Filming began March 9th, 1931. Released May 16th, 1931. Two Reels.
Main Cast: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Babe London, James Finlayson, Ben Turpin, Blanche Payson, Charlie Rogers
Produced by Hal Roach, Directed by James W. Horne, Dialogue by H. M. Walker
“Mr Hardy was making big preparations to get married – Mr. Laurel was taking a bath too -“
Often overlooked, ‘Our Wife’ is a smashing little comedy short and contained within its meagre two reels are many of the essential ingredients that are present in many of the very best Laurel and Hardy films. For instance, there’s a great cast, including regular fan-favourite, James Finlayson, the menacing Blanche Payson and even a cameo by silent slapstick star, Ben Turpin. They hilariously wreck Ollie’s home (or part of it), they have to use stealth to sneak up to someone else’s property at night (never succesfull), they have to cram themselves into a tiny space, partially destroy a car, and there are clever uses of dialogue combined with plenty of quality visual gags. In short, this two reeler has it all, but arguably doesn’t get the recognition it deserves.
The film opens with a very cheerful Ollie, in his bedroom, making final preparations for his wedding. He’s preparing his clothes, practising saying “I do” and humming the wedding march merrily to himself. In the adjoining dining room, best man Stan is busily setting the table for the wedding festivities. He appears, struggling with an enormous stack of dinner plates, sets the table for three people and struggles back to the kitchen to return the remainder of the plates. A simple gag, but brilliant in immediately conveying his simple childlike mentality. Now, Stan carrying a huge pile of crockery is never going to end well or quietly and as he disappears out of shot, back into the kitchen, the swing door hits him from behind and we hear one almighty crash. “Somebody pushed me!” says Stan, when Ollie comes to find out what happened.
So, the scene is well and truly set in these first few opening shots. The puzzling thing, to my mind at least, is that the wedding is clearly happening today or possibly tomorrow at the latest and yet, as we cut to the bride-to-be’s house, Ollie’s soon to be father-in-law, played by James Finlayson, is asking his daughter about the identity of her fiancee…for the very first time?! It’s the day of the wedding, the room for the reception is decorated, the cake is on the table, the groom is practicing his vows and the father of the bride, after announcing this to be the proudest moment of his life, is passed a photograph to enable him to discover the identity of his future son-in-law… for the first time…!!? I’d love to know that back story!
Of course, as soon as Mr. Finlayson sees Ollie’s image staring back up at him, he loses it, big time! James Finlayson is renowned for his double-takes, and on some occassions his double-double’takes, and this time, he has to rotate the photo around 90, 180 and then 360 degrees, to be sure that his fears are actually true. To say that he’s not impressed with his daughter’s choice, would be a massive understatement.
“NO!…Emphatically, NO!..A thousand times, NO!!!”
Finlayson then exits the scene in the most dramatic fashion. He trips over the eavesdropping butler, Meadows, played by Stan’s real life pal, Charlie Rogers and then trips on a carpet sweeper and flies head first, out of shot, down the staircase.
Dulcie, Finlayson’s daughter, played by Babe London, is understandably heartbroken.
This was Babe London’s first film with Laurel and Hardy. She was a very well seasoned comedy actress, appearing in around 100 films during her career and was a notable star of the silent and early talkie era. Her screen credits included roles alongside such names as Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Harry Langdon and W.C. Fields, as well as Bob Hope and The Three Stooges. She first met Oliver Hardy during the early days when she was working at Vitagraph and Hardy was part of Larry Semon’s stock company, but her first film role with either one of the boys was with Stan.
“I had worked at the old Selig “Zoo” in a one-reel comedy and Bronco Billy Anderson was the director and producer. He introduced me to the star, and he said, “This young man, I predict, is going to be one of the greats,” and it was Stan Laurel.” Pratfall Vol.1 No. 1
In fact, Miss London made two films with Stan, under Broncho Billy Anderson, The Weak-End Party (1922) and The Handy Man (1923). It was the start of a great friendship that lasted until Stan’s death in 1965. Of Stan, Miss London, talking at a ‘Way Out West Tent’ meeting of the Sons of the Desert, in 1969, and reported by Larry Byrd in the very first edition of Pratfall Magazine, said:
“…it was one of the highlights of my whole life, my friendship with Stan. He was such a warm, loving human being and he was so witty, his mind so sharp. To sit and watch him view one of his pictures was a joy. He’d laugh. He got the biggest kick…The screen personality wasn’t his at all, but he was an innate gentleman. I never saw him except when he was perfectly groomed and nice, you know, he kept himself nice.”
In the same interview, Babe London also confirmed that Stan called the shots on set. “He directed and wrote most of the material – at least in “Our Wife”. On the credits there’s another man…was supposed to have directed it. Stan did all of it.
Whilst it may not be surprising to learn that Stan was in directorial control of the picture, it is of perhaps more interest that it appears the intial story idea came not from Stan, or even Hal Roach, but from Babe Hardy. In Randy Skretvedt’s, “Laurel & Hardy: The Magic Behind the Movies“, Randy quotes a Los Angeles Times article from May 17, 1931, written by Paul F. Moreine. The piece covered the creation of ‘Our Wife‘ from its inception through to its previews at a local theatre:
“At the Hal Roach Studio…Oliver Hardy is discovered in close conference with Beanie Walker, story editor. ..Mr. Laurel wanders in and, being apprised of the fact that Mr. Hardy has an idea, expresses both surprise and pleasure…Aided by several assistants the story editor wrestles with the Hardy idea and quickly reduces it to a condition where it bears no visible resemblance to its original state…”
I don’t suppose we’ll ever know just what Babe Hardy’s original idea was, but it’s nice to know that he did contribute to the creation of some of the boys’ pictures and was not mereley an actor, disinterested with the creation process.
The finished plot begins to become clear, as Ollie receives a phone call from his beloved Dulcie, during which the lovestruck pair address each other with humorous pet names, such as ‘Flower of My Heart’, ‘Dulcie Darling’, ‘Ducky Lover’ and ‘Dimple Dumpling’.
Dulcie is in tears and informs Ollie that her father has locked her in her room and forbidden her to ever see Ollie again. Underterred, Ollie hatches a plan to spring Dulcie from her room, escape from her father-turned-jailor and the pair can elope and get married in secret.
Next, Ollie has the unenviable task of explaining the plan to Stan. This is a lovely sequence, and when Stan is informed that his job is to come up with a getaway car, Stan’s puzzled answer is “What have I got to do with it?“, to which Ollie replies, “What have you got to do with it?? Why, your the best man!” At these words, Stan’s face beams and all’s well in his world.
There then follows a brilliant series of gags that culminates in a fabulous finale. Stan has replaced Ollie’s throat spray with fly killer, and when Ollie directs a couple of sprays down his throat, the burning sensation is immediate. Amidst his yowls, Ollie shouts “I’m on fire! Do something to help me!” They both rush into the kitchen and Ollie opens the ice-box and begins to lick the ice inside, until Stan takes charge and chips a big lump of ice off and hands it to Ollie to suck.
The scene appears to have reached its peak, but then Ollie goes to walk out of the room, slips on a chunk of ice and flies into the next room. He lands face first in the wedding cake, demolishes the dining table and as the table collapses, all the decorations that dress the room are also dragged off, leaving everything including Ollie in a messy heap in the middle of the room.
We then cut to night time outside the Finlayson residence and the boys’ next task is to free Dulcie, quietly, without the rest of the household discovering them. With a mixture of gags similar to those in Night Owls and Hog Wild, the stealthy rescuers make more noise than, in the words of Foghorn Leghorn, a couple of skeletons, throwing a fit on a tin roof.
It gets off to the worst start possible, when Stan goes immediately up to the front door and rings the bell. The door is answered by the Finlayson’s butler, Meadows and Stan declares that he’s here to see Mr. Hardy, who has come to elope with Dulcie, (not a great start to the plan!). Ollie, who has witnessed this from a hiding place, is flabbergasted and shouts to Dulcie, who is looking from an upstairs window that the game is up and they need to hurry.
Meadows informs James Finlayson about the elopment and the Scot rushes to his daughter’s bedroom. After a bit of quick thinking from Dulcie, she manages to lock her father in her room and rushes outside to her waiting lover.
Stan is overjoyed at the re-uniting of the couple and as they embrace, he excitedly throws a handful of rice over them and then chucks a boot at the back of Ollie’s neck from point blank range.
A beautifully visual gag sequence occurs next, as Stan brings the car round for them to all escape in. The wedding limousine that Stan has acquired, is an Austin motor car and is the smallest car imaginable. The comic effect of the considerably sizeable Ollie and Dulcie trying to squeeze in to this vehicle is very funny and then when Stan has to also get in, it just adds to the hilarity. This sequence is just long enough to keep the fun going without over-cooking it. The final laugh comes as the car pulls away and Stan’s head rips through the roof.
It’s amusing to note that author William K. Everson in ‘The Complete Films of Laurel & Hardy‘ was so taken with how physically impossible it must have been to cram all three actors and the luggage into this tiny vehicle, that he states:
“So impossible does such a maneuver look that one suspects that perspectives must have been changed throughout the routine, with gradually larger prop cars being introduced as more and more flesh is forced into such a confined space.”
Although this is an interesting idea, Mr. Ed Foster, writing to Pratfall Magazine Vol.1, No.2, said, in his letter, that Babe London herself, during her special visit to a ‘Way Out West Tent’ meeting, confirmed that this was not the case and that “it was the same automobile, and that larger prop cars were not used…“.
The film’s final scene takes place at the home of William Gladding, Justice of the Peace, played by Ben Turpin. Turpin was first brought to the screen by Charlie Chaplin in 1915 and, with his distinctive appearance, soon became a well known and loved star of the silent screen. However, as Steve Rydzewski points out in his wonderful biography of the man, ‘For Art’s Sake’, following the serious illness and tragic death of his second wife in 1925, Turpin retired from acting. But, this wasn’t the final curtain on his career, as he eventually remarried and re-discovered his passion for the movie industry. Fortunately for him, his popularity with audiences and indeed with the studios had endured and he was often enticed back for occassional small appearances, with a talent fee of $1,000, no matter how small the role. An article featured in Ideas and Town Talk, August 27th 1932, reproduced in Bowler Desert 54; Summer 1998, states:
“Ben Turpin is another well known figure who has been seen in one or two of our talkies in very small parts…Many people have taken this to mean that Ben is down on his luck and only too glad to get small parts whenever he can. But it means nothing of the sort. Ben Turpin is one of the few people in Hollywood who has succeeded in saving money. He has, officially, retired now and he’s fairly well off. But the lure of the studios is strong. Every now and then he will look in at one or other of the studios and because he still loves acting he will amuse himself by taking small parts here and there.”
Turpin’s appearance in these final sequences of Our Wife is very well done indeed. It’s the middle of the night and, leaving Ollie and Dulcie crammed like sardines in the car, Stan rings the doorbell to raise the Justice of the Peace, with the aim of getting him to officiate the wedding.
Blanche Payson, seemingly playing the role of the Justice’s on-the-shelf daughter appears at the door in her nightgown and, with her hair in rollers, looking every bit the formiddable character that you wouldn’t want to cross. There follows a brilliantly funny gag/conversation, that I think is pretty unique in Laurel and Hardy pictures, but is possibly my favourite part of the film.
When Payson asks Stan what he wants, Stan typically can’t remember, so he relays the question back to Ollie in the car. “Tell her we want to get married!”, says Ollie. “Oh, yeh! We want to get married” repeats Stan to Payson. “Not we! US!!” corrects Ollie.” “Not we…us” repeats Stan. Payson now thinks that Stan is referring to him marrying her and after a small pause of consideration, leans nonchalantly against the door frame and says, “Well, how about it?” Stan is once again confused, so returns to the car, “How about it?” he asks Ollie. This goes on for a few minutes, until Payson gets the gist that its Ollie who wants to marry Dulcie.
Payson calls for her “Pa” and tells Stan he’ll be right out. “Who?” asks Stan and hilariously receives a punch in the jaw from Payson, who has understandably lost all patience with him.
This wonderful sequence is a great build up for Ben Turpin’s introduction and it does feel like a celebrity making a cameo as he appears. His
The final gag is basically that due to Turpin’s crossed eyes, no one is actually sure who has been married to who. It’s a funny finish to a funny film.
This wedding scene is likely to have been the inspiration for the boys’ 1943 radio sketch, ‘The Marriage of Stan Laurel’ (1943), written by Stan Laurel, that featured Edgar Kennedy in the role of the Justice and Patsy Moran as the bride. In my opinion, Stan and Babe weren’t well suited to radio comedy, as so much of their humour is visual. The scene in Our Wife is far superior, as it utilises the visual element perfectly and the gags focussing (no pun intended) on Turpin’s eyes and especially Stan’s reactions to them are priceless and couldn’t be matched using the medium of radio.
Our Wife was generally received well by the critics, as illustrated here:
“Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy have turned in another winner! This comedy is a laugh from start to finish…” Photoplay, June, 1931
“The Stan Laurel-Oliver Hardy combination put on some hilarious pranks for the benefit of this Hal Roach subject, which is a pip…Entertainment de luxe for any audience.” The Film Daily, July 12, 1931
I’ll leave the final word to Babe London who summed up her experience working with Stan and Babe on ‘Our Wife‘ so nicely:
“They worked so beautifully together with their timing and spacing. It’s really an education to work with them. We had a ball, you know. It was play. It wasn’t hard work , it was play”.
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