Sons of the Desert (1933)
Sons of the Desert (1933)

Genre: Slapstick Running Time: 1 hr. 8 min.

Release Date: December 29th, 1933 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: William A. Seiter Actors: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Charley Chase, Mae Busch, Dorothy Christy, Lucien Littlefield

 


 

A

lthough not nearly as repetitive as The Three Stooges’ fare, the most iconic exploits of Laurel and Hardy (perhaps more comparable to Abbott and Costello) were continually reused throughout their shorts and features. “Sons of the Desert” is itself a rehash of prior episodes “Be Big!” and “We Faw Down,” though it represents the quintessential assemblage and utilization of their very best gags, which rarely miss a beat as the mismatched duo enacts occasionally violent, largely outrageous buffoonery. Even the simpler gimmicks are executed with hilarious precision, making this 1933 piece one of their most memorable and highly regarded projects.

At the Sons of the Desert lodge, Oasis 13, in Los Angeles, California, Stan (Stanley Laurel) and Ollie (Oliver Hardy) take an oath to appear at the 87th annual Chicago convention – a sworn declaration that has never been broken in the fraternity throughout the history of its existence. Stan is certainly reluctant, due to his commanding wife Betty (Dorothy Christy). “Do you have to ask your wife everything?” sneers Ollie, who insists he’s the king of his own castle. “Well if I didn’t ask her, I wouldn’t know what she wanted me to do,” Stan bemoans. The two live in adjacent apartments and it’s quickly revealed that Oliver’s wife Lottie (Mae Busch) is also most definitely in charge; her domineering attitude is appropriately intimidating. Sure enough, she has other plans, demanding that Oliver go with her to a mountain resort. And Stan’s duck-hunting gal is no more lenient.

In an attempt to circumvent the plans of the women, Ollie fakes an illness, with Stan hiring a doctor to prescribe a therapeutic trip to Honolulu – a subterfuge for going to Illinois anyway. As the two drink, party, and watch a coincidentally Hawaii-themed showgirl performance, the Honolulu liner they’re supposed to be on sinks in a typhoon – causing Betty and Lottie to frantically journey to the harbor to await the survivors. As luck would have it, the wives don’t remain ignorant to the ruse forever.

Getting locked out of their homes, eating wax fruit, smashing vases on heads, having heated arguments with the missis, Stan trying to pick up a bucket whilst standing in it and fanatically crying, Oliver spouting catch phrases and tall tales (“It’s too farfetched not to be the truth,” he contends), Hardy glancing directly at the camera in dismay, and all the other typical slapstick routines abound. Yet each one is pulled off with smartly honed comedic timing. Stan’s timidity, absent-mindedness, and prissiness, along with Oliver’s boisterousness, clumsiness, and heavy-handedness demonstrate their well-rehearsed, complementing partnership.

The most unique aspect of “Sons of the Desert” just might be the larger, more involving role for the female characters, which gives them better developed personalities and greater influence, as well as their own moments of physical comedy and complex jokes. Supplementing that unusually balanced plot is Charley Chase (dubbed “Texas ‘97”) appearing as himself as an unrivaled prankster at the convention. And although his satirical bit and the “Honolulu Baby” song-and-dance routine carry on a bit long, their significance ushers in an absolutely perfect ending – one of the greatest of any short or feature.

– Mike Massie

  • 9/10