Filming began May 7th, 1931. Released September 19th, 1931. Two Reels
Main Cast: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Mae Busch, Gertrude Astor, Linda Loredo, Charlie Hall
Produced by Hal Roach, Directed by James W. Horne, Sound by H. M. Walker
“Mr. Hardy holds that every husband should tell his wife the whole truth – – Mr. Laurel is crazy too–“
Three days after filming on Our Wife wrapped, the Roach studios closed down for a six week break. In their personal lives Stan and Babe couldn’t have had more contrasting times if they’d tried. Babe was having more problems with his wife Myrtle and her alcoholism. Myrtle ended up in ‘psychopathic court’ at the end of March, and it was reported in Broadway and Hollywood “Movies”, June, 1931:
“Mrs. Myrtle Hardy, wife of the famous film comedian Oliver Hardy has been paroled after a hearing on charges made that she drank excessively. She has been reported as missing several times, and perhaps this will keep the lady in bounds for a while. Funny that a comedian’s family never think he’s so hot, but Oliver hardly seems the type to drive a person to drink.”
Stan, on the other hand, spent a much more pleasurable time during the holiday, taking his wife Lois and their daughter, also named Lois, to Honolulu. The family photos from this trip show a happy family enjoying a relaxing vacation together. Unlike the Hardy’s, life in the Laurel household was a happy one, for the time being at least. Their return to California was recorded in the International Newsreel, 30th April, 1931
“When Arthur S. Jefferson and daughter Lois appeared on the passenger list of the liner Malolo, it didn’t mean a thing, but when investigation developed that this was the real-life-name of Stan Laurel, of the Laurel and Hardy comedy fame, that was something else. The screen comedian and his family have returned to the United States mainland from a long sojourn in the Hawaiian Islands, and Laurel proposes to again resume his laugh-making activities with Oliver Hardy.”
Also at the start of May, as the wheels of industry resumed turning on ‘The Lot of Fun’, the Hal Roach Studio itself appeared to be in the middle of a controversy too, facing accusations of product placement in one of their pictures as reported in ‘Hollywood Flashes’ in The Film Daily, 13th May, 1931:
“Emphatic denial that paid advertising had appeared in one of his shorts is made by Hal Roach, whose Our Gang, Charley Chase, Laurel-Hardy and Boy Friends comedies are released through M-G-M.”
It must have been some relief to all at the studio to get back to business as usual.
Considering the Hal Roach Studios’ reputation was built on the production of family friendly comedies, the films of Laurel and Hardy do not shy away from deep, dark and often controversial subjects. Topics such as death, divorce, war and infidelity are often key components of the plots of many of the boys’ films and Come Clean is no exception. Suicide is the theme used in this particular two-reeler and it wasn’t the only time during their screen partnership.
Despite the serious nature of the subject matter, the film still manages to be a brilliantly funny comedy from start to finish. With a terrific line up of supporting players, including the always wonderful Mae Busch and the boys’ dependable nemesis Charlie Hall, it may therefore be surprising, at least to those still to see the picture, that the biggest show-stealer in Come Clean is actually Ollie’s wife, played by Gertrude Astor, appearing here for her first and only time with Laurel and Hardy.
Astor’s performance is truly memorable as she bosses every scene that she’s in. Following some fancy opening titles, complete with animated page turning transitions, the film opens with she and Ollie enjoying a romantic supper together, all loved up and happy not to be impinged upon by the bothersome Laurels. There are clear similarities here with the 1928 silent short Should Married Men Go Home, but as good as Kay Deslys is as Mrs. Hardy in that picture, she pales into insignificance compared to the formidable presence of Gertrude Astor.
Ms. Astor seems to have been just as colourful a character off screen as she was on, as author Craig Calman, speaking on Episode Five of The Laurel & Hardy Blogcast, recalled speaking to her on the telephone in 1975. As she answered the telephone, she apologised to Craig for being out of breath and explained that she had just come down from being on top of her house, repairing the roof – she was 88 years old at the time!
Typically and somewhat predictably, the Hardy’s pleasant evening is hi-jacked as the Laurels come-a-calling and as quickly as the evening’s tranquility is shattered, Mrs. Hardy rounds on her husband, in some style, accusing him of inviting them over, then calling him a big lunk and punching him under his chin! Hilarious stuff!!
The story-line begins to closely follow that of the 1928 predecessor, with the Hardy’s pretending to be out by standing silently behind the door. It’s not long before Ollie’s incompetence reveals the fact that the Hardy’s are in fact in residence and the Laurel’s are invited in, through gritted teeth and incredibly forced smiles.
Taking up the role of Mrs Laurel, is Linda Loredo, who was no stranger to working with Stan and Babe as she’d previously appeared in four of the Spanish language versions of the boys’ movies and this was her first casting in one of the original English speaking films. She takes a good part and her performance, with her high-pitched “Stan-leee!” is particularly memorable. Sadly, this would be her final film performance, as Randy Skretvedt informs us in ‘The Magic Behind the Movies’, a month following the completion of the picture, she died of inflammation of the heart, following complications from an earlier surgical procedure. She was just 24 years old.
After following the plot-line for Should Married Men Go Home in these early scenes, Come Clean then asserts its own originality when Stan is offered some refreshment and decides, to the disgust of the Hardy’s, that he’d like something that they don’t have – ice cream. Cue a trip down to Charlie Hall’s ice cream parlour for arguably one of the funniest scenes in all the boys’films.
Inside Mr. Hall’s parlour, the comedy timing and reactions from all three actors are perfect. Babe’s camera looks are on point, Stan’s innocent confusion is hilarious and Charlie Hall’s growing frustration is palatable!
If ever proof were needed that the boys’ comedy was much more than visual pantomime, this is one scene that answers that emphatically:
Ollie: “We’d like a quart of your best ice cream please…”
Charlie: “Yes sir, what flavour?”
Ollie: “What flavours have you?”
Charlie: “Strawberry, pineapple and vanilla”
Ollie to Stan: “What flavour do you want?”
Stan: “I’ll have chocolate!”
Charlie: “I’m sorry, but we’re out of chocolate!”
Stan: “Have you any moustachio?”
Charlie (becoming annoyed): “No, we’re out of moustachio!!”
Stan: “You’re out of moustachio?”
Stan to Ollie: “He’s out of moustachio…”
Ollie: “Mmmm Hmmmm!!”
Stan: “What other flavours are you out of?”
Charlie: “Strawberry….We’re out of orange, gooseberry and chocolate!!”
Stan: “Alright, I’ll have it without chocolate”
Ollie: “Didn’t the gentleman just tell you that he didn’t have any chocolate?!”
Stan: “I just told the gentleman, I didn’t want any…”
Ollie to Charlie: “Just give us a quart of any kind that’s handy…pleease!”
Charlie: “Yes sir” (Places a quart of ice cream on the counter)
Stan: “What flavour’s that?”
Once the boys depart the parlour the real thrust of the plot kicks in as they stumble across Mae Busch who is about to commit suicide by throwing herself into a river. Mae delivers a short monologue and shouts goodbye to the cruel world, to which Stan cheerily shouts goodbye back in reply. Ollie realises what’s happening and the boys rush across to prevent Mae from jumping, which, for some bizarre reason, seems to amuse her, as she laughs heartily at their attempts to reach her in time and then jumps.
The boys valiantly save Mae from drowning, although to be fair, that’s putting a rather heroic spin on it. What actually happens is Ollie dives in after her and then realises he can’t swim, so starts yelling for help. Meanwhile, an unconscious Mae floats on
her back, in a very graceful, Pre-Raphaelite-esque way, back to the dockside and to Stan who’s running up and down in a flap. He drags Mae out of the water, then throws Ollie a rope that he assumes is attached to the life ring. The life ring slips off the dock and sinks like a stone. The rope, the end of which Ollie immediately tied around his throat (not a good idea), is actually tied to an anchor. Stan, in his confusion, throws the anchor into the water, causing Ollie to be dragged down to the riverbed. This is pretty quick fire stuff and is very funny.
Eventually, of course Ollie is also dragged out of the water and as a side note, I was interested to note the considerable amount of small fish visible in the Roach studio pool, as Ollie is hauled out. This is something that I’d never noticed before and wondered if it might be down to the clearer picture quality of the Definitive Restorations Blu Ray that enabled this sort of detail to be more obvious than on previous versions that I’d used.
The remainder of the plot has Mae Busch completely incensed at the boys for saving her life and she subsequently sticks to them like glue, in order that they must now take care of her. Whenever they try to make a break for it and run, Mae lets rip with a deafening scream that brings them scurrying back. Mae’s scream is truly something else and puts me in mind of the MGM Tom & Jerry cartoons of the 40’s, where Tom screams in absolute agony. The editors clipped the beginning and end of Bill Hanna’s recorded scream, leaving only the loudest part of the sound to burst out from Tom’s mouth, making the effect even funnier. Anyway, I digress!
Stan and Ollie can find no way to lose Mae and she soon ends up being secreted in Ollie’s bedroom, whilst their wives are chatting in the very next room.
There are some excellent moments as the boys attempt to nervously conceal the fact that a strange woman is hidden in their apartment and they hilariously try to sing loudly to drown out the radio that Mae puts on in the bedroom. It’s farcical stuff but very well done by all the cast. Eventually, a cop arrives to arrest Mae, as it transpires she’s a wanted woman, leaving Stan and Ollie to explain everything to their partners.
There is one final gag where Ollie, in frustration with Stan, who is sitting fully clothed in a bath-full of water, pulls the plug out of the bath and Stan is supposedly sucked down the plughole. I must admit that I find this finale a little disappointing as its a bit too cartooney, not that I have anything against cartoons, quite the contrary, but I find this end gag/freak ending does snap the viewer out of their willing suspension of disbelief a bit too sharply. This is the only negative comment I can make about Come Clean though and it is a very minor one at that.
As usual, the publicity/marketing team at the Hal Roach Studios worked hard to publicise the picture, releasing another press sheet packed with information relating to the movie and its promotion. This is some of what they wrote:
“There are very few stars left who “shoot from the cuff” because of the complete story department every large studio carries…With Laurel and Hardy, famous Hal Roach comedians, however, it is different. If time is short and they get the germ of an idea they prepare the barest outline of their script. Their powers of ad libbing and spontaneous fun eliminate long and lengthy stories, and too, their funniest moments seem to result from their impromptu acting before the camera.
For the story of “Come Clean”, their latest comedy…The script was very short, but with the comedians shooting from the cuff – adding more action with each scene shot – the desired amount of film was ready at the completion of the comedy. Laurel and Hardy know their own comedy capacity and act accordingly. Of course, they have many times used a script complete in every detail which they have followed scene by scene, but whether they have finished story or not, all of their comedies so far have been pronounced laugh successes.”
Come Clean certainly fits the bill as a “laugh success” as The Film Daily, Nov 22, 1931 agreed:
“From start to finish this comedy is filled with screamingly funny gags and some of the best “mugging” the boys have handed out this year. The story contains several ludicrous situations that are side-splitters…It is a real laugh-getter.”
Come Clean is often overlooked by Laurel and Hardy fans when listing their favourites of the boys’ pictures and I think this is a crime. It’s such a very funny film, with great dialogue and wonderful performances throughout – but then I could probably say that about them all!
I’ll leave the last word to the authors of the original Come Clean Press Sheet and their statement that I wholeheartedly agree with:
“If you don’t enjoy Laurel and Hardy you have no sense of humor”.
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