JL: This once-lost film is for the most part a disappointment, though about five minutes of genuinely amusing business can be extracted from its rather tedious whole. The main problem is a rare one for a Roach comedy: too much plot. If we can assume that the film was largely improvised (evidenced by the vast differences between the shooting script and the finished product), then we can also assume that the actors had little time for embellishing the comedy and instead had to concentrate on getting the story told. The first reel of the film finds Stan in, as John B. terms it, his "Pixie mode," yet all he is able to do is flit around, make some funny faces and act silly. Not once is he afforded anything that might be termed a "gag." The second reel offers some choice moments, mostly provided by Anita Garvin and one of Stan's funnier appearances in drag, but by then they struggle to make an impact in an otherwise mundane film.
Prior to the film's discovery, it was assumed that Oliver Hardy played the role of the gruff sea captain, owing primarily to Hardy's own vague recollections more than 25 years after the fact (his role is a smallish one, that of the second mate). Had this been the case, the Laurel-Hardy chemistry which had already been obvious in Duck Soup and Slipping Wives would more than certainly have improved things. Malcom Waite does just fine as the philandering skipper, but it's a straight, workmanlike performance, largely devoid of any attempt at comic interaction with adversary Laurel. It's left to Stan to carry the comedy, something he isn't afforded much of a chance to do until he puts on that dress well into the second reel.
Many of Stan's later drag appearances are little more than dimwitted Stanley in a dress, but in Why Girls Love Sailors, he camps it up like a chorine in La Cage Aux Folles. The film's final highlight comes with the last-minute appearance of Anita Garvin, barely recognizable and looking more like Bette Midler in long blonde curls. As the captain's hot-tempered and rightfully suspicious wife, she too has few opportunities for gags, but Anita can't help but energize most any scene in which she appears. Noteworthy in that it marks her first appearance with the team, another fact that was not known until the film emerged from hiding.
It's always a pleasure to have "new" Laurel & Hardy material, even when that newness is its main point of interest. Such is the case with Why Girls Love Sailors.
Copyright © 2012 John Larrabee, John V. Brennan