Written April-May, 1935. Filmed May-June, 1935. Produced by Hal Roach. Directed by James Horne. 80 minutes.
Cast: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, June Lang, William Janney, Anne Grey, James Finlayson, David Torrence, Daphne Pollard
STORY: McLaurel and Hardy stow away to Scotland aboard a cattle boat in order to collect an inheritance from Stan's grandfather, the late Angus McLaurel. The sum of their booty consists of a snuff box and a set of bagpipes. Penniless, they are reduced to cooking a fish over the bedsprings in their room at an inn. Evicted for destroying the room and failure to pay rent, they wander into an army recruiting line and wind up with a regiment in India. They encouter the evil Khan Mir Jutra, who plans to conquer the Scottish fort. He is thwarted when L&H upset a number of beehives midst the attacking army.
Ah, the joys promised by the opening 30 minutes of BONNIE
SCOTLAND. It's a little harsh to learn that Stan's father
committed suicide upon seeing his newborn son, but the comedy in the
first scenes of this film is otherwise of high caliber and perfectly in
character. For a film that becomes later overburdened with half a
dozen impossible-to-follow subplots, it also affords some time for a
few leisurely hat-exchange routines and the like. But, alas, it
is the first 30 minutes that are about the only worthwhile minutes in
this film, which ranks alongside SWISS MISS as one of L&H's two
weakest Roach-era features.
The first memorable scene is that of the Boys receiving Stan's snuffbox-and-bagpipe inheritance. We get a memorably silly gag from Stan ("It's Mae West!"), Stan destroying Ollie's hat a few times, and a rather interesting premise (Stan and Ollie are escaped cons who have stowed away to Scotland on a cattle boat) that ultimately goes nowhere. The scene that follows contains a truly inspired sight gag, initiated when Ollie receives a facefull of snuff courtesy of Stan. Ollie goes into a sneezing fit, falls off a bridge, and proceeds to sneeze a lake dry. For a classic comic tableau, you can't beat that of Ollie lying prone at the bottom of the drained lake, fish flopping 'round him.
A fish is also at the center of the next notable scene in which the Boys, penniless, are reduced to grilling a stolen fish over a bed frame heated by a candle. Stan has always had a good comic partner in fire, and in this scene he manages to set flames to the bed and Ollie's only pair of pants (yet, surprisingly, succeeds in cooking the fish). That this is about all that happens in this 8-minute scene is testament to Laurel and Hardy's skill at making the most out of simple props and situations. It's sort of a domesticized "playing with tools" scene, remniscent of similar moments in Going Bye-Bye! and THE FLYING DEUCES.
It is at the end of this scene that you might as well pack up the kids and go home, because comedy, continuity, and anything approaching the comprehensible have been jettisoned for the remainder of the picture. After the fish nonsense, I have no idea what the hell this film is about. I just finished watching it five minutes ago and I still have no idea what the hell it's about. As best I can relate, Stan and Ollie wind up drafted into the Scottish army, the result of walking into the wrong storefront (a device the Three Stooges used more creatively). They wind up in the Scottish regiment in India, whereupon they encounter the film's romantic lead -- a more nauseating and repulsive little milksop than the Marx Brothers ever had to contend with -- and a barrage of other fleeting characters whose function is vague and whose presence is nondescript. A not-particularly-evil villainess thwarts the romance between the film's ingenue and the milksop -- we don't know, and aren't very concerned with, the reasons. The final 41 minutes of the film feature more uninteresting, underexplained tangents and subplots than they do the Boys, yet the main romantic subplot is never resolved. Laurel and Hardy as soldiers, with Fin as their commanding officer, is a potent situation for choice army humor, but about the only gag we get is that of Stan unable to keep time with the rest of his marching unit. The film becomes overwhelmed by itself and just gives up.
BONNIE SCOTLAND was heavily edited from its original form, which explains its muddled construction. If it had been edited down to its best Laurel & Hardy moments, it would have been 35 minutes long. It appears the editors took what was at one point an even more heavy-handed story and whittled it down to something roughly approximating coherency. To compare the overall faults of their weakest Roach features, SWISS MISS is high-spirited mediocrity. BONNIE SCOTLAND has many moments that rise above the mediocre, but it is ultimately the most excrutiating viewing experience of any Roach feature.
JB: The first half hour of BONNIE SCOTLAND is good for some mild chuckles, but not much more. Even when funny things are happening, the pace is so slow, the film plays like a collection of outtakes from Oliver the Eighth or The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case. It isn't until The Boys cook a fish in their room that things start to perk up. It is always delightful to watch Laurel and Hardy improvise a meal, creating a homey, livable atmosphere wherever they may be. The scene picks up enough steam that it almost fools you into thinking that BONNIE SCOTLAND is about to take off.
No such luck. BONNIE SCOTLAND never takes off, but the writers apparently took off - for a weekend in Bermuda while they let 1,000 monkeys bang away at typewriters to come up with the final script. Once Stan and Ollie accidentally wind up in the army, in a way that is supposed to be funny but is filmed with deadly seriousness, they are left to fend for themselves, while another movie entirely begins in earnest. This really is two different films linked together by the fact that Laurel and Hardy happen to have met the male lead somewhere in the first thirty minutes. He goes about his dull business in his own scenes, Laurel and Hardy go about theirs, and it is hard to decide which film we should care about the least.
Normally, Laurel and Hardy would have been given something to do to keep the story moving, but beyond delivering a letter to the female lead (which is intercepted by somebody else anyway), they are literally left out of the story. So every few minutes, we see Laurel and Hardy doing some simple routine, we smile, and then we return to the other movie, where the male lead (I think his name is Allan) does whatever it is that he was put on this earth to do, which seems to be making faces that represent different human emotions. I'm pretty sure his story has something to do with a blonde girl, by the name of Lorna, or Luna, or something. I remember she was very pretty and had a name. I also remember that in one scene, she speaks of how much she loves Allan, and then the next time we see her, she is happily engaged to somebody else, the guy who intercepted the letter. Women, huh? We never learn what the letter says, though Norma, or Noni, gets very emotional when she reads it. See, even though the other guy intercepted it so that Noni, or Lottie, wouldn't read it, he winds up giving it to her anyway. People can be funny like that, you know? And she rushes off to see Allan, who is now angry at her and runs away. Then she is sad.
Oh, and the girl is related to Stan somehow, either a cousin or a half-sister or something. They both have the same grandfather. Nothing is ever made of this fact, so I guess it's not important. Seems interesting, though. Oh, another interesting thing is that Daphne Pollard, who plays somebody's maid, is having a clandestine romance with James Finlayson. Now there is a story that could be worth following. There might even be some good laughs in there.
At one point, Daphne Pollard actually says "I'll get even with her if it's the last thing I do!". Later, another character lets out an evil laugh like "Mwa-ha-ha! Mwa-ha-ha-ha!" Those 1,000 monkeys displayed quite a knack for hackneyed dialogue.
Hours later, it seems, there's this part with a fort in India, where Laurel and Hardy are staying. They spend most of their time in India, though the name of the movie is BONNIE SCOTLAND. Perhaps BONNIE INDIA didn't have quite the ring Hal Roach wanted. Anyway, James Finlayson is there too, but not Daphne Pollard. There are some people on a hill waiting to attack the fort. Somebody plays an accordian. Stan and Ollie go on a mission of some sort. Allan is there, and James Finlayson again. Everybody eats bread, and then I think I remember bees....
Oh, to hell with it. Thicker Than Water is next on this tape. I'll see you all later.