BABES IN TOYLAND(1934)
Original script written by Hal Roach, December, 1933. Final script completed July, 1934. Filmed February, August - October, 1934. Produced by Hal Roach. Directed by Charles Rogers and Gus Meins. 79 minutes. Better known by its latterday rerelease title March of the Wooden Soldiers.
Cast: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Charlotte Henry, Felix Knight, Henry Brandon, Florence Roberts, William Burress, Kewpie Morgan.
STORY: Evil Silas Barnaby wants to evict poor Widow Peep from her giant shoe, marry her lovely and innocent daughter Bo-Peep, and, ultimately, destroy Toyland. He is thwarted at every turn by the efforts of toy-factory employees Ollie Dee and Stannie Dum, culminating in a battle between Barnaby's Bogeymen and an army of six-foot-tall wooden soldiers.
BABES IN TOYLAND is a film that almost wasn't. Hal Roach bought the rights to Victor Herbert's plotless operetta in late 1933, and penned his own screenplay with the intention of turning it into a big-budget, all-star production. Laurel rejected Roach's script, the project was shelved for months, and a permanent wedge was driven between Stan and The Boss; things were never the same between the two of them thereafter. Fifty years later, Roach was still expressing sour grapes over the whole affair.
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IN TOYLAND, known as MARCH OF THE WOODEN SOLDIERS on American
television, was once a Thanksgiving Day or Christmas treat. Like THE WIZARD OF
OZ, BABES was shown once a year and was not just a movie but an
event. It was as much a part of the Holiday season as turkey and
cranberries, the Advent calendar that hung in our kitchen and Bing
Crosby singing "White Christmas". It is hard for me to be
objective about BABES, since criticizing it would be like calling Santa
Claus fat or placing a Stan Laurel finger puppet in The Nativity
Manger. (Okay, I'm guilty of that second offense, but I never made fun
of Santa Claus's weight.) So forgive me if I only say nice things
about this movie.
There are no real setpieces like the finger games in FRA DIAVOLO or the pickpocket scene in THE BOHEMIAN GIRL, little that you could take out of the film and show by itself as a five minute diversion. Laurel and Hardy's comedy is always tied to the plot in some way. Even the peewee scene, which comes the closest to being a stand alone scene, serves the purpose of foreshadowing one of the methods The Boys will use to antagonize and eventually vanquish the dreaded Bogeymen. Most of Laurel and Hardy's scenes push or at least nudge the story along in some way. For instance, Stan and Ollie wreck the Toymaker's shop, which leads to them being fired. Therefore, they can no longer ask the Toymaker for the money for the mortgage. So they develop a scheme to get into Barnaby's home and steal the deed to the property from Barnaby. The scheme fails, which leads to Stan and Ollie being ducked (or dunked) and banished to Bogeyland. While Ollie is being punished, Bo Peep agrees to marry Barnaby, who drops the charges against The Boys and also agrees to absolve Mrs. Peep from all debt. Stan and Ollie devise another scheme to trick Barnaby into marrying Stan instead, which in turns leads to Barnaby framing Tom-Tom the Piper's son. Without belaboring the point, each Laurel and Hardy scene sets off a chain of events that moves the story along to the final battle between the Bogeymen and the Wooden Soldiers.
This is not to say that Laurel and Hardy's scenes are disappointing, only that there are no major comedy scenes to be found here. The Boys are content to forgo pie fights, finger games and recipricol destruction and instead fill their scenes with all the little things that make Laurel and Hardy films so rewarding. Because they have to come up with so many plans and schemes to thwart Barnaby, Ollie-Dee and Stannie-Dum are always talking to each other, and their converations are delightful. Ollie is always using phrases like "So far so good" and "Barnaby has a hand in this", figures of speech which Stan can't help but take literally, while a good running gag is based on the common phrase "He and I are just like that". Simple events like Stan and Ollie coming down the stairs, or Stan exiting the warehouse wth his "Christmas gift" to Barnaby are made amusing by the little gags and touches Laurel and Hardy bring to these scenes. Randy Skretvedt quotes actor Henry Brandon as saying that Stan would come to the set, toss the script aside and start thinking of gags he and Ollie could do. It certainly feels as if all the plot scenes were written straight, and Stan and Ollie worked out the comedy during the filming.
There is lots of music in BABES, and some of it is very good, at least to my ears. I've always been a sucker for the song "Toyland" and the "March of the Toys" and am even fond of "Don't Cry, Bo Peep", the biggest production number in the film. Victor Herbert's "I Can't Do the Sum", which might have made a nice song for Stan and Ollie to sing, is instead used as The Boys' theme, playing in the background when they are on screen.
None of Laurel and Hardy's long time enemies are in the cast, no Fin, no Charlie Hall, no Mae Busch. This helps set BABES in a different world than the one The Boys usually inhabit. Finn might have made a fine Toymaker or even a good Barnaby, but who can complain about his absence when there is Henry Brandon playing that most dreaded villain of all, Silas Barnaby? Brandon's performance is delightfully and purposefully over the top. His florid gestures and melodramatic voice play perfectly against the lowkey antics of Laurel and Hardy. Charlotte Henry and Felix Knight, as Bo Peep and Tom Tom, make for a pleasant pair of young lovers. (Henry had played Alice in Paramount's all-star version of ALICE IN WONDERLAND the year before.)
The final few minutes of BABES, in which Barnaby unleashes the Bogeymen on Toyland, where they go about snatching kids out of their beds, is often said to be too graphic for kids. Perhaps, perhaps not. I was always more frightened by Margaret Hamilton's Wicked Witch of the West in THE WIZARD OF OZ than I was by a bunch of Hal Roach extras in goofy costumes. Even at the age of seven, I could see the stuffing on the backs of the Bogeymen costumes, stuffing which protected the Bogey-actors from those darts thrown by The Boys.
NOTE: BABES IN TOYLAND is widely available in colorized versions. Even though I am anti-colorization, I don't mind it this one time.
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history of Victor Herbert's BABES IN TOYLAND