Filming began 22nd September, 1930. Released 29th November, 1930. Three reels.
“Mr Laurel and Mr Hardy have many ups and downs… Mr. Hardy takes charge of the upping and Mr. Laurel does most of the downing”.
It would be incorrect to say that ‘Another Fine Mess‘ was the movie that Laurel and Hardy filmed after ‘Pardon Us‘, even though it does follow chronologically. The reason for this is that ‘Pardon Us‘, the boys’ first full-length feature film, took far longer to complete than expected, and so before filming wrapped, Stan and Babe had to leave the big prison sets and go off to speedily get a short in the can, ready for a quick release, before returning to complete their unfinished feature.
The need for this three-reeler to be so hastily turned around severely limited the amount of preparation and planning usually afforded to one of the boys’ short subjects, and this may well explain why Stan, looking for an instantly usable and ready made storyline to work with, chose to revisit his father’s music hall sketch ‘Home From the Honeymoon‘. Penned by Arthur ‘A.J.’ Jefferson in 1905, it had already been adapted for use as Stan and Babe’s third film, the silent short ‘Duck Soup‘ (1927) and yet here, at the close of 1930, only three years on, the team returned to give it another run out, but this time with the addition of sound.
Initially created for the stages of British music halls, A.J.’s original sketch was written with plenty of dialogue and, as a result, ‘Another Fine Mess‘ is similarly dialogue driven, at the expense of the boys’ now trademark visual comedy. As well as the shortage of production time, for reasons mentioned above, this may also explain, as Randy Skretvedt points out in ‘Laurel & Hardy: The Magic Behind the Movies‘, why this film is the only one “…of the 11 films produced between Night Owls and Laughing Gravy… to be produced only in English”.
As the film begins the very first difference to note, not just in comparison with ‘Duck Soup‘, but with every other of the boys’ pictures, is the opening credits. Gone are the usual, familiar title cards, replaced instead and rather bizarrely by a couple of thirteen year old girls, twins Beverly and Bettymae Crane, dressed in formal cinema usher’s uniforms. From referring back to Randy Skretvedt’s indispensable guide to the boys’ films, it appears that Hal Roach had the remarkable idea of ditching the standard format in favour of having the Crane sisters read the title cards and credits to the audience. Although this was the only occasion they introduced a Laurel & Hardy film, the twins were used in this way for a dozen Roach pictures, including a number of Charley Chase and Our Gang comedies. This practice was soon abandoned following complaints from theatre managers about their patrons getting too “rowdy” and shouting back at the girls on the screen.
The rest of the 1930 remake is very faithful to its 1927 counterpart, although it dispenses with the opening scene of the boys on the park bench, which previously was used to inform us of the reason the boys needed to run and hide from the cops. Instead, ‘Another Fine Mess‘ opens with a close up of a newspaper article advertising a certain Colonel Buckshot’s palatial residence being To Let, including maid and butler service. Immediate possession of the property is possible as Colonel Wilberforce Buckshot, played by the boys’ regular foil, Scotsman James Finlayson, is departing for a big game hunting vacation in South Africa.
Although Finlayson is nowhere near as frightening and imposing a figure as his opposite number in the original, ‘Duck Soup’s’ Colonel Blood, (James A. Marcus), his performance is typically humorous and memorable. Straight away, setting off from his home and giving endless instructions to his long-suffering domestic staff, he leans out of the window of the taxi cab, still holding forth, when the taxi takes off, hilariously throwing Buckshot, mid-sentence onto the back seat. Small gag, big laugh.
As before, the main thrust of the story has the boys running from authority figures. This time, rather than forest rangers, they’re being chased by cop Harry Bernard, who is incensed that after telling the boys not to sleep on a park bench, Stan replied to him “Yes Ma’am” – that’s what he was sore about!
To evade capture, the boys sneak into a cellar and close the large doors, not realising the latch was locking itself behind them. Once the coast is clear, the realisation soon hits them that they are now trapped inside the cellar, Ollie looks at Stan and for only the third time in their career together, tells him, “Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into!” This line, of course now synonymous with Laurel and Hardy, became a catchphrase of sorts for Ollie and is regularly misquoted as ‘another fine mess’, much to the vexation of many fans. But, even though the quote is indeed incorrect, at least the phrase does relate directly to the title of one of the boys’ films and therefore, perhaps those who might get a little incensed by it should try to relax and remember, “united we stand, divided we fall…”
Sneaking out of the cellar and into the main house itself, the boys attempt to find the front door and make their escape whilst avoiding discovery. But, at the sound of a man and a woman approaching they quickly hide behind a curtain. Whilst hidden they realise that the couple are in fact the maid and butler and they are leaving the house for a crafty week-long holiday, before returning to secure tenants for the vacant residence.
Even though our homeless heroes know that the rather palatial house they’ve found themselves in will be unoccupied for a week, they still try to do the right thing and quietly leave as soon as the domestic staff have gone, but on the cop is always close-by every door and window they try to exit by. Just then there is a knock the door…
Listening at the door, for fear of it being the cops, the boys discover that it is in fact a newly married couple attempting to rent the house. Ollie makes Stan dress up as the butler and instructs him to get rid of the callers as quickly as possible. Unsurprisingly, this doesn’t go to plan and within a small few moments, Lord Leopold Plumtree (Charles Gerrard) and his new lady wife (Thelma Todd) are standing with Stan in the entrance hall/lobby and, much to Ollie’s horror, Stan is shouting for Colonel Buckshot. With nothing left to do, Ollie dresses himself in one of the colonel’s smoking jacket and hat combos and gracefully enters the charade.
As always, the boys excel in digging themselves into deeper and deeper holes and so it is here, that in conversation about the domestic staff , Lady Plumtree decides that she’d like to meet the maid. Against his will, Stan is sent off to ‘fetch’ Agnes the maid, and shortly afterwards returns dressed in the maids uniform, complete with blond curly wig. Meanwhile, Lord Plumtree has asked to see the Billiard Room and Ollie takes him all around the house, hoping to find one.
These sequences are arguably the greatest elements of ‘Another Fine Mess’, where Stan and Babe get to play Agnes and Colonel Buckshot (“Last of the Kentucky Buckshots!). What is particularly wonderful is the way that they are able to slip in and out of their new roles, showing glimpses of the ‘Stanley’ and ‘Ollie’ characters, but then immersing themselves back in to their new roles. Stan’s interaction with Thelma Todd is especially lovely to watch and he clowns around with her, discussing his fictional world of life serving the Colonel.
The film is just as farcical in nature as you would expect from an adaptation of an old music hall sketch and it becomes even more so when who should unexpectedly arrive but the real Colonel Buckshot, returning to collect his bow and arrow. James Finlayson’s performance is as fabulous as ever, with completely over the top double takes and reactions that could never be equalled. He is enraged by the impostors in his house and proceeds to yell for the police, before running to his armoury to get tooled up!
The finale is probably the most bizarre scene of all (ignoring the title card-reading twins at the beginning). The boys try to hide themselves under the skin of a ‘trophy’ wildebeest, probably bagged by Buckshot on a previous hunting expedition and as the hunter enters the room, accompanied by the police, the boys charge their way past the mob and out into the street. The sight of an emaciated wildebeest running out of a driveway is enough to knock a cycling couple off their conveniently timely tandem and the boys waste no time in stealing it and pedalling like the clappers, still one at each end of the animal hide, making for one of the most surreal getaways on film.
The police give chase, but are foiled as the boys enter a railway tunnel, just as a train is coming through from the opposite direction. The last view of our heroes is of them each pedalling a unicycle, still disguised as the front and back ends of the wildebeest, cycling off stage left.
Despite the somewhat rushed nature of the production of ‘Another Fine Mess’, contemporary reviews were positive on the whole. Although, Exhibitor’s Herald World, from November 8th 1930, did call the plot “foolish and unnecessary“, but went on to quickly acknowledge, “But yet the thing is darn funny. The preview audience in the Ritz Theatre whooped and shouted at the gags that were given the screen by the two comics…“.
Motion Picture News, December 13th 1930, went further, “Laurel and Hardy are in a class by themselves in the comedy line. This one has plenty of good hearty laughs and a number of real situations. Director James Parrot wisely lets action carry the sequence whenever possible, cutting talking to a minimum, which is one of the reasons why these comedies never drag…”
Opinion was still upbeat months later as the February 1931 issue of Photoplay magazine confirmed: “What’s the use combing the vocabulary to think up more words to tell how funny Laurel and Hardy are? This comedy of theirs is no let-down. You’ll get at least your usual quota of laughs from it…”
Even when time was short and all they could do was regurgitate old material, at this point in their careers Stan and Babe just couldn’t seem to put a foot wrong and everything they touched turned to gold.
I’ll leave the last word to Motion Picture Magazine, March 1931, who featured ‘Another Fine Mess‘ as one of their ‘Best Big Little Pictures of the Month’: “…Right now, they are the funniest comedy team on the Talkie market, with no let down in sight.”
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