JL: Our Wife
has always been a well-regarded film among critics, but it’s an
underrated film despite such praise. I contend that it deserves
to be in a category with the four films usually cited as their
sound-short masterpieces (Hog Wild, Helpmates, The Music Box, and Towed in a Hole). I’ll also contend that it’s as much, if not more, a sure-fire laugh-getter than any of those four.
One thing that distinguishes Our Wife from the aforementioned classic four is that it has no memorable set-piece. No radio antenna, no messy house to clean up before the wife gets home, no giant flight of steps, no boat to repair. Perhaps it’s this lack of readily identifiable motif that lends it a slightly - less - than - classic status. We tend to think of L&H’s best films as being built around a simple location or a couple of cumbersome props, with these devices mined for their full potential of comic ineptitude and character insight. Our Wife, conversely, is a situation comedy that depends not only on the cleverness of the situations, but on how well they are embellished with gags and routines. Comedy sketches and short films based on comic situations often fall victim to the trap of trying to let a funny situation carry the comic load by itself (in the manner of a bad Saturday Night Live sketch). Fortunately, Our Wife is loaded with hilarious dialogue exchanges and some absurd sight gags, making it the best of Laurel & Hardy’s "sitcoms."
Memorable gags include destroying a wedding cake, as well as Ollie’s throat, with a can of Flit (bug spray for all you youngsters out there), the total destruction of Ollie’s living room, Stan’s attempts to eavesdrop on Ollie’s phone conversations, the elopement getaway with Ollie and Dulcy, and a wrap-up gag (in which Stan and Ollie wind up married to one another) that seems tossed off but gets more profound the more you think about it. But the highlights of the film for me are dialogue bits that are more dependent on masterful timing than on wittiness. The best of these comes when Stan acts as "interpreter" for an exchange between Ollie and the Justice of the Peace’s wife. On the surface, there is nothing inherently funny about characters repeating simple lines such as "We want to get married" or "How ‘bout it?," but Stan’s utter denseness and Ollie’s exasperation at his partner’s literal-mindedness make for a priceless few minutes. It may sound like a cop-out to say "This is a scene that has to be seen to be appreciated," but there’s no way to capture perfect timing in words.
Our Wife is not an atypical L&H film by any means, but its approach sets it apart from the other top classics. Watch it sometime after watching one of their acknowledged masterpieces and see if you don’t find yourself laughing just as much, if not more.
The film is loaded from beginning to end with good stuff: Ollie
humming "The Wedding March" (any film that begins with an Ollie this
happy has to have good things in store), Stan battling flies on the
wedding cake, Finn's massive triple-take when Dulcy shows him a picture
of Ollie, and much more. The elopement scene is the highlight of the
film, filled with simple but effective gags, such as Ollie being hit on
the head by Dulcy's falling suitcase or crashing through a window,
thanks to Stan's unceasing interference.
Our Wife sags just a bit when Stan, Ollie and Dulcy spend several minutes trying to squeeze themselves into the ridiculously tiny car Stan has hired for the day, though the sheer absurdity of the situation and several laugh-out-loud moments are enough to keep it from being a repeat of the similar upper berth scene in Berth Marks.
My favorite part of the extended dialogue bit ("How about it?") in the final sequence is the way it ends. Rather than argue or yell at Stan, Ollie just dismisses the whole conversation with a resigned look that tells us he has had just about enough of Stan for the day.
We should not ignore the contributions of Babe London as Dulcy (aka Dulcy Darling or Ducky Lover). She is perfect as Ollie's intended and it is regrettable that this is the only film she ever made with the Boys.
Copyright © 2012 John Larrabee, John V. Brennan