Should Married Men Go Home? is an average Laurel and Hardy picture from this period. The boys’ official biographer, John McCabe, wrote somewhat dismissively of the comedy, suggesting that Stan and Babe could, and perhaps should, have done better with the material at hand. And yet, the film can claim a uniquely significant status in the Laurel and Hardy filmography.[i]
The popularity of the Laurel and Hardy team had dramatically increased, film by film, since the studio had teamed them the previous summer. Across the board, from the exhibitors and their movie-going patrons to the trade reviewers and all-importantly the executives at Roach’s distributor, M-G-M, all were unanimously won over by Stan and Ollie’s on-screen antics. Laurel and Hardy had become household names, despite not having their own designated series.
However, things were not so rosy for another comic at the Roach Studio. Max Davidson had joined the Roach lot in 1926 and had enjoyed considerable success, quickly rising from the ‘All-Stars’ stable to become the lead comic of his own series. Davidson’s particular brand of ‘ethnic’, specifically Jewish, humour was very popular with audiences in the late 1920s. Unfortunately for Davidson, his luck changed when Roach’s contract with his distributor, Pathé Exchange, expired and a new agreement was formed with Hollywood giant, M-G-M. From the outset, the M-G-M executives were not supporters of Davidson’s work, and they did not hide their displeasure.
A telegram sent on 14th September 1927 from Warren Doane to his boss, Hal Roach, illustrates that M-G-M’s feelings concerning the Davidson series must have been immediately evident, and the Roach Studio’s management team was already considering a pro-active response:
“MCCAREY WALKER MYSELF WISH YOUR OPINION OF A LITTLE LATER ON SUGGESTING TO METRO FURNISHING TO THEM PICTURES WITH THIS COMEDY TEAM [Laurel and Hardy] IN PLACE OF DAVIDSONS…LEO FEELS WOULD BE ENTIRELY PRACTICAL MAKE VERY GOOD ROACH STAR SERIES WITHOUT LAUREL AND HARDY AND WE ALL FEEL TIME IS HERE TO START INTENSIVE DEVELOPMENT ON LAUREL AND HARDY AT SAME TIME USING ROACH STAR SERIES TO DEVELOP NEW TALENT STOP…”[ii]
It is unclear why Davidson’s comedies were not popular with the M-G-M executives. In his excellent essay recording Max Davidson’s history, Richard W. Bann theorised about the reasons for M-G-M’s stance:
“Presumably what bothered both M-G-M executives [Nicholas Schenck and Louis B. Mayer] was their connection with presenting an unassimilated Jew as though it were typical of whom the Jews were in America in 1927. It was important, they believed, to steer clear of anything that might provoke anti-Semitism. They reasoned that called for suppression of all Jewishness in their movies”.[iii]
As a result, Davidson’s contract with the Hal Roach Studio was duly terminated, although he would still appear as a supporting player in future Roach comedies. As suggested by Doane, back in September 1927, the Max Davidson series was immediately replaced with the new Laurel and Hardy series.
Motion Picture News, 5th May 1928 reported:
“Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy have been transferred from the All Star series, as they have proven during the past year that their personalities overshadow any descriptive title which might be applied to their comedies. They will continue next year in the type of comedies that have proven so popular”.
Even though this was a significant change, a promotion of sorts for Stan and Babe, it was business as usual in practical terms. No sooner had filming finished on Their Purple Moment, the final re-takes being completed on 7th March 1928, Stan and the rest of the writing team were back in conference. The relentless production schedule at the Hal Roach Studio meant that the moment the last film wrapped, work immediately started on producing the next script – or at the very least the nucleus of an idea that Stan and Babe could develop on-set.
Where we can only surmise that Their Purple Moment took inspiration from Stan and Babe’s domestic entanglements, pitting the boys against overbearing, shrewish wives, there is no doubt whatsoever that their follow-up picture was inspired by real-life.
By the title, Should Married Men Go Home? one could easily be forgiven for thinking that this latest picture followed suit by using marital battles as its central theme. The first scene does indeed present Ollie as escaping his wife to spend time with Stan, however, the over-arching influence on the film is not the boys’ relationships. Instead, they used another significant love of Babe Hardy’s life – his beloved past-time of golf.
Hardy was reputedly a formidable golfer, certainly amongst the Hollywood community. He’d been introduced to the game by star comedian Larry Semon back in 1921, the same year that he first worked with Stan in the G.M . Anderson pilot film, The Lucky Dog. Babe’s love of golf is a long-established part of Laurel and Hardy lore, and perhaps one of the most oft-repeated ‘facts’ about the comedy team is that whilst Stan stayed behind to toil with the editing of their pictures, Babe was desperate to clock off and hit the links.
There was something of a golfing culture prevalent throughout the Hal Roach Studios, too, with prominent staffers such as Bob McGowan, Edgar Kennedy and Hal Roach regularly frequenting the links alongside Babe at the Lakeside Country Club. In addition, the studios held an annual golfing tournament during the summer holidays, the conclusion of which would inevitably see Hardy crowned as champion.
In conversation with Richard W. Bann, Richard Currier, head of Roach’s editing department (1920-1932), spoke warmly of these annual competitions:
“Oh gosh, we had fun on those. Babe Hardy was the man to beat. He could hit the ball a ton. Hal Roach was stronger than anyone, he could really power that ball too, but sometimes the boss played his short game off the tee! Sometimes he laughed and shook it off. Sometimes you would see him throw his club as far as Hardy could hit the ball with his driver!”
In 1967, also in conversation with Richard W. Bann, Hal Roach himself reflected:
“Every year, more or less, we used to have a golf tournament at the studio. Everybody played, no matter how bad. Now Babe Hardy and Bob McGowan and I used to play a bit of golf at Lakeside, but Hardy was the best golfer around, and he used to win the thing nearly every time and get the trophy. We’d all play and have a good time. Once in a while someone would get an idea for a picture from the thing. One year it would be Charley Chase, another year Laurel & Hardy, or the Gang, and so on.”
And so it was that the shared love of golf at the studio became the inspiration for the first picture in the officially designated Laurel and Hardy series. Hal Roach credited the story idea for Should Married Men Go Home? to Supervising Director Leo McCarey. McCarey had apparently devised the basic idea for the picture after playing a round of golf at the Lakeside Country Club, and Roach gave it the green light.
Filmed during the Spring of 1928, the opening scene of Should Married Men Go Home? is one in contrast to reality. Here we see a picture of domestic bliss, as Ollie and his wife, played by Kay Deslys, returning for the second film in a row, sit cuddling on the sofa. Yet behind closed doors, Oliver’s actual marriage with his wife Myrtle was far from blissful. Myrtle suffered from alcoholism and, despite the genuine love and affection that the two had for each other, her addiction took a heavy toll on the couple, eventually ending in divorce in 1937.
With the stage set, we cut to a beautiful tracking shot by cameraman George Stevens of Stan walking down the street, heading for the Hardy home in full golfing attire. Several good gags follow, where Ollie and his wife pretend not to be home. Stan, rather determinedly, keeps knocking at the door, refusing to believe his pal is not at home. He even raps at the door with his golf club in his frustration. Eventually, he writes a note and pushes it halfway under the door and Ollie, thinking Stan has left, pulls it through the rest of the way. Stan witnesses the note disappear and, realising that Ollie must be at home, starts knocking again. Mrs Hardy is disgusted at her husband’s stupidity in giving the game away, and the two begin throttling each other behind the door.
After a short while, the Hardy’s assume Stan has left and peep discreetly out of the window to check, just at the exact moment as Stan looks through the window to peep in. The three find themselves peering at each other face-to-face, and Stan’s broad smile is just hilarious! The boys would revisit and arguably improve upon this sequence in their 1931 talkie, Come Clean, with Gertrude Astor wonderfully playing a very memorable Mrs Hardy.
Stan enters the house, and the Hardy’s blissful afternoon is over. There is a deliciously awkward moment where the three sit in complete silence and Ollie just stares at Stan. Finally, the unwelcome house guest lights up a cigarette and nearly sets the room ablaze. In the short few moments that follow, Stan unwittingly tears down one of the window blinds and puts his foot through the seat of a chair. Then, causing even more stress to the married couple, he begins to approach Ollie’s fancy-looking phonograph player. In typical Laurel and Hardy style, Ollie leaps in to intercept him with the old “I’ll do it, you might break it” routine, and, of course, Hardy proceeds to destroy the machine himself.
This is the final straw for Mrs Hardy, who tells them both to get out and go to the golf course. Ollie immediately peels off his dressing gown to reveal that he’s already fully dressed in his plus-fours!
At the golf club, we learn that it’s ‘Foursomes Day’ and so the boys’ team up with a couple of young ladies, played by Edna Marion and Viola Richard. Sadly, this would be the last film that the ladies would appear credited in with Stan and Babe as, three days before filming began, they, along with Dorothy Coburn, also with a small role in this picture, received confirmation that the studio was terminating their contracts.
All three made valuable contributions to the films in which they appeared and supported all the major series on the lot, displaying considerable versatility. The decision to off-load these ladies in one fell swoop is difficult to understand. Adding to the confusion, the previously mentioned article in Motion Picture News from 5th May 1928 that highlighted the Roach Studio’s plans for the coming season also explicitly noted:
“Edna Marian and Viola Richard, Hal Roach comedy beauties will appear again in support of various stars but several additional beauties will also be cast in similar roles”.
Following their departure from the lot, they appeared in only a handful of films and eventually disappeared altogether from the Hollywood radar. The fact that all three women put in one final performance, typically characterful and with smiles on their faces, is a testament to their professionalism.
The locations used for the final two-thirds of the film are worthy of note here too. For the golf club scenes, two real-life courses were utilised. Due to its proximity to the studio, the first and most used was the Fox Hills Golf Course, easily identifiable due to the large oil derricks in the background. The second location used was the newly opened Westwood Public Golf Course, owned by a friend of Hal Roach. In return for the kudos of having a Hollywood movie shot on the links of the new course, the studio benefited by being charged less than they had been at Fox Hills[iv].
One small sequence located just outside the café of the fictional Vista Golf Club, was shot using the ivy-clad Administration Building of the Hal Roach Studios. It’s a real treat to see the familiar studio buildings used in a movie this way.
Before they begin their round of golf, the girls convince Stan and Ollie to buy a round of drinks in the cafe. In a forerunner of the fan-favourite scene in Men O’War (1929), the boys can only afford three drinks, or so they think! Charlie Hall plays the part of the ‘soda jerk’, but you’d be forgiven for missing him as he’s barely noticeable – unlike the later and much-enhanced reboot of the scene, where James Finlayson gives a typically hilarious performance as Hall’s counterpart. In addition, the inclusion of spoken dialogue in Men O’ War gives the gags the fullness they deserve and make the later effort the dominant version.
Another supporting player that does enhance the picture is the returning, and this time toupee-wearing, Edgar Kennedy. Kennedy plays his usual grumpy, no-nonsense character that doesn’t suffer fools gladly. He plays a fellow golfer, and he absolutely does not want to have his game held up by a couple of dimwits. With Stan watching on, there’s a great gag in which Kennedy takes a swing at the ball and, as he follows through, his hairpiece falls off. As he hits the ball, he also succeeds in digging up a large patch of turf, complete with a daisy poking out of the top. Stan picks up the turf, and Kennedy angrily snatches it off him and, without looking, places it on top of his head, mistaking it for his wig. Stan, easily bemused as always, is left holding the hairpiece and decides that the best course of action is to stomp the wig into the rut, where Kennedy’s club initially dug out the turf.
As many of the scenes were shot on location, this picture has a bright and airy feel. The action on the golf course is littered with amusing moments, but sadly it never reaches the heights that we might expect. In their private time, Stan occasionally joined Babe and pals for a round of golf, but, not being much of a golfer himself, would constantly be acting the fool with his clubs and golf balls and keeping everyone “in stitches”.[v] It’s a shame that Stan was unable to reproduce this level of amusing antics in the picture.
It’s a decent enough film but doesn’t compare well to much of their other work. It is relatively slow-paced throughout, and the quality of the gags aren’t sufficiently funny enough to elevate the comedy to their usual standard.
John McCabe clearly thought they could have done so much more:
“McCarey liked the idea and the film began shooting, but the usual gag-abundant Irishman came a cropper on this one…Had McCarey concentrated on the realistic problems of golfing, a more meaningful comedy would have resulted. As it is, the film is simply a set of adults playing with mud pies, and appealing to viewers on about that level of sophistication”.[vi]
As described above, the film builds slowly up to its grand climax, the kind that had quickly become one of their trademarks – a messy, tit-for-tat ending. Stan, Babe, Kennedy, Coburn, Richards and Marian, and every other golfer within striking distance get drawn into a scene of mud-slinging carnage. All of the combatants inevitably fall or get thrown into a vast, muddy hole– including Stan, who is thrown in by a gigantic golfer played by 7ft 2in Norwegian actor, John Aasen, who was notable for his role as a giant in Harold Lloyd’s Why Worry? (1923).
As unsatisfactory as this ‘low comedy’ ending might be to a more discerning modern audience attempting any form of analysis and, as is the case with the wrap-up for Their Purple Moment, one must always consider the film’s context. In 1970, Laurel and Hardy’s principal cameraman, George Stevens, who would later become one of the most noted directors in Hollywood, defended the studio:
“That was the old style of comedy, from the old school. Sometimes with Laurel & Hardy the story wasn’t always there, but they’d keep trying things, changing things. When you do that, and you’re done, the structure may not be linear, but that never mattered at Roach if the audience laughed. That’s all you’re looking for is sustaining that laughter. Throwing mud around is low comedy, but run that for an audience. Every preview we had on that one (Should Married Men Go Home?) audiences laughed. That was such a reward with those two guys, hearing audiences rock with laughter. They were marvellous clowns.”
A fascinating and rare look behind the scenes of a Laurel and Hardy picture was presented in 2012, when a 16mm home movie, shot on the set of Should Married Men Go Home?, by a Vaudevillian named George Mann, was published on YouTube, by Mann’s son Brad Smith.
This film is an incredibly rare and candid record of the fun and friendly interactions between the players on a Hal Roach comedy set. The intriguing footage shows George Mann fooling around on the golf course with Stan and Babe and most of the co-stars, including Edgar Kennedy and John Aasen. One can get a real sense of how much the actors enjoyed being on set with each other and making these pictures.
Filming on Should Married Men Go Home? wrapped on Wednesday 21st March 1928, and at midnight that same evening, Stan and Babe appeared live on stage as part of a Red Cross Relief Fundraiser for St. Francis Dam Disaster victims. The benefit performance, held at the Los Angeles Metropolitan Theatre, featured 150 stars including Viola Richard, Charley Chase, Max Davidson and Dorothy Coburn. The St. Francis Dam burst on 12th March and flooded the San Fransisquito Canyon, claiming around 600 lives.[vii]
On 26th March the Hal Roach Studios closed down for their annual spring holiday. In April Babe and Myrtle joined with director James Parrott, editor Richard Currier and gag man Charles Rogers, and several other Roach Studio staff members for a road trip across the border to Vancouver. While being a well-earned vacation, the trip also had an ulterior motive – the acquisition of alcohol. The U.S. was, of course, still in the grips of prohibition, so the trip to Canada was a way of legally purchasing some bottles of booze and illegally smuggling it back home. It appears to have been a fun-filled trip, especially once they’d crossed into Canada and left prohibition behind them. Babe must have had to have been particularly mindful of his wife Myrtle, though, being amongst friends with a carefree holiday atmosphere and alcohol flowing freely.
John McCabe suggests that Stan went along too, but there is some doubt whether this was the case[viii]. He doesn’t appear in any of the wonderful photographs from the trip, found in Babe’s personal scrapbook and reproduced in Randy Skretvedt’s updated version of The Magic Behind the Movies. It’s more likely that Stan spent some time at home with his wife and their new baby, Lois.
As the studio got back to work after its Spring hiatus, a few re-takes for the boys’ only golf-themed comedy were filmed in early May, and the following month, on 17th June, the annual Roach golf tournament was held at the Riverside Country Club, near Hollywood. A full-page spread highlighting the event appeared in Exhibitor’s Herald and Moving Picture World on 4th August 1928, presenting a gallery of images featuring the contestants in full swing. Among the participants pictured were Stan and Babe, Charley Chase, George Stevens, H.M. Walker, Bob McGowan, Len Powers, Edgar Kennedy and James Parrott. All gentlemen are taking their shots very seriously, apart from Stan, who is attempting to use his club like a billiards cue.
Should Married Men Go Home? was released domestically on 8th September 1928, and an early preview received a lukewarm review from Chester J. Smith, writing in Motion Picture News, 28th July 1928:
“That popular combination, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy are starred in this Hal Roach comedy whose action develops largely in a mud hole on the golf course. The picture is by no means the best Laurel and Hardy have done, but it is passable. There are spots in it that are very funny, but the comedians have had much better material to work upon in the past.”
Once the film was in theatre’s, however, exhibitor’s were not so stand-offish, and their reviews once again proved that the studio made the right call – that so-called “low comedy” always received high praise, as the following reviews illustrate:
“Boy, what a pair of comedians these boys are. They play or dig a few rounds of golf in this one and how. It’s a Wow. Book it”. Central Theatre, Selkirk, Manitoba in Exhibitor’s Herald World, 13th October 1928
“The Laurel-Hardy comedy, “Should Married Men Go Home,” is heralded as one of their best to date and it is certain contain a lot of laughs”. The Billings Gazette, 9th December 1928
“The funniest team in pictures in another riot. This time it’s mud-slinging! Patrons are asking for Laurel and Hardy”. Egyptian Theatre, Bala-Cynwyd, Pennsylvania in Exhibitor’s Herald World, 12th January 1929
“Sometime later when I get through laughing, I’ll tell you about this one”. Empress Theatre, Akron, Iowa in Exhibitor’s Herald World 16th February 1929
So, overall ‘Should Married Men Go Home? is an enjoyable outing for the boys. It doesn’t have a major plot to follow, it’s basically just the boys messing around on the golf course – and I, for one, am certainly not complaining about that!