Monday, September 26, 2016

The Sons of the Desert

The Sons of the Desert is a 1933 comedy starring Laurel and Hardy.  In my estimation, the film is as close to perfect as a movie can be, The Great Gatsby of cinema.  Only 69 minutes long, the picture is packed with a complex plot that makes the production a miracle of brevity.  In terms of camera placement, significant gesture, and meaningful ellipsis, the movie is as disciplined and austerely, even geometrically, constructed as a Bresson film.  Stan and Laurel are members of a fraternal order called "The Sons of the Desert" -- the order is clearly modeled after the Shriners in Freemasonry.  They swear a solemn oath to go to their Order's national convention in Chicago but are forbidden to attend by their shrewish wives.  Oliver Hardy concocts a scheme to feign illness and obtain his wife's blessing for a trip to Honolulu for his health.  This deception succeeds and the boys depart, claiming that they are traveling to Hawaii, but, in fact, attending the convention in Chicago.  Needless to say, their deceit is discovered and their wives threaten to enact terrible punishment on their erring husbands. 

Casually brutal and extremely funny, The Sons of Desert, is brilliantly conceived on all levels.  Like many Laurel and Hardy pictures, the film has an anonymous quality -- it is like some reliquiary or tapestry made in the middle ages:  we don't really know or understand the craftsmen that made it.  The picture was directed by a Hollywood hack, William Seiter -- he made many movies, none of them known at all today except this film.  Mae Busch appears as Ollie's wife; she was an Australian actress of the second tier in the silent era and played the role of vamps in the twenties.  (She was in von Stroheim's Foolish Wives in 1922).  A little faded and slightly stout by 1933, she is nonetheless memorable as Hardy's wife, a part she played on twelve other occasions.  Jackie Gleason called her the "ever-popular Mae Busch" -- and she made something like a 100 B-grade or less movies.  Laurel's wife is played by Dorothy Christie, a blonde actress with a wholesome appearance who specialized in playing outer space Queens in Gene Autry serials.  There is no reason for this movie to be as good as it is and so the picture is a kind of miracle. 

(I have written an essay on this film in the Essays part of this blog and invite the reader to peruse that writing.)

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