Nuit Extravagante‘) versions released, with Stan and Babe once again repeating lines fed to them by language coaches and/or reading from phonetic boards placed just off camera.
The foreign versions differ from the original in more than just language however. For starters, their running times are actually considerably longer. The original English version, already the longest of the boys’ comedies up to that point, came in at three reels, one more than their usual two reelers. But, the foreign versions (as was also the case with ‘Ladrones‘ and ‘Ladroni‘) were released as feature-length, four-reelers. The missing footage, or rather the footage that was left out of ‘Blotto’ consisted primarily of
extended dance floor cabaret scenes, but there is also some decent footage of the boys and a few gags worthy of viewing. Another change was the supporting cast, most notably Stan’s wife. In the Spanish version Anita Garvin was replaced by Linda Loredo and the French version saw Georgette Rhodes take up the role of Stan’s spouse.
The Spanish version has been released commercially and is contained within the UK 21 disc box set from Universal. However, at the time of writing, the French version has not been released, although a print does exist, having been discovered in Prague. A couple of fragments of this can be viewed on the ‘Official Laurel & Hardy Website‘ (clink the link at the bottom of this blog to view them).
Also, on the official website, Laurel & Hardy historian, Richard W. Bann, wrote of the French version:
“M-G-M re-released BLOTTO in 1937…which was also edited by censors to conform to the more stringent 1934 Production Code standards in America. Neither the picture nor the soundtrack for UNE NUIT EXTRAVAGANTE, however, was ever tampered with subsequently, now offering us what appears to be an unexpurgated version of what the filmmakers intended on the domestic cut…”
The premise of ‘Blotto‘ is that Stan is supposed to be going out for a night on the town with his bachelor buddy Ollie, but he can’t easily get away from his bulldog of a wife.
The film begins with Stan anxiously pacing up and down in front of the fireplace, trying to think of a way to get out of the house. His suspecting wife is seated close by, becoming more and more wound up by his pacing, and eventually she explodes, demanding to know what his problem is. “Can I go out?” is Stan’s childlike response.
Mrs. Laurel demands to know why he needs to go out and Stan feebly replies that he needs fresh air. This is where a noticeable cut takes place in the English language version. Originally, Mrs. Laurel, in response to her husband’s supposed need for air, moves to the mantelpiece and turns on an electric fan, blowing it right into Stan’s face. She then quickly changes her tone and asserts that “...it would have to be something mighty important to get you out of this house tonight!” and she pushes Stan down into a chair. This scene is still included in the Spanish version, but is absent from the original, although you can notice the sudden cut in the action and also see the fan spinning at the edge of the screen.
Stan is pretty miffed by all this and proceeds to punch the air and take his frustration out on a newspaper and rip books off the shelf. At one point he lifts his head from behind a book and send a really dirty look across to his wife, when she’s not looking, of course, but straight away her ‘spidey-sense’ kicks in and she glares straight back at him, forcing his head quickly back behind the book, like a turtle’s head retracting into its shell.
Ollie joins the film as he enters a telephone box and pleasantly requests the operator connect him to “Oxford 0614″, which incidentally was Stan’s actual number in real-life. It takes Ollie three attempts to get properly through to the Laurel residence, as Stan, not wanting his wife to see or hear him on the phone to his friend, keeps hanging up and telling Ollie he has the wrong number, or Ollie gets to the operator, only to forget the number and has to hang up and start again. In his call box, Ollie goes from happy to enraged in about 60 seconds and even attacks the phone in his frustration, much to the amusement of a gathered crowd.
Eventually, Mrs. Laurel snatches the phone and demands to know who the caller is. Much to the boys surprise, when she realises it’s Mr Hardy on the other end, she becomes all sweetness and light and passes the phone back to Stan, saying she doesn’t want to listen in to their private conversations. This is just an act though and she quickly runs upstairs to listen-in from another handset.
The boys hatch a plan for Stan to send himself a telegram, calling him away on important business, when in reality they’ll be heading off to the grand opening of ‘The Rainbow Club’ where Ollie has a table reserved for them. Stan promises to bring a bottle of illegal liquor along, as he knows where his wife has had one stashed away since prohibition.
Mrs. Laurel, of course has heard all of this and hatches a counter-plot of her own. While Stan is busy writing his telegram, (a scene which is extended in the Spanish version), she sneaks into the kitchen, pours the liquor down the sink and fills the bottle with cold tea, tabasco sauce, pepper, mustard and a number of other ingredients – (one wonders whether this was the inspiration for Roald Dahl’s famous book, ‘George’s Marvellous Medicine’…) before re-corking it and putting it back in it’s hiding place.
Mrs. Laurel then plays along with her husband’s pathetic attempts at deception and turning a blind eye to the rather obvious bottle stuffed down the front of his trousers, and so the boys are off and away to The Rainbow Club.
Upon arrival at the club, Tiny Sandford, playing the Maitre d’, shows them to their reserved table and they settle in for an evening of drinking and cabaret.
Interestingly, the original press sheet for ‘Blotto‘, reprinted in full, as part of Trevor Dorman’s article in ‘The Laurel & Hardy Magazine (Vol.10 No. 9), states that:
“Hollywood extras will soon be on easy street if Laurel and Hardy continue making such comedies as “Blotto”…Because of the rush to start this comedy it was necessary for Jack Roach, casting director at the Hal Roach Studio, to work until three o’clock one morning rounding up enough extras for the cabaret scenes. The next morning almost two hundred extras appeared on the set dressed in evening clothes…and the lucky ones that have their own evening clothes naturally make more money per day than those who have to resort to the wardrobe department.”
The sequences at The Rainbow Club really are quite lavish, especially for a Laurel & Hardy comedy, with beautiful art deco furnishings and as the above describes a good couple of hundred extras, all decked out in evening attire.
The boys sneakily begin consuming their ‘liquor’ and after a wonderful couple of reactions from Ollie after taking the first swigs of the vile concoction, leaving him short of breath and holding his head in his hands, followed by Stan’s ears wiggling uncontrollably, they convince themselves that they are becoming more and more drunk with every glassful. “You can certainly tell good liquor when you taste it!” says Ollie.
The boys’ acting is sublime here, as they go from nervously pouring the drinks, to tipsy, to merry, then to full on drunken hysteria, calling in at morose depression along the way, as one of the cabaret turns serenades them with ‘The Curse of an Aching Heart’. The song’s lyrics such as “You made me what I am today, I hope you’re satisfied, You dragged and dragged me down until, The soul within me died…” pull at Stan’s heart strings and conscience as he seemingly reflects on his deception of his wife in favour of his friend and breaks down into huge sobbing tears. Ollie’s reactions to Stan’s upset are equally strong with guilt and shame and he puts his arms awkwardly round his buddy’s shoulders and tries to bolster and rally him.
The song ends and the boys pull themselves together, offering the singer a drink of their ‘liquor’ and he spits it out branding it as “terrible“.
In the foreign versions, the cabaret scenes are extended with a couple of extra acts thrown in. The boys can be seen reacting to the floor show and getting more ‘drunk’ and following on from being serenaded, they decide to belt out a very drunken rendition of the song, Stan keeping time by bashing the ice bucket with the tongs. Tiny Sandford reappears, not amused by the boys’ behaviour and gives Stan’s ear a good tweak.
Eventually, unseen by Stan or Ollie, Mrs. Laurel arrives at the club, complete with a newly purchased double-barrelled shotgun, wrapped in brown paper. She sits herself at a table just behind the boys, and glowers menacingly at them both with clearly evil intentions.
Meanwhile, Stan start to giggle, quietly at first, but then this turns to uproarious laughter, sliding off his seat. Initially, Ollie asks him what’s so funny, but when Stan explains it’s the thought of his wife finding out that they drank her liquor, Ollie can’t stop himself from joining in with the hysterics. The scenes are arguably some of the boys’ funniest moments on screen ever.
Their laughter is so believable and so infectious, that I challenge anybody to keep a straight face when watching it. It’s this scene that the whole film has been building towards and this scene above all others that springs immediately to every fans’ mind, when the film ‘Blotto‘ is mentioned.
During their laughter, Ollie happens to glance behind and sees Mrs. Laurel seething, just a few feet away. This stops Ollie laughing instantly, but when Stan turns around to see for himself, the sight of his incensed wife only makes him laugh all the more, causing Ollie to start up again too.
“What’s the joke?!” rasps Mrs. Laurel.
After playfully fighting over who should tell her, Stan finally turns around and tells his wife, “We drank your liquor!“, which takes their amusement up another level.
The fastest sobering up in history then takes place after Mrs. Laurel informs the boys “That wasn’t liquor…it was cold tea!!” Suddenly, the laughter stops and Ollie sniffs the bottle, looks directly down the camera and gives us, the viewers, a confirmatory nod.
The shotgun begins to get unwrapped and the boys make a sharp exit from the club, leaping in to mustachioed Charlie Hall‘s waiting cab. As the car attempts to make a quick getaway, Mrs Laurel takes aim and blows the car to smithereens. The screen fades to black as she walks menacingly away from the camera and towards the smoking wreckage, potentially looking to finish off whatever’s left of the scheming boys.
‘Blotto’ is certainly a slow burner, but executed brilliantly and as a result is arguably one of the most memorable of the boys’ films, all thanks to that one hysterical scene at the club.
Do let me know your thoughts on ‘Blotto’ and on this blog – I always love hearing your thoughts.
Oh yes, and as promised click HERE to see the snippets of the French version.