Way Out West (1937)
The 1937 comedy Way Out West has a simple plot that sees Laurel and Hardy arrive in the western frontier town of Brushwood Gulch to deliver an inheritance. This is in the form of the deeds to a gold mine, which they are to hand over to Mary Roberts (Rosina Lawrence), the daughter of a late prospector friend.
But in the saloon, Stan and Ollie get tricked by the owner, Mickey Finn (James Finlayson). He persuades his wife, vaudeville singer Lola (Sharon Lynne), known as "The Singing Nightingale", to pretend that she is the daughter and that they should give the valuable deeds to her instead.
Being simple boys at heart, Stan and Ollie are easily fooled. But when they discover the deception, they try desperately to get the deeds back. Their efforts are complicated by the fact that the local sheriff (Stanley Fields) is constantly trying to run them out of town for thinking that they were earlier making advances to his wife.
|Stan and Ollie fight over the deeds with Lola (Sharon Lynne) and Mickey Finn (James Finlayson)
Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were the instantly recognisable stars of innumerable 20 and 30 minute shorts made for the Hal Roach studios in the 1920s and 1930s. Ollie is the portly, slightly pompous, slightly more intelligent one, who at least has enough awareness to know when they are making fools of themselves - which is most of the time. The English one, Stan Laurel, is an unworldly and usually clueless innocent with a touch of the idiot savant.
By the time of Way Out West in 1937, Laurel and Hardy had moved away from the short films that had made their names and into features, albeit shortish ones - this one runs only 65 minutes. Although these feature films appeared towards the end of their contract with Hal Roach - and towards the end of their comic and popular peak - they do include some of their best remembered films.
Way Out West is one of the most popular and entertaining of these later Laurel and Hardy features. Much of the action focuses on the pair's attempts to get the deeds back from the villains, the latter being led by a regular Laurel and Hardy antagonist, James Finlayson. This includes a frantic comic scramble for the deeds, involving Stan, Ollie, Finlayson and Lola around the rooms above the saloon, at which point Stan is trapped in a bedroom with Lola and finds out just how horribly ticklish he is.
Later on there's an extended sequence where Stan and Ollie try to break into the building at night, using their mule and a block and tackle. A plan that ends just as well as you would expect from these two.
There's also some comic business trying to remove a precious locket that's got stuck around Ollie's neck, and the moment when Stan uses his sex appeal to bring a stagecoach to a screaming halt by showing some leg - in apparent homage to Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night.
|Stan helps Ollie out of a hole on the way in to Brushwood Gulch
This is also the film where Stan mysteriously uses his thumb as a lighter and where Ollie makes him keep a promise to eat his hat. When Ollie later gets his head stuck in a trap door in the saloon, Stan has to hide it by covering it with a bucket when Finlayson comes stomping along, leading to the inevitable outcome when the latter gets angry. This scene also includes the slightly nightmarish image of Ollie's neck being briefly stretched to enormous length.
The bedroom scene, when Lola traps Stan on the bed, frames her as essentially predatory and almost sexual to a degree that 1937 audiences would surely have understood. This gives the scene a curious sexual frisson, although it is alleviated by the fact that she is actually only tickling him, making it a childish play fight more suited to Stan's naif persona, more like an encounter between children than adults.
There are a couple of unexpectedly charming song and dance sequences too. In one of these, Stan and Ollie overhear a group of men singing outside the saloon and then join in by improvising an elaborate dance. The musicians are actually The Avalon Boys, a quartet featuring Chill Wills, who appeared in a few films around this time. Another scene includes Laurel and Hardy's famous song, "Trail of the Lonesome Pine", when Stan suddenly discovers that he has a much deeper singing voice (and then a much higher one) than he realised.
Way Out West is often described as a comedy western, but the film makes surprisingly little of its western setting. There are no shoot outs, hold ups, railroads or Indians around and little actual western spoofery. Most of it in fact could be set almost anywhere.
|The US poster for Way Out West. Stan and Ollie never actually wear the cowboy hats
The opening, with Lola performing her seductive song routine in the saloon bar, gets its humour from contrasting the enthusiasm of the male patrons with the stern disapproval of their accompanying wives. This scene looks a little like a parody of Destry Rides Again, except that it precedes that film by two years.
The plotting of Way Out West is not very believable (who would entrust the deeds of a goldmine, supposedly one of the most valuable in the world, to a couple of nitwits like Stan and Ollie?), but no one goes to see a Laurel and Hardy film for convincing drama.
The film was directed by James W. Horne, who had previously directed some of the boys' short films (including Big Business and Laughing Gravy) and one of their features (Bonnie Scotland), although he had also worked with Buster Keaton (on 1927's College), among others. The film's music score, by Marvin Hatley, was nominated for an Academy Award.
The location filming for Way Out West's exteriors took place at Sherwood Lake in California. According to the AFI, the film has also been released as "In the Money", "Tonight's the Night" and "They Done it Wrong" - although the latter could surely be applied to almost any Laurel and Hardy film.
Way Out West is a bit ramshackle in its construction and not entirely satisfactory in its technicalities. Stan and Ollie's early dance routine is performed in front of a very obviously back-projected street scene and the fake version of their mule is very obvious in some scenes. But fans would probably argue that it's all part of the film's charm and Way Out West is certainly among the most engaging of the duo's feature films.
Way Out West
Director: James W. Horne
Cast Stan Laurel (Stanley), Oliver Hardy (Ollie), James Finlayson (Mickey Finn), Sharon Lynne (Lola Marcel), Stanley Fields (Sheriff), Rosina Lawrence (Mary Roberts), Vivien Oakland (Molly, sheriff's wife), Jim Mason (Anxious patron), James C. Morton, Frank Mills and Dave Pepper (Bartenders), The Avalon Boys (Themselves)
Screenplay Charles Rogers, James Parrott and Felix Adler, contributing writers (uncredited) Stan Laurel, James W. Horne, Arthur V. Jones, story Jack Jevne, Charles Rogers Producer Stan Laurel, Hal Roach (uncredited) Cinematography Art Lloyd, Walter Lundin Art Direction Arthur I. Royce Set Designer William Stevens Editor Bert Jordan Musical director Marvin Hatley Photographic effects Roy Seawright
Running time 65 mins (black & white)
Production company Hal Roach Studios Distributor MGM