Family Films

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Way Out West

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jul 29, 2015

Nearly all of Stan and Ollie’s feature films have much to recommend them, at least until their contract with Hal Roach ran out. Is it just me though (and also L & H historians John McCabe and Randy Skretvedt, and my BYU colleague Jim D’Arc…), or do the usual standards of evaluation not really apply to these guys? They are the cinema’s supreme children, figuratively but indubitably. Supreme siblings, more like, with their constant contentious rivalries, just as constantly leavened and lifted by the sweetest displays of affection, loyalty, and forgiveness most freely given.

The Laurel and Hardy films have much to say about a number of other serious subjects as well. They say them with a light heart—and violently!—but they are effective and instructive for all that. Laughs, but you learn, if you really want to. More, you watched these with your kids! Or maybe your folks …

Which ever way it was, this is not just product, or comic craft. It’s the Remembrance of Things Past! Way Out West may usually get discussed as being one of the most satisfying of the features on a technical or craft level. But somehow, for all the above-mentioned reasons I somehow feel reluctant to give it a number, or just raise my thumb to it. So inadequate. So disrespectful!

Instead, can you key on the character of this imperiled young woman, and how doughty she is, and how chivalrously cared for by the lads? Can you take special note of that little puddle? And again? And of Mr. Finlayson? Notice how virtuosically Stan laughs. And how very beautiful Mr. Hardy is, in countenance as well as character. Take note also of the tickling. And of that song that they briefly sing, just like they were reputed to have done, day after day and to the great delight of the whole studio, while they worked at the Roach lot.

Finally, and I know everyone says this, watch them dance! Together, of course. Remember the hippo in Disney’s Fantasia? Preposterously out-sized and awkward, except that she doesn’t think of herself that way? And so she isn’t? Similarly, Stan and Babe/Ollie may not appear at first glance to have any particular form or comeliness. But look more closely. Or invest some time in them. And look closely again. It seems to me that Shakespeare’s Titania, back there in Act IV scene I of the play that she graced, may have been under a spell. But she was not wrong. How lovely when we consider the seemingly unwieldy with eyes that see, and ears that hear, and hearts that feel!

Come, sit thee down upon this flowery bed
While I thy amiable cheeks do coy,
And stick musk roses in thy sleek, smooth head,
And kiss thy fair large ears, my gentle joy.