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Laurel & Hardy

 

 

OUR RELATIONS

Hal Roach - MGM, 1936. Directed by Harry Lachman.  Camera:  Rudolph Mate.  With Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Alan Hale, Sr., Sidney Toler, Daphne Pollard, Betty Healy, James Finlayson, Iris Adrian, Lona Andre, Ralf Harolde, Noel Madison, Arthur Housman, Ernie Alexander, Marvelle Andre.

Sailors Laurel & Hardy are entrusted with a package (containing a diamond ring) to deliver on shore.  Aware of their own weaknesses, and determined that on this shore leave they won't fritter away their savings, they leave their money with their captain, making him promise not to return it to them under any condition until they have set sail again.  The port into which they have been thrust is by coincidence the home town of their long-lost and now happily-married twin brothers. The sailors pick up two waterfront girls in a saloon, while not far away the civilians are entertaining their wives in a slightly more respectable beer parlor.  The inevitable soon takes place, and the twins become inter-mixed.  The temporary loss of the diamond involves the boys with gangsters and, unable to produce the missing gem, they are encased in teetering cylinders of cement and left on the edge of the wharf for the law of gravity to take its course.  None too logically, the tangled threads are straightened out at the last minute, marital suspicions dispelled, and the long separated twins reunited.

Produced by Stan Laurel's own company for Roach, and thus spared the occasional interference by Roach, whose changes in gags and plot structure often caused friction and dissatisfaction though never any serious rifts on a personal level, Our Relations was on a much bigger scale than any prior Laurel & Hardy film.  The elaborate night club set in which much of the action took place was a really impressive creation, and the whole production has a look of class and polish to it.  No little of this can be attributed to the smooth, glistening camerawork by Rudolph Mate, the only really creative cameraman that Laurel & Hardy had used since the departure of George Stevens many years earlier. 

Director Harry Lachman, who never worked with them before or since, was hardly a comedy specialist, but a versatile all-around craftsman (one of his more notable credits was Dante's Inferno) who seems to have left the comedy routines pretty much to Laurel & Hardy and to have devoted his efforts to keeping the tangled plot-lines fairly cohesive and to creating genuine menace and suspense in the climactic gangster episodes.

Based, though somewhat loosely, on a story by W. W. Jacobs (author of that Grand Guignol classic, "The Monkey's Paw"), Our Relations also has more than a casual relationship to Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors, or at least to the musical show made from it under the title of The Boys from Syracuse.  More might have been made of differentiation between the sets of twins; other than the fact that the sailors are fun-loving and free and easy, and the husbands mildly henpecked, both Laurel & Hardys are identical in mannerisms and in their relationship with one another.  However, the film moves too quickly and covers too much ground for there to be much time to ponder such a criticism.

While slapstick is there in full measure, it is again comedy of frustration that dominates:  the sailors vainly trying to persuade the captain to return their money, and being locked in their hotel room, sans clothes, "for their own good;" the husbands' attempts to convince their wives and beer parlor proprietor Alan Hale that they were not there earlier with two blonde pickups; and so on.  The traditional encounter with James Finlayson was even more savage than usual.  With mustard plastered under his toupee, and an electric light bulb screwed into his mouth, he came off a decided second-best in this particular fray.

The trick photography when the twins finally meet was fairly elementary, even for 1936, but was smoothly and convincingly done by Mate.  Slightly morbid at times, especially in the cement barrel sequences, Our Relations is nevertheless one of the most handsome Laurel & Hardy films and, because of its production values, one that holds up best today.  Television revivals have been especially ruthless to it in terms of cutting, however.  There is even a one-reel version under the title of Sailors' Downfall.

The Films of Laurel and Hardy
by William K. Everson
The Citadel Press, 1967

Additional detailed information about this film is available from
the AFI Catalog of Feature Films at
AFI.com, or by clicking here.