Written October - November, 1937. Filmed December, 1937 - February, 1938. Released by MGM, May, 1938. Produced by Hal Roach. Directed by John G. Blystone. 72 minutes.
Cast: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Walter Woolf King, Della Lind, Eric Blore, Charles Judels, Ludovico Tomarchio, Anita Garvin, Charles Gemora
STORY: Mousetrap salesmen Laurel and Hardy are peddling their wares in Switzerland (more cheese there, after all). A cheesemaker buys their entire line with some phony money; unaware, The Boys celebrate with a lavish dinner at a fancy hotel. Unable to pay the bill, they are forced to work in the hotel's kitchen. Ollie falls in love with Anna, the hotel's chambermaid, who is actually a famous opera singer hiding out from her husband. The husband, Victor, is also hiding out at the same hotel, attempting to write a grand opera. Ollie's attempts to woo Anna are thwarted when he realizes the truth, but he succeeds in reconciling the bickering couple.
SWISS MISS seems to be Hal Roach's attempt to capture the splendor of
The Marx Brothers' A NIGHT AT THE OPERA, released three years
earlier, or possibly to recapture the success of his own FRA
DIAVOLO. In either case, he missed by a country mile. Roach
had the idea to make a Laurel and Hardy movie with two storylines so
that Laurel and Hardy wouldn't have to carry the whole picture, even
though they did just that very successfully in the two previous films,
OUR RELATIONS and WAY OUT WEST. Stan Laurel disagreed with Roach's
story ideas for SWISS MISS, but this time Hal Roach won out and made a
splendid-looking film. Splendid-looking, but not terribly funny or
The premise behind SWISS MISS (like OPERA and DIAVOLO) is to never let any segment of your audience get bored for too long. Have a little comedy for the men, a little romance for the women and a little music for everybody. Unfortunately, the comedy in SWISS MISS is out of character, the romance is irritating and the music is bland and forgettable. All that is left is pretty costumes and a nice set.
The film begins with Walter Woolf King arriving in a Swiss villa to compose his latest musical masterpiece. In order to get in the proper mood, he has ordered everybody in town to wear old-fashioned costumes, which means that the charming production values of SWISS MISS, the film's strongest point, are based on a phony premise to begin with. We have hardly been introduced to King when he starts complaining about one thing or another hindering him from composing his opera. King was more likable as Rudolfo Lasparri, the villain tortured by The Marx Brothers in A NIGHT AT THE OPERA, than he is as the love interest in SWISS MISS. We can almost feel a twinge of sympathy for him when Groucho and his brothers tie him up and gag him in the middle of the opera. Here, we pray that Laurel and Hardy would tie him up and gag him in the middle of "The Cricket Song", one of the many forgettable ditties SWISS MISS offers us.
The one song that might have been worth hearing is "It's Just An Idea of My Own", which Stan and Ollie sing in the cheesemakers shop. For some reason known only to Roach and the editors, this song was cut down to a single chorus, whereas every other charmless and generic song, such as "I Can't Get Over the Alps" and "Yo Ho De O Lay Hee", is treated to a full production number. There are so few preserved examples of Oliver Hardy's singing voice, and even fewer of Stan Laurel's, that is heartbreaking to know there was another song they once captured on film that is now lost to us forever.
Anna, King's wife, arrives unexpectedly and we are asked to care about the marital troubles of a couple we haven't even met before. The husband is crabby, the wife uses Ollie in a jealousy scheme - at one point, exactly, are we supposed to start worrying about their petty little problems?
Almost every comedy scene in SWISS MISS is a swiss-misfire in some way or another. When Laurel and Hardy show up at the cheesemaker's shop and start drilling multiple holes in the floor to show off their mousetrap, they quickly turn from the lovable gentlemen we know them to be into the brainless dolts they would later become at 20th Century Fox. A few minutes later, when Ollie uncharacteristically dresses down the hotel manager and the cook for not having apple pie, it is hard not to wonder whatever happened to the sweet, mild-mannered Ollie of WAY OUT WEST.
The two major comedy scenes are entertaining enough but don't quite come off completely, despite intriguing premises. The idea of Stan of using feathers faking a snowstorm in order to steal a drink from the barrel around a St. Bernard's neck is amusing, and Stan executes the scene superbly, but it is simply wrong for his character. The earlier Stan of Blotto may have gotten some thrill out of alcohol, but in that film, the thrill was actually in fooling his wife, not the act of getting drunk itself. The "mature" Stan of the features usually gets drunk accidentally, such as in FRA DIAVOLO or THE BOHEMIAN GIRL. For him to seek out alcohol is out of character and a mistake. The premise of the scene is a good one and would have worked for other comedians, such as Chaplin or even Lou Costello. For Stan Laurel, it feels wrong.
Similarly, the idea of Stan and Ollie delivering a piano over a rickety bridge suspended over a bottomless chasm, only to meet a gorilla halfway, seems like a surefire bit. It is even in character, unlike the St. Bernard scene. Unfortunately, it is ruined by phony (if necessary) back projection, wideshots that are obviously toy models, and post-production editing that removed any hint of the bomb that was supposed to be hidden in the piano. And it ends with the poor gorilla plummeting to his death (we think), the first time an animal comes comes to any harm in a Laurel and Hardy film.
Laurel and Hardy do have a couple of charming moments, such as when Stan lectures Ollie about love, or when Ollie serenades Anna with a lovely rendition of "Let Me Call You Sweetheart", accompanied by Stan --- on a tuba! And there are a few scattered laughs at the usual absurd, self-negating things that come out of Stan's mouth at odd times, but as a whole, SWISS MISS features the poorest selection of comedy scenes of any Hal Roach feature.
Whether Hal Roach learned his lesson or he just stopped putting much thought into Laurel and Hardy's films, the mistakes of SWISS MISS were never repeated. Whatever faults there may be in BLOCK-HEADS, A CHUMP AT OXFORD, SAPS AT SEA and the non-Roach THE FLYING DEUCES, these films are all infinitely preferable to the sweet on the outside but hollow on the inside confection that is SWISS MISS.
JL: I understand what Roach wanted to do with SWISS MISS, but it still
baffles me how a film put together by the usual gang of writers and
craftsmen can seem so atypical. Even BONNIE SCOTLAND, the other
candidate for the worst of the Roach features, at least feels like a
Laurel & Hardy film. SWISS MISS doesn't even feel like it's
trying to be a Laurel & Hardy film.
The giddy joyousness of WAY OUT WEST and BLOCK-HEADS, the films that came before and after, is nowhere to be found in SWISS MISS. It's not just that the comedy is out of character, as John B. has pointed out, it's also that the comedy is strained, lacking the freewheeling, effortless nature of their best work. Everything looks carefully blocked and overly rehearsed, adding to the already stiff and formal atmosphere created by the lavish scenery and humorless supporting players. Fin, Charlie Hall, and Mae Busch would seem out-of-place in this film, even though their presence would lend the proceedings a much-needed sense of campy fun.
I can't add much to John B.'s analyses of SWISS MISS's major comedy scenes, only to point out that it's the only Laurel & Hardy feature about which one speaks of "Major Comedy Scenes." The standout routines in L&H's best films are an integral part of the mood and structure; in SWISS MISS, the routines come off as mildly amusing, isolated vignettes in an otherwise bad talent show. In no other film are Major Comedy Scenes so painstakingly deliniated -- in part because this film fails to create the proper atmosphere whereby one could logically encounter a gorilla in the middle of a suspension bridge. Another gorilla film, The Chimp, is marked by spontaneous lunacy. The gorilla business in SWISS MISS is marked by forced zaniness.
And yet it's the atmostphere of SWISS MISS that is one of its main virtues. It may be bland and out of character, but it's consistently pleasant and light-hearted -- unlike the gloomy and ponderous final half of BONNIE SCOTLAND. It also has enough solid, if scattered, laughs to make the occasional viewing worthwhile. But it also seems like the film Those Fox People studied in shaping Laurel & Hardy's films of the '40s, so it's best to watch it only slightly more often than a Fox film.