In this, only their third talkie, Laurel and Hardy show they are well
on their way to mastering sound comedy. The two major dialogue
routines are within character, with the soda fountain scene being their
first classic stretch of quotable dialogue. The Boys only have 15
cents, enough for three sodas but not four. So Ollie attempts to
convince Stan not to order anything. Much of the fun comes from
Ollie's verbal reactions to Stan's congenitally short attention span.
"Can't you grasp the sitch-u-a-tion?", he pleads with Stan, explaining
that he's just putting on an act "for the goils!". After a quick punch
and pinch fight with Stan, he turns to "the goils" and apologizes with
"Just playing together." In print, these lines seem like nothing much,
but Babe Hardy had already figured out how to get the most out of the
If you listen carefully to the scenes in the park, somebody is playing a ukelele in some shots, and not playing a ukelele in other shots! And the mechanical whirring of the cameras can be heard throughout the entire short.
Their strongest talkie to date, largely because of the soda-fountain
scene that John describes. But the opening sequence with the
girls in the park is also delightful, filled with the sort of casual
ad-libbed dialogue ("Oh, he was the cutest thing!") that often
characterized early talkies.
Had the final sequence of Men O' War been up the standards of the preceding 15 minutes, the film might be regarded as a minor classic. In a way, however, the rowboat melee was an important scene to make in that it was a lesson in the difficulty of adapting a silent-comedy routine to sound films. It's a scene that demands a tight pace, rapid editing, and a heavy emphasis on visual slapstick. But sound films no longer allowed for a bit of undercranking of the camera (which resulted in the unnaturally fast pace of silent slapstick), and the audible cries and gasps of the actors lessen the comic impact. The scene also suffers from rigid staging, and it was obviously filmed near a boat dock that allowed for the presence of camera and sound equipment. Because of this, we never really believe anybody is in any danger when they fall into three feet of water.
But they were learning, and the first two-thirds of Men O' War shows how quickly they were mastering the art of sound film. Its strengths far outweigh its shortcomings.
Copyright © 2012 John Larrabee, John V. Brennan