Extra! Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy Star in Sons of the Desert for Hal Roach Studios

December 29, 1933


Section F - Reviews

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A Review From Daily Variety

Hal Roach production and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer release. Stars Laurel and Hardy. Directed by William A. Seiter. Frank Craven, Byron Morgan, story and continuity; Kenneth Peach, camera; Bert Jordan, editor. Cast; Charley Chase, Mae Busch, Dorothy Christy, Lucien Littlefield. At Loew's Metropolitan, week Jan. 5. Running time, 65 mins.

Announced as an original, this appears to be a blowup of a two-reel comedy. We Faw Down, in which this team was seen three or four years ago. In the original the comedians used a visit to a vaudeville theatre as an alibi for their dalliance. They describe the performance at length to their wives only to be confronted with a newspaper telling of the destruction of the theatre by fire during the performance they were supposed to have witnesses. In the longer version it's a trip to a lodge convention. With a supposed voyage to Honolulu as a cover. They return home to find that the steamer on which they were supposed to have sailed, foundered and the passengers returned to the home port on another vessel.

Stretched to feature length, with no additional plot material, the story is thin to the point of attenuation but the idea is adhered to, which at least supplies a peg on which to hang the build up. The later chiefly belly laughs with a bit of production in the middle' pre-Code Hawaiian dance in a cafe set led by a highly personable young woman who knows it pays to advertise.

Most of this section, the part devoted the convention, is given to a visit with Charley Chase, who's in to give movement to the more deliberated comedy of the stars. He's the exuberant practical joker, and he works hard -- too hard. That is the only development for the convention episode, with a few clips of the parade. No attempt has been made to build around shots of an actual convention as has been done in the past, and better so.

Realizing the distance to be traveled and the impossibility of building on too fast a pace, the story starts slowly and seldom hits the speed limit, but it gets along well enough until the close. Climax is devoted to the old hokum of thrown crockery, falling into the rainwater barrel, getting locked out in the rain and other tired and tested, but no longer fresh material.

About the only injection of novelty is a slick bit in which Laurel hysterically breaks down and tells the truth, which gets him a Japanese dressing gown and permission to smoke cigarettes, while Hardy is on the receiving end of the family china and tinware.

Some idea of the speed may be gathered from the fact that Laurel gets a couple of minutes in which to eat a wax apple. Fine pantomime, but too much footage.

There is nothing to give offense and the fez-wearers will not be around clamoring for the excision of this or that.

Stars are about as usual with Mae Busch giving a big boost to her scenes. Ann Christie's limited in her opportunities. There's the makings here of a real comedy femme team if given material. Chase is hog-tied by the authors.

Production elaborate, sound capital and direction generally good, but it's still a two-reeler that runs three times that long. It will get laughs, but no new business and will have to be satisfied with sub-normal receipts in a majority of the important spots.

Chic - January 1934

It should be noted that not all Laurel and Hardy films received poor reviews from the critics of their day; quite the contrary, in many cases. But Daily Variety was almost always critical, finding fault where nobody else possibly could.


Reviews From Fans

I couldn't disagree more with the 1934 "Chic" review of this film. It is by far my favorite full-length Laurel and Hardy feature, and I watch it every couple of months. I feel that it remains the ultimate movie about the relationships between husbands and wives--and what happens when friends convince us to do things we know are wrong. It is a truly funny and insightful film--a real classic.

--Mike Bender

Sons of the Desert is memorable because it allows it's stars to do what they do best. Hardy steals every scene with his exasperated, pained expressions while Laurel triumphs when the moment calls exclusively for his poignant, childlike charm. But for my taste, this is Hardy's film; with Laurel more of a supporting; albeit, indispensable part.

The plot centers around their timeless predicament. Trying to have a good time without the wives finding out. In this instance it's a trip to Chicago for the annual convention of their fraternal Sons of the Desert. Hardy fakes an illness and gets Laurel to setup a doctor who will recommend an ocean voyage to Hawaii; just for the two of them ! The plan oddly works; despite Laurel bringing in a Veterinarian, but then He "didn't think his religion made any difference'. The real laughs are saved for the landing home and their discovery that the liner from Honolulu sank! Hardy's ukelele strumming to Honolulu Baby is classic.

This is one of those films that enjoyable because it moves along from one great scene to the next, gaining comic momentum until the unforgettable Laurel crying confession that does in poor Hardy.

L&H fans wouldn't have it any other way !

--Dave Ball

Like two peas in a "poda" Laurel and Hardy are at their best in Sons of the Desert. It is certainly the best of their "wives" films and without a doubt the best "Sitcom" ever made. From the very beginning Stan and Babe set the tone for their subtlest feature. Set in low light, the pompous gathering of the Sons of the Desert puts the entire plot into motion in just a hand full of shots. Of course the boys make a special entrance, albeit late, to the affair. As the "exhausted ruler" commands all members to gather in Chicago for their annual meeting he reminds them that the weak should the strong. This piece of dialogue is beautifully punctuated by a mere glance by Babe at Stan. By the way. Stan's fascination with doors and entrances should be noted in this film. Actually if you watch their films closely you'll notice Stan makes sure their is always a piece of business whenever they enter a scene through a door. Their best and longest door routine, if you set aside the full reel of film they use to enter Billy Gilbert's house in the Academy Award winner, The music Box, comes right after they leave the meeting. Their taxi drives up in front of their homes. Of course they live side by side, the two front doors constructed next to each other. The camera shows us their marital status as it gets a close up shot of the door bells. First reading "Mrs. and Mr. Stan Laurel" then the camera pans right to show Babe's bell, it reads "Oliver Hardy and wife." Nuf said. From here on out it's a tale of one lie leading to another lie as the boys concoct a way of getting their wives to let them go to the convention. Bill Seiter is the director here and it is a shame he did not have the opportunity to work with the boys again. He manages to hold a slightly tighter reign on Stan and Babe and the result is heir finest feature film effort. It was a film not lost on Jackie Gleason. Next time you see a Honeymooners episode please note that the Kramden and Norton characters have a marked similarity to the boys in the Sons of the Desert, not to mention the Raccoon lodge. Don't just rent this film, go out and buy it.

--Haig Tufankjian

"Honesty is the best politics," so sez Stan in their best ever comedy that is places the Boys at the height of 30s male political correctness...bossy wives, smoking, drinking in Prohibition, male bonding clubs (i.e. the Shriners*), etc.. how's that for "scholarly overtones" as demanded in Article 1.?

One of the things that makes this film different is that the Boys' marriages are given some depth so that we can see some attraction to each mate. Mae Busch is softened in blond hair, and by her genuine care for her sick and drowning Ollie...but don't push it or pay the cost of a new set of china and a black eye. Dorothy Christy makes us glad that she is Stan's wife with her sense of forgiveness and great taste in lounging attire.

My idea of decorating has always been Early Laurel and Hardy (try telling this to a Margret Dumont-type decorator), and Sugar's Egyptian decor, made popular from the recent discovery of King Tuts tomb, makes us pea green with envy for a home as cozy as two peas in a pod..ah. In costuming the Honolulu Babies' shimmering hula outfits are only rivaled by Marilyn Monroe's "...Hot" nightclub dress. My fourteen year old, who has been reared on L&H, constantly asks if these styles were acceptable in the 30s (see "International House"). What can a mother say, except "Zowie! "

The scripting is perfectly tight (the recent "Clueless" almost achieved this too), and it's logic flows from one seamless scene to another. This is one reason for my rating of perfection; that and it's just plain fun. And the Boys have a lot of fun, for once, in which we can share; such as the uninhibited joy of dancing in the street, twirling umbrellas, admiring pretty girls, making telephone calls to long lost sisters, or singing that musical masterpiece "Honolulu Baby" accompanied by a rousing ukelele. L&H are the epitome of American humor: the worse the situation the funnier it is, but even harder to achieve is the humor of zaniness; Sons of the Desert has it all.

I want to put in a word for the Shriners on which the movie was based, and in which my father was Potentate in San Francisco. He was never an exhausted ruler, for nobody has the invigorating parties of the Shriners (not even Kentuckians at the Derby). Men raised around the turn of the last century were closer to life and death, so life had to be made more fun; it's saving grace was humor and every household had it. All men of prominence were Masons and/or Shriners from Mason Thomas Jefferson to Shriner Roy Rogers (whose idea of a good time was jumping up and down on the couch with his numerous kids). The men from way out west were raised on the tradition of anything goes and good will. The Shrine exemplifies the good hearts of the Boys with the great philanthropy of helping sick kids for free while continuing the occult mysteries of the Egyptians, and they get to wear great costumes. S.O.D. Article VIII is strictly followed at Shrine meetings. If any Son ever wants to wear their fez more often and act silly like the Boys for real, clown with the Shrine. At the least it would do for the Sons of the Desert and the local Shrine clubs to get together for a great movie...This one is tailor made.

--Tory Braden

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