Friday, 2 September 2016

That's My Wife (1929) / Along Came Auntie (1926)


From their sometimes underappreciated silent era, That's My Wife is quintessential Laurel & Hardy, featuring the key ingredients of a well-structured script, great chemistry between the stars and a scheme that may be fool proof, but certainly isn't idiot-proof.

The script spends little time getting down to the action, and the gags are not strung together at random, but are driven by the plot, as well as driving it forward. Olly has a rich uncle who has promised him a large sum of money, provided he is happily married. Unfortunately, this is not the case, with Mrs Hardy having stormed out of the marital home in disgust at their malingering houseguest, Mr Laurel, just minutes before the arrival of said uncle. So, Stan is pressganged into putting on a dress and posing as the love of Olly's life, even when Uncle insists on a visit to a raucous nightclub.

Much mileage is got out of Stan’s poor attempts to pass as a woman, from his fondness for cigars to his dumbbell cleavage enhancement, but there is no shortage of slapstick, such as the recurring gag with a hapless waiter and a cake. Far from becoming repetitive, jokes like this start to take on a feeling of inevitability, that somehow when Laurel and Hardy appear in people’s lives, chaos and misfortune inevitably follow. But as well as their effect on other people, all the best Laurel and Hardy films are also about the effect they have on each other, and the way they seem inexorably stuck with each other. Indeed, by the end, Olly has lost his wife and his chance of getting his hands on a big sum of money, and all he has left is Stan.

For completists, a interesting companion piece to this film is a 1926 silent comedy called Along Came Auntie. Only Olly appears on appears on screen, Stan's contributions being purely on the writing side.

The plot has similar basis to That's My Wife, with a woman, played by Vivien Oakland, set to receive $100,000 and a truckload of diamonds from her aunt. Said Aunt is not a fan of divorce, which proves awkward as Vivian has, unbeknown to her current husband, taken in first husband Vincent Belcher (played by Olly, initially hard to recognise, being several pounds lighter than usual and hiding behind a big moustache) as a lodger in order to cover her mounting debts.

Much slightly strained farce ensues, with the film most noticeable for what it lacks compared to That's My Wife. Firstly the action all takes place in one house, often feeling like a filmed stage comedy, whereas the second part of That's My Wife moves out of the house and into the nightclub. Secondly the script does not have the same structure or pacing of That's My Wife, seeming both rushed and tiresome in places, and the characters bland and uninteresting. Thirdly, what is really lacks is the chemistry and partnership of Stan and Olly, again emphasising what a bright idea it was to pair them up together.

Along Came Auntie (B&W) 1926 - Laurel & Hardy by herbert-hueller