Filmed early 1931. Released April 4th 1931. Two Reels.
Although Chickens Come Home was the first Laurel and Hardy picture to be released in 1931, it wasn’t the first that the boys filmed. At the very start of the year Stan and Babe were loaned out, free of charge, to appear in a film that was to be used as a fundraising vehicle. The charity that was to benefit from the project was the National Variety Artists’ Fund. The NVA ran an aquarium, sorry that should be a solarium (see what I did there?), set up to care for ex-performers afflicted by tuberculosis and the film in question was part of a large fundraising drive to raise $1,000,000 for the cause. The film was entitled, The Stolen Jools and, somewhat ironically, was co-produced by Chesterfield Cigarettes, clearly before the links between smoking and respiratory diseases had been discovered.
As in the case of The Hollywood Revue of 1929, the boys were not the leading players of the picture, they were just two famous performers sharing the bill with a whole host of others. The publicity for the picture labelled the film as ‘The Most Extraordinary Feature Ever Produced” and promoted a cast of 55 ‘stars’. They may have been stars in 1931, but as Randy Skretvedt points out in, Laurel & Hardy: The Magic Behind the Movies, the majority of these ‘stars’ would sadly “be all but forgotten by 1935”.
In addition to Stan and Babe, some of the other noteworthy performers that appeared and did stand the test of time include Buster Keaton, Our Gang, Joan Crawford, Edward G. Robinson, Norma Shearer and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. to name but a few.
The plot is very basic and doesn’t go out of its way to impress with storyline. It’s fairly transparently put together as a spectacle; a gathering of numerous celebrities purely to draw as much attention as possible – and fair enough, it was, after all a charity fundraiser.
The entire film consists of the investigation of the theft of Norma Shearer’s jewelry. The items were apparently stolen by Edward G. Robinson and George E. Stone at the annual Screen Star’s Ball, but the thieves then had the jewels stolen from them and it is this theft that the police are investigating.
At the start of the film, at the police station, a squad of cops are called out to the front desk, by Police Sergeant, Wallace Beery and are ‘led’ out by Officer, Buster Keaton, who manages to get in a couple of decent trademark tumbles in his 20 seconds of screen time.
Beery telephones Detective Eddie Kane and instructs him to get across to Norma Shearer’s apartment to investigate. Kane responds with:
“I’ll get right over with two of my best men!”
The two men are, of course, Stan and Ollie who drive Kane across town. Just the blank look on Stan’s face as he sits, riding shotgun to Ollie, is enough to draw a laugh, especially given that he’s just been described as one of the best men on the force.
Ollie draws the car up at the kerbside and Stan fiddles with a lever on the dashboard, causing an explosion and the entire car collapses into a heap. Eddie Kane casually climbs out of the wreckage, makes no mention of what has just occurred, brushes himself down and simply says:
“Thank you boys, where will you be when I need you?” to which, Ollie, pointing to where he’s sitting, replies “Right here!”
Once Kane has disappered, Ollie turns to Stan, hits him and says “I told you not to make that last payment!”
It’s a great comic sequence and is easily the best scene in the entire film (okay, I know I’m biased!). As you would expect, the comic timing is brilliant and even Eddie Kane plays it perfectly. Although this is another one of Stan’s cameos where he has no dialogue, his mannerisms do all the talking. It’s thirty seconds of perfection and arguably the only reason that the film is remembered at all today. Indeed, for many years the title stood alongside Hats Off and The Rogue Song as a major source of frustration for fans, as Glenn Mitchell, writing in his Laurel & Hardy Encyclopedia, reports:
“Until the end of the 1960s this charity short was among the most sought-after ‘lost’ Laurel & Hardy films. It was first rediscovered in England, retitled The Slippery Pearls.”
The main thrust for the fundraising effort relating to the film, appears to have been with cash collections taking place in the theatres following the screenings. Reports in the trade papers of the day suggest that this was pretty successful, as this piece in the Motion Picture Herald, 18th April suggests:
“Easter week showing the NVA film, “Stolen Jools” has resulted in 1,000 theatres collecting $350,000 from the public for the Sarnac Lake sanitorium campaign. The remaining 1,200 houses which booked the short have not yet filed collection reports. Collections have averaged $300 per theatre.”
Not all mentions in the press were completely positive however, as the picture is implicated in the following controversial incident, proving that even as a new release, this wasn’t a film that audiences wanted to see over and over again.
“Plenty complaints from fans making most of loop houses when they found “Stolen Jools” serving as comedy in all of them. Looks like finale of that stunt, here at least.” Variety, 8th April, 1931
Out-and-out Laurel and Hardy comedies were, however, a different matter in the early thirties, with plenty of reports in the trade papers stating that many people were returning to theaters mutiple times to see the boys’ films.
Laurel and Hardy were truly riding the crest of a wave at the start of 1931 and could clearly pick and choose what work they did and where, as this intriguing article in The Film Daily, 19th February, 1931 signifies:
‘Pin Money’: Last week Laurel and Hardy were offered $20,000 for a week’s appearance at the Seattle auto show – and they refused because they were too busy. And Tom Gerety of M-G-M cracked this without a flicker of his pan.
Whilst this provides a very positive picture of life for Stan and Babe during this time, the same publications also provide an insight into the private lives of the actors, particularly Babe’s:
“On condition that she enter a sanitarium for a rest, Mrs. Oliver Hardy, wife of the comedian (Laurel and Hardy), was placed on parole in psychopathic court. Mrs. Hardy was taken there on the assertion that she is addicted to excessive use of stimulants.” Variety, 8th April, 1931
This personal turbulence was not a new element in Babe’s private life, of course, as his wife’s alcohol addictions had, by all accounts, been the cause of various rifts and incidents between the couple, culminating in Myrtle filing for divorce two years previously. The pair patched up this difference and the 1929 divorce was avoided, but clearly by 1931, as the above article shows, Myrtle’s unfortunate condition hadn’t improved.
Indeed, only three months after the above psychopathic court incident, Myrtle was in trouble with the law again, this time for drunk driving, as John McCabe explains in his biography, Babe: The Life of Oliver Hardy:
“On…the last day of July 1931, Myrtle took their car while drunk, planning, as she later explained, ‘to go shopping’. Never a sure driver at best, the car weaved down the street from her house, at one point going over the kerb, continuing erratically until, with great difficulty, a motorcycle cop stopped her.”
Following the arrest, Myrtle used her allowed phone call to contact, not her husband, but her sister, who duly came and bailed her out – another sign that relations between the Hardy’s were becoming very strained.
Afterwards, Babe fetched Myrtle home from her sisters and, to give them their due, they once again attempted to heal the problems between them, but, sadly it wouldn’t be too long before the cracks in the relationship began to tell.
What complicated matters even further was that around this time, Babe began enjoying the attention of another lady, Viola Morse. The two became, in Babe’s own words ‘close companions’, but, according to John McCabe, Morse “was not Babe’s mistress” and the relationship with her “was not a sordid one, even if it might have been sexual”. Glenn Mitchell described Morse as “something of a refuge” for Babe, and their relationship lasted for the majority of the decade, ending only when Babe fell in love with Virginia Lucille Jones, the script girl on the film ‘The Flying Deuces’, and the partner with whom he would find true happiness and ultimately would spend the rest of his life with.
But, there was much more troubled water to flow under that particular bridge, before Babe’s private life would reach those calm waters.
Do let me know your thoughts on ‘The Stolen Jools‘ and on the blog, all feedback is appreciated.
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