Our Relations - How and Why
While in the midst of delivering OUR RELATIONS, a headline in THE NEW YORK TIMES, dated August 30, l936, read, "Hal Roach Carries On -- Our Gang and Laurel & Hardy survive despite the double-bill menace."
In the words of Oliver Hardy himself, speaking in OUR RELATIONS, "Isn't that calamitous?" But what was the double-bill menace?
In l936 there were 4,950 movie theaters in Britain, 5,273 in Germany, and a surprising 34,990 in Russia. One could find l5,858 theaters across the United States -- where the average boxoffice ticket price was a mere 25 cents. 85% of American movie houses were then regularly playing double features, trying to fool audiences they were getting two feature-length films for the price of one. In so doing, motion picture exhibitors were crowding selected short subjects right off movie screens, and therefore out of production. Consequently almost all short subject stars, and their producers, had to either reinvent themselves within the film industry, or find another line of work. Shorts were not long for movie screens.
Hal Roach Studios, Inc. acted accordingly. After 22 years of specializing in one and two-reelers, Hal Get-Behind-Me-Or-Get-Out-Of-The-Way Roach terminated all the short comedy units on the lot. The end. Features were the future. That's all. Change everything. There was no other way for the studio to survive. A unique era was ending. Roach was too busy to lament its passing, not even for a single moment. As always he believed in himself, was confident about the future, and was mapping big plans to secure that future for himself and everyone in his organization. Change was productive for Roach; none of this was a problem, it was more an opportunity for growth. He perceived everything in life, all his life, just that way.
Loew's, Inc., however, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's parent company, did prevail upon Roach to partially reverse his decision and to continue making at least the Our Gang comedies, still an extremely popular brand. The number one boxoffice attraction in the country for l936 was Shirley Temple, and Hal Roach's Little Rascals remained a huge draw also. As an inducement, more favorable profit distribution terms were offered to Roach. Our Gang would resume production, although reduced to one-reel length. And when, two seasons later, Roach moved from M-G-M to United Artists to release his program lineup, he finally did leave Our Gang behind. Metro's mournful attempt to sustain the series only served to confirm, by contrast, the extraordinary creative skills and solid craftsmanship of Roach and his staff.
Laurel & Hardy shorts remained just as much in demand, worldwide, as Our Gang, but had always been a great deal more expensive to make. As good as Laurel & Hardy shorts may have been, market conditions no longer justified their continued production. Their high negative cost, plus the change in booking practices by movie houses, added up to subtraction, causing Laurel & Hardy short comedies to be eliminated from the program lineup at Hal Roach Studios. Ironically, the public still absolutely loved and wished to see Laurel & Hardy shorts as much as ever, but exhibitors believed audiences would choose to attend a theater running a double feature over a movie house which was programming a balanced lineup of selected short subjects leading into a single feature attraction.
Again in the words of Oliver Hardy, spoken in OUR RELATIONS, "That sounds s-c-r-e-w-y to me."
If exhibitors believed in l936 that double bills offered twice the value and inducement to uncritical moviegoers, did Hal Roach think Laurel & Hardy playing twins would be twice as funny to the same audiences so easily fooled? Was OUR RELATIONS his comment or campaign against dual features? Only half-kidding, I did try to persuade Hal Roach to focus on this notion one afternoon in l985, while hunting on a ranch in Chino. He wasn't interested. True to form, he changed the subject, suggesting instead we should concentrate on murdering ducks so as to give his black Labrador retriever, named Tripper, a good workout in preparation for some upcoming field trials. At the time, the matter of training double barrels was of greater interest to Roach than combatting double bills, then a long dead issue, as far as he was concerned. Always, Hal Roach looked ahead, not backward. In this particular instance, he was looking ahead to a delicious duck dinner. He was not disappointed. He was seldom disappointed.
Roach resisted making Laurel & Hardy features as long as he could. He clung to his concept, first articulated in l9l9, when Roach declared he would make Harold Lloyd comedies at whatever length was justified by the material -- whether one, two, three or ten reels. This philosophy also explained the early l930s Charley Chase and Laurel & Hardy comedies which ran three or four reels, much longer than the industry standard for shorts. Here as always, Roach was guided exclusively by what he himself believed in. That penchant did not always work out in the man's favor, but he was an original, independent thinker. Few people ever succeeded giving advice to Hal Roach. He thought for himself, he bet on himself, he did not follow others.
On March 20, l936, Roach explained to THE MOTION PICTURE DAILY that "To combat the double feature menace, it has been my idea to make four-reelers with Laurel & Hardy on the theory that they would replace the second feature. I say they're wrong, but the (M-G-M) sales department in New York told me these wouldn't sell."
So Culver City's little "Lot of Fun" was a different place in l936, a studio in transition. Hal Roach gave many interviews that year. In fact, he was constantly making news. The press covered his polo matches with and against celebrities like E.F. Hutton, Tommy Hitchcock, Spencer Tracy, and Walt Disney. He had organized the exclusive Midwick Country Club. He was founder, president and principal stockholder of the Los Angeles Turf Club, which created and controlled the Santa Anita Racetrack. Roach's jewelry store on the most exclusive stretch of Sunset Boulevard was burglarized. And he made several trips to New York, meeting with Loew's chairman Nicholas Schenck on revising the studio's production lineup.
"Styles change," Roach told THE NEW YORK TELEGRAPH. "Styles in comedy treatment, and styles in presentation. Gags change. Dress changes. Booking practices by exhibitors worldwide have changed. Dual features in theaters are killing shorts. It's forced us to change. We are changing.
"At this studio we take comedy very seriously. We've begun now on feature length comedies. That's on the old principle, of course, of 'Shoemaker, stick to your last.'
"Our 'last' is comedy. We've been at it a long time. Of course the problems involved in making feature-length comedies are not quite the same as those involved in making two-reelers. It's still comedy, but you need, in many cases, different workmen, different players, a different attitude. We've read the signs, and we are gradually taking steps to adjust with new conditions in the market."
One of those steps included renovation of the Culver City physical plant, built in l9l9. The green ivy would be removed from the front of the administration building on Washington Boulevard. On February 6, l936 construction began on a six room double bungalow to house two feature film units, one being the Laurel & Hardy comedies company. These quarters were on the east end of the colonial-looking administration building, directly adjacent to Roach's office for easy access to The Boss, and vice versa. Elsewhere on the lot stages one and two were modernized with new heating, lighting and ventilation systems. New mills were built, as well as additional dressing rooms and film storage vaults. The New York street near the railroad tracks on the back lot was extended to a full block.
So, too, was the spirit and the atmosphere changing in all the departments around the lot. "But we were enthused," recalls then assistant director Barney Carr. "Hal was a forward looking man, and everybody was assured about our future. I know Hal enjoyed big challenges like we went through re-tooling for a different kind of moviemaking....Nothing, nor no one, ever intimidated Hal Roach!"
The studio was still a family business, privately held, staffed by 68 people who'd been on the payroll for l5 years or more. Our Gangsters still roamed the lot like a playground, with free access to every department and office. If Spanky McFarland was displeased because the Our Gang Cafe ran out of chocolate ice cream, he could march into Hal Roach's office and complain, which actually happened! These two were kindred spirits.
In its August 30 story, THE NEW YORK TIMES pointed out that practical jokes were still perpetrated all across the lot, and particularly around the Laurel & Hardy set, "the center of most of the horseplay....But with the studio devoted to features, the lot has taken on a more serious aspect, although no one was visible who wears a beret and wants to be known as a genius. Stan Laurel may get Oliver Hardy to jump into a pen of pigs just for a laugh but the making of comedies has become a more somber business. It's all right to joke when you are making pictures costing $60,000 but when they get into the $l50,000 to $200,000 class, they must be treated with a degree of respect."
Right. This would be the "half-assed dignity" Stan Laurel spoke of decades later.
All together the Hollywood Dream Factories released 735 feature films in l936. Two were planned as Laurel & Hardy vehicles: THE MONEY BOX, based on an English book by W.W. Jacobs (made as OUR RELATIONS), and CHIMES OF NORMANDY, based on a comic opera by Planquette (never made). Apropos of comments quoted in THE NEW YORK TIMES, the new, outside director Hal Roach hired to helm these epics was, in fact, a genius, an artist (painter), and surviving candid OUR RELATIONS production stills reveal he did wear a beret! His name was Harry Lachman.
Lachman was about to become a neighbor of Hal Roach on Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills, and speaking with Roach he expressed a sincere interest in making a more sophisticated type of Laurel & Hardy film -- the kind that would help the studio graduate from the custard pie era. Hal Roach was receptive to that notion, to say the least.
Most likely Vice President Henry Ginsberg opposed hiring Lachman; he cost more to employ than recent Laurel & Hardy directors Charley Rogers and Jimmy Horne. But l936 began auspiciously for nearly everyone on the studio payroll, with Ginsberg's resignation on January l6. Not calamitous. Hal Roach and Oliver Hardy were born four days apart on January l4 and l8 of l892. The studio never failed to mark the occasion with drunken festivities. The twinkle in Roach's eye describing his and Hardy's annual debauchery, even half a century later, was unmistakable. Any going away party for Mr. Ginsberg might well have culminated in the presentation of a huge post-Hal Roach and pre-Oliver Hardy birthday cake to decorate and dispatch M-G-M's esteemed efficiency expert. Stan Laurel might have recited his line from OUR RELATIONS, "This isn't his birthday." And then Daphne Pollard could have angrily chimed in, "Nevertheless, many happy returns!"
Marcus Loew, founder of Loew's, Inc., and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, had been friend and mentor to Hal Roach, who named Loew as godfather to Hal Roach Jr. Marcus Loew's son David (twin brother of Arthur) was appointed to succeed Ginsberg as a vice-president and director of the corporation. Ironically it was the late Marcus Loew's successor, Nicholas Schenck, who had installed Ginsberg at Roach in order to watch the money advanced by Loew's and M-G-M which was used to finance production activities. No one at Hal Roach Studios was sorry to see the miserly, tight-fisted Ginsberg leave. Roach himself respected Ginsberg as a competent business executive, but could see how his meddling undermined the morale around the lot.
Stan Laurel's daughter, Lois, remembers as a child how she used to play with Ginsberg's son, Billy. She knew how her father regarded Ginsberg's penurious interference, but says, "Dad was too polite to criticize people. 'Oh, he's all right, not such a bad guy,' is the kind of comment we would have heard about Mr. Ginsberg." Oliver Hardy's widow, Lucille, stated in l978 without any hesitation, "Babe told me he hated Henry Ginsberg. I am sorry to tell you he made an angry face at any mention of that man's name."
Harry Lachman was first a post-impressionist painter. He moved to Paris in l9ll, and eleven years later was decorated for his work by the French government as Chevalier de l'order des arts et des lettres in the Legion of Honor. Lachman was a contemporary of Picasso and Rodin. His future wife, Quon Tai, was a concert singer and model for Monet and Matisse. "She was delightful," Hal Roach recalled. " I always wanted her at my big parties."
With his paintings successfully displayed in museums throughout Europe, Harry Lachman was next persuaded to contribute ideas for set design on films being made in Nice, France. Lachman was intrigued. In l928, at age 42, he co-directed his first film. THE COMPULSORY HUSBAND was an English movie, and his co-director was comedian Monty Banks, who'd just made two shorts at Hal Roach Studios (and would later direct Laurel & Hardy in the not so great GREAT GUNS). Stories told by Banks about this crazy slapstick comedy factory greatly interested Lachman. By l936 he had not become a comedy filmmaker; he was a contract director at 20th Century-Fox with a reputation as a fine visual stylist. He had just made DANTE'S INFERNO starring Spencer Tracy, but he was leaving Fox to freelance and wanted to work with Laurel & Hardy.
Using his painter's eye, Harry Lachman gave us one of the more pictorially interesting Laurel & Hardy films. Certainly Lachman brought more of an adult slant to the proceedings, and there is genuine suspense in the climactic dock scenes with those menacing gangsters. The director said at the time he admired Laurel & Hardy's "sincere and fine acting," which he explained he wished to "present against an artistic background -- a perfectly natural and realistic one into which a Greta Garbo would fit just as well for a dramatic performance. Some comedians may need bolstering up by hilarious staging, but Laurel & Hardy are only hindered by them. Theirs is a distinct style that shows best by itself, and not when audience attention is distracted by other touches of comedy. The background here will offer no competition by being funny or amusing in itself, in order to allow full opportunity for Laurel & Hardy to present their superb pantomime."
Over the telephone, in l970, I read Lachman's thoughts on working with Laurel & Hardy to Hal Roach, who commented, "That's why I hired him."
On February 27, l936 Harry Lachman was placed on the corporation's payroll, earning $l,500 per week. The director expressed a preference for his usual cinematographer, Polish-born Rudolph Maté, who was also retained for the pair of Laurel & Hardy features Roach had planned that year.
Like Lachman, Maté had worked all across Europe, in Paris, Vienna, Berlin and London. He apprenticed with Karl Freund and shot films for Fritz Lang, René Clair, Alexander Korda, Carl Dreyer, Howard Hawks, Robert Florey, William Dieterle, Garson Kanin, Alfred Hitchcock (FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT), William Wyler (DODSWORTH), King Vidor (STELLA DALLAS), Leo McCarey (LOVE AFFAIR), and Ernst Lubitsch (TO BE OR NOT TO BE). So clearly, with the exception of George Stevens, this was the most inventive and distinguished director of photography with whom Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy worked (as witness the OUR RELATIONS scene shot through a one-inch plate glass tank of tropical fish!). And like Stevens, Maté later turned to directing, although with far less success.
Bringing in outside talent, even such accomplished, sophisticated craftsmen, created some problems for Stan Laurel, who was accustomed to running things, and his own way, on Hal Roach sets.
"I wasn't part of the L&H unit," Barney Carr explains, "but I understood the politics. You had to earn your way into that group, very much a close-knit, closed group. And a great group. Make no mistake. Outsiders may or may not have been respected, but few were accepted and welcomed -- not at first. You had to win the confidence of Stan as well as the entire crew, and get it on merit, not by appointment. Hal didn't always see that issue. Maybe he looked right over it with Lachman, I can't remember. And Hal didn't know, probably wouldn't have cared, that Lachman had a temper, and was not egalitarian by nature. Although that picture seemed to go pretty smoothly, as I recall -- so long ago now."
Barney Carr's future partner at Cascade Pictures, Roy Seawright, remembered, "Lachman was a great director, but he wasn't the director for these guys! Stan would always correct him. Lachman would say, 'No, I want you to do this....' And Stan would say, 'No, we do it this way.' But they got along fine."
Roach and Laurel disagreed on several story points while making both BABES IN TOYLAND (l934) and BONNIE SCOTLAND (l935). To appease Laurel and salve his increasing bouts of temperament, on OUR RELATIONS Roach generously adjusted the opening credit titles to read "A Stan Laurel Production." This declaration did not mean he produced the film, but it was a way of letting Laurel place his signature on it, in the way of a brand name. Generically, then as now, this credit represents an undefined influence, at some level, whether creative, or administrative, or both. According to Elliot Silverstein of the Directors Guild of America (he directed CAT BALLOU), as well as the Artists Rights Foundation, it is a nonspecific credit. The declaration is similar, but not necessarily the same as, the current practice of calling something like SWEET AND LOWDOWN "A Woody Allen Film," or "A film by Woody Allen."
The proliferation of sometimes meaningless producer credits has been a problem in the industry since the l920s. Often there was and still is no production reality to all the credit lines bestowed for associate producer, producer, co-producer, line producer, executive producer, co-executive producer, and all their related production corporations and joint ventures with the many cute names. Such credits are frequently just a function of negotiation in consideration of exerting varying artistic or business influence during a film. They can represent deal points or concessions and many times reflect no actual role in the filmmaking process.
Today we know Stan Laurel's creative imprint was there to be found on virtually every aspect of what we see in Laurel & Hardy films. He was entitled to put his signature on the credits. The line "A Stan Laurel Production," however, implies there was a production entity. In fact, there was. Such a company had just been formed, but it had no standing whatsoever with respect to how OUR RELATIONS was conceived, developed, financed, written, filmed, cut, copyrighted, released and owned. Stan Laurel, as an individual, influenced some of these steps in the filmmaking process, but not as part of an outside organization called "Stan Laurel Productions."
On OUR RELATIONS Stan Laurel enjoyed the same creative control as always, only this time the extra screen credit acknowledged his artistic influence on the film. Curiously, he served here as almost everything else but the producer -- he was a writer, gag man, co-editor, he directed the director (although to a lesser extent in this instance), and nearly as important as anything else, six days a week, he made every man, woman and child on the lot happy to walk or drive through the gate at Hal Roach Studios. His presence was an intangible, positive influence, because everyone at the studio loved him, loved to see him, and was inspired by him. But he did not acquire the underlying literary property, arrange the financing, attend to the budgetary and many administrative considerations, sign the talent in front of and behind the cameras, meet the payroll, or make the final decisions on creating, completing and promoting the film we know as OUR RELATIONS.
The OUR RELATIONS pressbook, in its official credits section, declared, "Producer: Hal Roach." At the same time the film was represented to be "A Stan Laurel Production," again as a brand name. These are not mutually exclusive credits. OUR RELATIONS was owned, registered, and renewed for copyright purposes by Hal Roach Studios. All right, title and interest in the motion picture photoplay remained vested with Hal Roach Studios, never with Stan Laurel or Stan Laurel Productions. Neither Stan Laurel nor Stan Laurel Productions had any particpation in the profits, either.
In fact at the time Stan Laurel was still serving under his April 8, l935 employment contract, which was a so-called work for hire agreement, not a partnership, and not a joint venture with Hal Roach Studios. The contract stipulated that Laurel's "services to be rendered ... shall be under the personal supervision of Mr. Hal E. Roach, and that the right granted to (Laurel) as to the approval of story, director and necessary writers shall be subject likewise to the approval of and in accord with the views of Mr. Roach."
The contract expected that "such supervision and approval will be given by the parties in a reasonable and reciprocal manner," but contemplated creative differences of opinion could arise. If so, and if they could not be resolved in two weeks time, then Laurel was to be "relieved of all duties, other than as an actor....
"The parties hereto realize that it is difficult to outline definitely the matters in relation to which such agreements may arise or exist, as it may likewise entail matters which are difficult of accurate concrete definition, and the entire purpose hereof is that both parties hereto will fairly and reasonably deal with each other, and, in the event of a disagreement of importance as to such treatment, story or direction, (Laurel) will proceed with performance of the part ascribed to him to the best of his ability."
Hal Roach was the producer of OUR RELATIONS; Stan Laurel, as usual, exercised a large measure of creative control, and this time it was acknowledged on screen by calling the film "A Stan Laurel Production" because, clearly, he wanted to become a producer. He wished to produce and own his work the same way Charlie Chaplin did. Sadly, it was an objective Laurel never achieved.
One distinguishing story point of both official "Stan Laurel Productions" was that in each film -- OUR RELATIONS and then WAY OUT WEST -- Laurel's character manages to get himself conked over the head with a mallet while standing at a bar. Another story point, and of greater importance, was that neither feature film is diluted by boring subplots involving peripheral characters which audiences do not care about. Usually, do not. Each film delivers what most people want to see in a Laurel & Hardy movie: pure, unadulterated comedy, focused directly on Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy.
Stan Laurel was primarily interested in entertaining people already sitting in theater seats. Hal Roach, under pressure from Loew's and M-G-M, was sometimes more interested in influencing people trying to decide on which movie show to attend. That's why the music, the romance, and the outside names were factored into some of the feature length films -- to advertise and attract people trying to decide where they wished to spend their amusement money.
Probably 99% of the audiences who saw Stan Laurel on screen believed he was that dim bulb character, and that he contributed nothing else to these films. So, unquestionably, he was entitled to a special credit lineof some sort. When Laurel requested it, Roach recognized this kind of acknowledgment was valid. Anyway, in his view, the billing was a concession that didn't cost anything -- literally or figuratively. It just confirmed what everyone at the studio already knew about what Stan Laurel was contributing all along; he was the principal creative force on his own films, the same as with Charley Chase on his films, and Bob McGowan on the Our Gang comedies. As far as Roach was concerned, the recognition as "A Stan Laurel Production" was a meaningless concession and allowed Laurel to save face following the previous contract dispute which had not been resolved in his favor.
Unfortunately, as years have passed, it seems fans and film critics have sought to divide Stan Laurel and Hal Roach, to create controversy. Maybe because conflict creates a better story. Spats sell. Maybe because people prefer to cast bosses or owners or authority figures as villains. Or they wish to portray any totally creative artist in a David-versus-Goliath scenario. The truth makes for less dramatic copy. Until l940 Stan Laurel and Hal Roach were good friends, who periodically had creative differences to resolve. After they separated professionally, it is true that Roach remained close only with Laurel's first wife, Lois. From l9l8 through l939, however, disagreements between Stan Laurel and Hal Roach were the exception, not the rule. People who could and did attest to that were those who were actually there, and who worked at the studio throughout those years.
Roach and Laurel certainly agreed on the literary property selected for OUR RELATIONS. Both loved all things English, and everything about the sea. THE MONEY BOX was a seafaring story written by an English writer, William Wymark Jacobs, whose most famous work was the Grand Guignol classic, THE MONKEY'S PAW.
W.W. Jacobs was born at Wapping, London, on September 8, l863. He lived seven days short of his 80th birthday. He lived to view OUR RELATIONS. He wrote short stories of gentle humor about seagoing men, who were rarely at sea. He wrote of their adventures ashore, in port, with women, dockworkers, and local authorities. His stories were often produced as plays.
Jacobs first penned THE MONEY BOX for publication in London's STRAND magazine in July of l902. The piece was next published by Scribner's the following year in a collection of short stories entitled ODDCRAFT. Then in l93l THE MONEY BOX was selected for an omnibus called SNUG HARBOR, containing l7 volumes of Jacobs' writings.
In Avalon, the city located on Santa Catalina Island, Stan Laurel and Hal Roach were both members of The Tuna Club. To repay a favor, possibly associated with the assignment of Paulette Goddard's contract, fellow Tuna Club member Charlie Chaplin gifted Hal Roach with a signed copy of SNUG HARBOR, sometime between l932 and l936. From this ocean of prose, Hal Roach caught the angle of producing THE MONEY BOX as a vessel for his TWO TARS stars, Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy. OUR RELATIONS was well into production on March 23, l936 when Jacobs officially assigned his literary rights to Hal Roach Studios, Inc.
Watery work began on the screen adaptation the first week of February, l936. Clarence Hennecke and Harrington Reynolds, long time scenarists extending back to Hal Roach's Rolin Film Company days, had the first crack at adapting the story. Hennecke was a long time crony of Laurel's, with screen credit on his YES, YES NANETTE (1925) as co-director. Hennecke also wrote gags and served as assistant director on many l920s Sennett and Fox shorts, as well as the Frank Capra-directed Harry Langdon features.
Next Mauri Grashin and sometimes-circus-clown Felix Adler tried their hand at adapting THE MONEY BOX. The reliable screen writer Jack Jevne ("He was great for us," hailed Hal Roach) took a pass at the treatment, as did Charley Rogers, and naturally Stan Laurel. Last engaged to polish the evolving continuity was Harvard-educated Richard Connell. Harold Lloyd had just referred Connell to Roach. He'd written Lloyd's collaboration with another Roach alumnus, director Leo McCarey, on THE MILKY WAY (l936). Connell penned the famous original story entitled THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME (l932), filmed by RKO and made simultaneously with KING KONG (l933), using many of the same spectacular sets and actors.
In (presumably) early March a nearly-final draft of the OUR RELATIONS screenplay was submitted to Hal Roach for his comments. After reading the screenplay, Roach dictated this undated memo, headlined "Suggestions For Picture F-ll," which itemized l4 points:
If Roach's first point was adopted, and filmed that way, it was ultimately changed. The picture opens with the domestic situation, in the home, at afternoon high tea.
The filmmakers evidently all agreed on point number two.
The third suggestion probably would have required location shooting, and it sounds quite appealing, but there is no evidence such a sequence was filmed and then cut. Everyone must have known they were going to incur huge cost overruns as it was.
Point four was with reference to the Marx Brothers' most famous sequence, from the previous year's A NIGHT AT THE OPERA. The alleged similarity seems remote today, but at the time A NIGHT AT THE OPERA was still playing in theaters, was an enormous smash hit, and also an M-G-M release. Luckily Roach was persuaded not to press this point since the telephone booth sequence with Arthur Housman has been generally cited by critics as the film's highlight.
The fifth suggestion makes logical sense, but at the cost of blunting humor. Again, apparently, Roach was induced not to push for this idea. Instead, the mother casually informs Ollie and Stan that their twins have died by way of a postscript, as though it were an afterthought hardly worth mentioning. Probably Stan Laurel liked the idea that the mother should be as addle-brained as her offspring.
The reason for the "change of seasons" discussion, mentioned in point six, is lost to history.
Suggestion seven was adopted, but the result evident only in still photos, not the filmed action.
Point eight was a typical concern of Hal Roach.
The ninth suggestion is intriguing, and one can visualize how this would play. Perhaps they ran out of time, or other matters were more pressing.
Point ten: see comments with respect to number nine and three, above.
Suggestions eleven and twelve were unavailing. As was number fourteen.
Number thirteen. Number thirteen. Number thirteen calls to mind the frequently cited Charley Rogers anecdote where Hal Roach would breeze into a story conference, explain a gag he wanted, then leave with the parting remark, "That's the idea boys, you take it from there; know what I mean?" Half the time they didn't, although that never stopped them.
So far, in the year 2000, or 64 years after the film was made, a shooting script for OUR RELATIONS has not surfaced for examination. There does exist an undated ten page synopsis. This is definitely a pre-production document as indicated by such lines as "we now go for three or four undetermined gags wherein Stan meets Bert and thinks it is Babe." Also contained are the usual jargon references where characters are required to do "a big takem," or to "take it big," or to show "a burn," or to execute a special kind of fall referred to by number as a "l08."
Most interesting, and surprising, is how closely the detailed synopsis parallels the finished film. How then, to account for scenes not reflected in this written digest, nor seen in the final release print, but evidenced by still photos? And still photos which are definitely not gag photos for publicity purposes. They were action, production stills, indicating related film footage was exposed and manufactured for inclusion in the motion picture photoplay.
There were basically three such sequences, now attested to only by stills: introductory exterior scenes filmed on location around the S.S. Periwinkle, scenes with the twin sailors shaving, primping and dressing in white Palm Beach suits for shore leave, and scenes indicating a traffic jam ensnaring Stan, Ollie, and their lovely wives, possibly reminiscent of TWO TARS (l928). Some of the photos for these scenes survive in the M-G-M key-set of linen-backed file stills and are marked as "killed shots." Yet, again, there is no hint of the corresponding filmed action content in the ten page pre-production text.
So the footage constituting the three additional sequences was based on scripted material conceived subsequent to the extant pre-March l6 written treatment. Probably this material was developed during production in late March or April, sparked by something that happened rehearsing and blocking out scenes on the set. Then, possibly, these same newly incorporated sequences were part of the OUR RELATIONS cut that was scored by LeRoy Shield during the first half of May, only to be discarded after previews were conducted in July. This could explain why so much of the incidental music scoring written and recorded by Shield as a seamless, continuous orchestral suite for the picture cannot be heard today in the released version of OUR RELATIONS. Some of the melodies recorded in May, might have been cut when the corresponding three action sequences were deleted after test screenings two months later.
Yet we cannot be certain of this because it is not known if the score had been mixed with the soundtrack for the July preview. Chances are even that preview audiences in July did not hear the Shield score. PARDON US (l93l), for example, was sneak-previewed under its working title, THEIR FIRST MISTAKE. That 35mm nitrate preview print exists, and has no background music. Of course PARDON US was eventually released with a full, rich, marvelous Shield score.
The background music is always the final post-production task to be completed. And as we have seen from how LeRoy Shield's and Marvin Hatley's work products were both under-appreciated and underpaid, mixing a score on a preliminary and tentative cut of the picture for a test audience was not deemed essential for assessing the film's commercial value. Actually, forget about previews, many Hal Roach sound shorts were issued with no incidental music score -- incidental (meaning casual or minor) being the operative word. Again, instrumental background music scoring was the last and least important post-production component. Also none of the July preview trade notices mentioned a score or credited Shield for one. Presumably because there was no mixed music score at the time.
Or, the failure to incorporate certain cues Shield wrote and intended specifically for OUR RELATIONS may be as simple as editorial supervisor Elmer Raguse having made a unilateral decision not use them, or to substitute other pieces previously written by Shield that would work better for timing or artistic purposes. In Raguse's judgement. Not Shield's.
The waterfront climax, with the twins' feet encased in bowls of teetering cement was reflected in the detailed synopsis. According to Stan Laurel's second wife, Virginia Ruth Rogers, in her book with Fred Lawrence Guiles, Laurel conceived this sequence after the couple found themselves intrigued over an ashtray while dining at a Hollywood restaurant. The large ashtray was weighted with a sphere-like bottom; it would roll and bob but could not be overturned. They tried. Next day, Laurel conferred with the writers and together they developed the film's dockside denouement.
Looking at OUR RELATIONS today, who could imagine that the film's climax was inspired by Stan Laurel observing and playing with a distinctive ashtray?
Just as Hal Roach turned the corner making OUR RELATIONS, Charlie Chaplin released a film that marked the end of an era too, actually twin eras. On February 5, l936, Hollywood's final silent film, as well as the last showcase for "The Little Tramp," the classic MODERN TIMES, premiered at the Rivoli Theater in New York. It was conceived, written, produced, owned, edited, scored, directed, maybe even delivered by, and starred, Stan Laurel's former Fred Karno roommate and Hal Roach's former Essanay co-worker, Charlie Chaplin. So he'd been busy. Plus Chaplin was co-founder and minority shareholder of the film's distribution company, United Artists. MODERN TIMES was Chaplin's first film in five years. At the time, Hal Roach was increasingly concerned over what he later lamented as and labelled Laurel's "Chaplin complex." Roach wondered what impact the thumping success of MODERN TIMES would have on Laurel, for good or bad. When asked in l989 -- the year of Chaplin's centenary celebration -- Roach could not recollect any connection between MODERN TIMES and Laurel's longing for the credit line, "A Stan Laurel Production."
Odds are that the timing was not coincidental. Otherwise there was no relation between OUR RELATIONS and MODERN TIMES, although two actors, Jim Morton and Tiny Sandford, appeared in both. Plus portions of each film were shot on location 45 minutes south of Hollywood on the shore of San Pedro, at the harbor.
Across the sea, 26 miles from the San Pedro harbor, was the aforementioned island of Catalina, closest thing to the French Riviera in the United States of America. There the city of Avalon was a fishing and water sports mecca for Hollywood celebrities, including Hal Roach, Stan Laurel, and Charlie Chaplin, Laurel's old friend and countryman from long ago, and before either had made a movie. In l990, when Lois Laurel staged a huge, sensational centennial birthday party to honor her father, the venue she chose for the festivities was Catalina. Hal Roach attended, and when he turned l00 years old, two years later, Lois Laurel topped herself by hosting another wonderful Catalina celebration.
Long before that, one lazy Saturday afternoon, in those same Catalina waters, during pre-production activities for OUR RELATIONS (the source, Virginia Ruth Laurel, was not certain of the date), Charlie Chaplin's 55-foot cruiser, the Panacea, chanced to cross the bow of Stan Laurel's smaller yacht, the Ruth L. For over two decades, Chaplin and Laurel had not seen much of each other socially. It was a curious situation. The fault was Chaplin's, who years before -- for whatever self-centered reasons -- had failed to return Laurel's phone calls. Despite their common careers and backgrounds and interests and shared experiences, by l936 they travelled in different social circles.
Chaplin always maintained he had very few close friends in Hollywood. He usually named Doug Fairbanks as one. Perhaps owing to his Dickensian childhood, the insecure Chaplin chose not to share the limelight with someone like Laurel whom he had known so well, so long ago. Even though Chaplin was idolized Laurel.
In their Fred Karno days, touring together, Chaplin and Laurel had been the best of friends. When apart, they stayed in touch. For example, mailing a note containing a crude self-portrait and his itinerary, Chaplin wrote, "Well, Stan! May your path be a 'rosy one.' (Signed) Your old pal, Chas. Chaplin, Fred Karno Co., Seattle, Wash(ington), U.S.A. Dec. 28th, l9l2." Lois Laurel has this communication, which her father saved. Chaplin was departing Seattle to see a man about a job -- seems it was one of those crazy new movie producers, a Mr. McSenate, or possibly Mack Sennett.
In Chaplin's massive 5l2 page autobiography, the name of Stan Laurel appears once. That's all. One time. In a photo caption. Once. Probably added by a representative of the publisher when photos were being selected. The trick would be to search the index for "Stan Jefferson." Because then one finds that the number of cross-references to Stan Laurel's real name is, once more, none. Zero. Certainly a puzzling omission. Was Chaplin indignant over Laurel's vaudeville impersonation of him while touring with "The Keystone Trio"? From all accounts, no.
Nor did Chaplin -- even one time -- mention the name of his second wife, Lita Grey, who was the mother of his first two children, Charlie Jr., and Sydney. (Who preferred the comedy of Laurel & Hardy to their father's, which Lita Grey explained to writer Steve Randisi, "Laurel & Hardy's comedy was so obvious that our sons could laugh at them, because they understood them, and could associate with them.") No room for Lita Grey, either. In fact, Chaplin's text ignored many friends and filmmaking collaborators, including writer-director Robert Florey, who turned his PARIS-MATCH book review into an appreciation of Stan Laurel, as well as others similarly slighted.
Did Stan Laurel resent this? Or did he ever envy Chaplin? No. It is clear, however, that Laurel entertained a healthy respect for Chaplin insofar as constituting a role model for Laurel's own career path. Hal Roach disagreed that Laurel's fixation with Chaplin was "healthy," hence his pejorative explication of the "Chaplin complex." John McCabe, biographer of both Chaplin, and Laurel, has written that "Stan loved Chaplin as a buddy and revered -- no other word will fit -- he revered him as an artist."
Not all Chaplin's contemporaries shared that allegiance. His United Artists co-founder, and "America's Sweetheart," Mary Pickford, called Chaplin "that obstinate, suspicious, egocentric, maddening and lovable genius of a problem child." According to Hal Roach, who knew her and saw her for nearly seventy years, Pickford's private assessment of Chaplin was even more colorful.
From his viewpoint, Hal Roach said, "Charlie was a visual poet. He spoke to the common man, more successfully than anyone. He had no peer. The movie-going public so voted at the boxoffice, and I mean throughout his entire career. No one can dispute that, and yet the poor guy was insecure about everything -- his lack of education, his height, his ability, his money, his Jewish heritage, his mother's insanity. He misunderstood many things, and he himself was misunderstood."
For the second half of his life, Hal Roach was forced to explain, and seemingly endlessly, Stan Laurel's so-called "Chaplin complex" as the underlying reason for their professional separation. In l936 Roach tried to appease Laurel's anxieties by acceding to present OUR RELATIONS as "A Stan Laurel Production." Again it was a concession that changed very little in the way the film was made, but it pacified Laurel, gave him the credit he deserved, and allowed him to believe, as he said to his wife at the time, that he was "catching up with Charlie."
Virginia Ruth Laurel remembered that afternoon in the sun, in the Catalina waters, in l936, when Stan Laurel and Charlie Chaplin caught up with each other. She shared her recollections with biographer Fred Lawrence Guiles, who wrote, "The craft clearly reflected their owners' life-styles. Chaplin's was elegant, large enough for entertaining the doctors, writers and philosophers he chose as his friends; Stan's was unembellished, ideal for a weekend of fishing -- his greatest passion after the creation of humor -- with pals from the studio."
Present for their awkward reunion at sea was Chaplin's MODERN TIMES co-star and wife-to-be-announced, Paulette Goddard, herself an alumna of Hal Roach Studios. Chaplin acquired her term contract from Roach in l932. Chaplin was known to be moody and eccentric, but on this day at least, he was sentimental. For two hours, with the pressure off, Chaplin and Laurel proceeded to share recollections of their days with the Fred Karno troupe in England and America, discuss their current film projects, and compete with each other singing ancient, horrible music-hall ballads. Imagine the reaction of marine passerby sailing into or out of the Avalon harbor! Forget about Garbo talking, here was Chaplin singing! And Laurel laughing. All the while driving sharks out to the deep sea for relief.
Laurel shared with Chaplin the bounty of bluefish he'd caught earlier in the day, the two vowed to stay in touch, and then they parted. Basically their careers and social lives moved on tracks that did not often intersect, but this chance meeting would alter that somewhat.
Actor Chuck McCann, original founding member of the SONS OF THE DESERT, once told Stan Laurel in the early l960s of the first time he saw OUR RELATIONS. It was a theatrical reissue, near the end of World War II. "The ending actually frightened me," McCann recalled. "I was really scared for them. It made such a grim impression on me that today I still see the film that way, through the eyes of a kid, who thinks Stan and Babe are really going to fall off that dock and drown. I said so to Stan, and I told him I had the same feeling when I saw MODERN TIMES, with the roller-skating scene reminiscent of THE RINK, where Chaplin is a department store night watchman, and skates around, blindfolded, to amuse Paulette Goddard. But he's on one floor, overlooking another down below which he cannot see, and his skating exhibition carries him perilously near a broken balcony railing. My hands were sweating watching this thing because it looked like Chaplin was going to fall over the edge and kill himself!
"I didn't realize at first what I'd said to Stan. Until I saw this warm look of glowing satisfaction cross his face at being compared so favorably with Chaplin, his idol, in the way both could move your heart and soul. Even in slapstick! It made me feel great that I could give him a compliment which I was surprised to see meant so much.
"We talked about that day in the water, the reunion at Catalina. Long before that Stan had been rebuffed, and Chaplin didn't return his calls. So I think Stan was determined not to try again until, as he put it, 'I was big enough to contact him, and feel secure about things.' With Roach giving him that special credit, 'A Stan Laurel Production,' on a film he was happy with, Stan felt very secure that day. And Chaplin invited him to high tea back home, and they got together again. 'The reason I did,' Stan said, 'was I finally felt I could.'"
McCann argued with Laurel that his talent was at least the equal of Chaplin's, but Laurel wouldn't hear of it. "No, you're wrong, lad," Laurel objected. "Chaplin was the greatest. Nobody can ever touch his artistry. There's Chaplin first, then there's everybody else who ever was, or ever will be!"
The psychological explanation of why this generous admiration was not returned by Chaplin -- at least not overtly -- was clear to Chuck McCann. "Chaplin did, or tried to do, everything on his films," McCann reasons. "He wanted all the credit, and he took all the credit. He was unwilling to share anything -- credit, money, affection, anything. Chaplin was a classic narcissist, an egomaniac, totally focused on himself. Stan wasn't. Stan was the opposite. Stan was the total opposite. Stan represented pure innocence, both in the character he created and his private life. No malice, no guile, just almost childlike innocence. Which he proved by having his phone number in the telephone book his whole life for complete strangers to call him and visit his home. Droves of people were doing just that practically right up until the day we lost him."
The day at sea in Catalina seemed to change things between Chaplin and Laurel. They weren't going to work together or socialize regularly again, but the two old friends did remain in touch. "They were both so darn busy working," says Lois Laurel. "I know they saw each other at the Masquers Club, and the really big events around town. They spoke on the phone about their mutual friends, and things back home in London. The thing I heard Dad say many times to others about Chaplin was, 'Well, he's a very, very complex man.'"
On March 5, l936 a seafaring adventure launched by M-G-M, MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY, won the Oscar awarded for best picture. The Oscar runner-up for best short subject was Laurel & Hardy's TIT FOR TAT (l935).
On March l0, l936 Hal Roach had dinner with Irving Thalberg and several top executives. Roach summarized their discussions the next day in a letter to Al Lichtman, vice-president of Loew's, Inc., in charge of sales, back in New York. Metro generated most of its profits from big and expensive pictures. The consensus was that even though Roach could make his production dollars go further than M-G-M could, still Roach should be making more expensive pictures. "They felt," Roach wrote, "it would be far better to make pictures for $400,000 that look like $600,000 than to make $200,000 pictures which would look like $300,000." The price differential separated class B pictures from class A, and also from potentially much higher gross earnings for both Roach and Metro.
They compromised. On March l6, l936, with an approved budget of $250,000, Hal Roach feature film number F-ll commenced principal photography as THE MONEY BOX. They planned 32 shooting days. It would seem to have been too late to make OUR RELATIONS as a more expensive picture, even if Messrs. Lichtman and Schenck in New York shared the views of Roach and Thalberg and others in Culver City.
Shooting began in the beer garden. The other, more elaborate sets were still under construction. Also, as of March l9, the script remained unfinished. The boat and bridge exteriors were scheduled for filming in San Pedro on Wednesday, March 25, with studio trucks to depart Culver City at 6:30 A.M.; the cast at 7:00 A.M. Friday and Saturday were slated for filming the home interiors. Monday, March 30 was to be the night court scenes. Thereafter the tentative schedule was changed every two or three days, although basically the filmmakers tried to shoot in chronological order. At least that was the plan.
Studying production documents reveals filmmaking details most viewers take for granted, or never notice. Although we would notice such minor but essential components of the finished work -- by their absence -- if the production crew failed to arrange everything so as to insure that what we view inside the film frame looks appropriate and natural.
Mike Polacek of The Laurel & Hardy Club of America (a predecessor organization to the Sons of the Desert) often wrote to and spoke with Stan Laurel. In response to a question posed in l958, Laurel explained, "Yes, it looked like real food in the scene because it was real food! As a rule the properties department furnished our sets with real food. Generally pretty good too -- in the morning!"
The Wednesday, April 1 OUR RELATIONS casting call sheet, for example, listed these props required for shooting that day inside "Stan and Babe's home":
The food and beverages were necessary to reflect the English custom of "high tea," usually involving a light, late afternoon meal. It's how the picture opens, with the boys and their wives passing teacups around and around the dining room table. Not listed above was "sugar," which at one point Betty Healy asks Stan to pass her. Wardrobe assigned for the scene included a gray suit for Mr. Laurel, and a blue suit for Mr. Hardy.
With Hal Roach trying to raise the tone of his pictures to keep current with changing times and tastes, adjustments were necessary, in all quarters. By everyone. This was especially true during the first few days of filming on OUR RELATIONS.
Rudolph Maté was a distinguished cameraman, yet he needed to adapt his polished, subtle style to accommodate the working methodology of Stan Laurel, who, as Hal Roach put it, "bossed the Laurel & Hardy set -- and definitely with my blessing." Art Lloyd had been their cameraman for years, and lit Laurel & Hardy scenes to please Stan's sense of how they should look. Special effects wizard Roy Seawright explained, "Stan insisted that the lighting be very flat. Art Lloyd put light all around, so it gave their faces that comical, blank look. But Rudy Maté was a dramatic cameraman. And they had a hell of a time. Stan would not accept the first week's worth of dailies. Maté had lit them too dramatically, with shadows on their faces, under their chins, and so forth. And Stan did not want the artistic, theatrical type of lighting they were employing in those days."
In l987, sound recording engineer Ralph Butler recounted how "Stan went to Roach, privately. He had to. That was the way to handle it. Mr. Roach didn't want to get involved in these things unless there was a problem to solve. You wouldn't see him on the set. Whatever Roach did -- if he spoke to Lachman or Maté -- everyone made adjustments. Technically, all of us knew we were making a different looking and sounding picture. I don't know what the devil I'd say today, but back then I thought it was pretty good, pretty damn good."
On day 20 of shooting, April 7, the company finished filming home interiors in the morning, with a standby call for 11:00 A.M. to shoot on the backlot, specifically a "New York scene -- tenement district -- exterior of Fin's window." Fifteen extras (seven men and eight women) were called for, plus five children, aged "six to nine years -- scraggily, dirty kids." Props required included a "bicycle, a push-cart with assorted vegetables, a few cheap automobiles, and three scruffy-looking dogs." All this, subject to "weather permitting."
The casting call sheet for Friday, April l0 carried this note: "Cancel today's calls -- production suspended until Monday, April l3, l936 account illness of Mr. Laurel." They did resume filming Monday, 9:00 A.M., with interior scenes of "Bert and Alf's cabin." That evening Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Hal Roach, Jean Harlow, Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, James Cagney and George Raft were among the celebrities who attended a police benefit at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
Despite running well behind schedule, production day number 30, Saturday, April l8, was the first date where no shooting was planned. Instead the day was reserved for "rehearsals on the nightclub set."
The annual Hal Roach Studios Golf Tournament was held Sunday, April l9 at the Rancho Country Club, across from the 20th Century-Fox lot. The low gross score of 79 (not that low) didn't belong to Oliver Hardy, nor did he place among the top three prize winners. The big trophy was awarded to the big actor with the big tee shot, Alan Hale. His victory might explain why Hale was never invited back to make another big Roach picture.
With production winding down, on April 23 the studio executed a single page agreement with LeRoy Shield to furnish the background musical score. Shield was to be paid $500 per week, and at least two weeks work was contemplated, to begin May ll. The studio also agreed to reimburse Shield's travel expenses to and from his home base at NBC in Chicago. It was a surprisingly simple arrangement for work which turned out to have such critical importance to the lasting appeal of not only OUR RELATIONS, but several other Hal Roach subjects.
On Thursday, April 30, day number 40 of production, the company finished work on the "rope set" in the nightclub, and moved to the dock set. It was both the final, climactic sequence in the script, and the last pages remaining to be filmed.
Consistent with the notion that true artists never want their effort to show, the scenes may not look that complicated, but the Laurel & Hardy unit labored nine days (including two Saturdays), as well as some late nights, in order to conclude principal photography on May 9. An inordinate number of shots were taken, involving a great deal of rehearsed and choreographed action, as was reflected in the fast cutting of so many short scenes in the finished film.
In all, shooting required 48 days to complete OUR RELATIONS -- a huge overrun beyond the 32 days planned. A production debacle. Unless it was true that Hal Roach planned all along to spend production dollars consistent with class A productions at M-G-M because he knew Irving Thalberg would be on his side if Al Lichtman and Nicholas Schenck voiced objections from the East Coast.
Studio memos and wires indicate Hal Roach was never unhappy with how the picture was progressing. Once again, Roach proved he would spend the necessary time and money on a project he believed in. By every account, he was pleased and optimistic about the commercial and artistic prospects for OUR RELATIONS.
On May 6, Roach wired Nicholas Schenck, "Current Laurel & Hardy picture finishing this week most pretentious picture we have made with them cost now three-hundred-forty-thousand will cost at least three-hundred-seventy-five-thousand dollars to complete stop."
And "stop" is probably what Schenck thought.
The budget first approved had been $200,000. At Thalberg's urging, Roach negotiated an upgrade to $250,000. By all accounts he knew the cash outlay would be significantly more. So it was. Roach spent a budget-busting $340,000 and then informed Schenck the final negative cost would likely total $375,000 -- a huge cost variance overrun of one-third! Metro had advanced production financing of $225,000, and there was another $25,000 due, pending "completion and audit" as defined in the distribution agreement. But Roach asked for the conditional $25,000 early, right then, on May 6. Plus he asked for an additional $25,000!
Somehow, he got the money, although Roach wasn't finished yet. He needed another important sum to discharge the current indebtedness on OUR RELATIONS, which for the time being he concealed from everyone down the street at Metro, and particularly from executives across the country at Loew's in New York. This was gutsy, because the true cost of making OUR REALTIONS was certain to be disclosed eventually when the audit was conducted. What was the percentage in misleading Nicholas Schenck? Without question, Schenck was absolutely the single most powerful person in the entire motion picture industry.
Yet Roach didn't care about deceiving M-G-M. At least not in the short run. He was determined to edge into smart, class A pictures. He was determined to survive. What he did took nerve, and he had nerve. Like the halfback in football (which he was) running off-tackle for an opening (which figuratively he did always), Roach would aggressively seize any opportunity when it was presented -- at any hour of the day, any hour of his life, age 21, 51, or 101.
The last year of his life, he imparted some advice, "You're in business to do well. Seize the opportunity." On OUR RELATIONS, here it was. Transform this film into class A product. He liked the picture, that was enough, and he was going to find and spend his own money to cover the shortfall. Which was exactly what he did.
According to a syndicated series of articles about filmland comedy stars which appeared in newspapers around the country in July, writer Paul Harrison of the NEW YORK TIMES reported that the final cost of OUR RELALTIONS was "a cool $400,000." So in fact the amount that Roach required, which he financed himself by deferring other expenditures (because he was happy with and confident about the prospects for OUR RELATIONS) was the sum of l25,000 l936 dollars. Meaning the figure is not adjusted for price level changes -- an enormous differential in terms of the buying power of money today.
As Stan Laurel's character remarked in OUR RELATIONS, "Huh!"
Roy Shield arrived in Culver City, from Chicago, from the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), a Radio Corporation of America, Inc. (RCA) subsidiary, on May ll, to compose and orchestrate the score for OUR RELATIONS. And what a truly delightful, entertaining music score it turned out to be.
The next day the studio filed its official cast and bit players listing with the Association of Motion Picture Producers.
Cutting and scoring and other post-production activities took another five weeks. During that time, Hal Roach's father, who lived on the studio grounds and was secretary-treasurer of the company, died on May 27. On June 2, Charley Chase left Hal Roach Studios after l7 years. Both events marked somber milestones on the Lot of Fun.
Meanwhile Hal Roach kept blazing away in all his business, sporting and social activities. Surveying the clippings his staff maintained, it would seem he was the busiest figure in the industry. He gave interviews walking to and from his car. A reporter from the NEW YORK WORLD-TELEGRAM caught and asked him, among other things, "Who are the foremost comedians produced by the moving pictures?"
"Charlie Chaplin is unquestionably the greatest," Roach replied without hesitation, particularly since MODERN TIMES was then a worldwide phenomenon. "Then in order I'd list Harold Lloyd, Roscoe Arbuckle, Laurel & Hardy, the Marx Brothers and W.C. Fields."
Upon showing him this clipping in l979, Roach offered as how he should have mentioned Buster Keaton, and his friend Will Rogers.
Roach continued evaluating what was funny and why when he was quoted in FILM DAILY on June 22. "Comedy is the same as always," Roach said, smiling and genial as always. "When someone gets a custard pie in the face, whether it's the literal custard pie of the early comedies or not, it's still funny. It may be instead Mr. Chaplin's eating machine from MODERN TIMES. Or it may be something figurative -- a blow from fate. It's still a custard pie, and it's still funny."
The first preview of OUR RELATIONS was staged out of town at the Fox-Pomona Theater on June l9. A second known preview was held at the Stadium Theater one week later. Results and details in terms of preview cards of these and other early sneak previews are not known.
On July 9 OUR RELATIONS was previewed at the Uptown Theatre in Hollywood. This time, the trade press was invited. At least five notices were filed.
THE FILM DAILY published this review: "Slapstick laugh show of mistaken identities gives stars excellent roles. Expert comedians in the support.
"Laurel and Hardy's comedy of mistaken identities is a slapstick laugh show topped by a final gag that is a knockout. In this last sequence, the boys are cemented into separate curved bottom kettles and their swaying around the edge of a dock keeps one in hysterics. To audiences which like Laurel and Hardy's stuff, the picture should click strong and for the kids the show should be great entertainment. It can stand a bit of tightening and this can be well done, for there is plenty of hilarious material with which to work. Although Laurel and Hardy are the whole show, a cast of notable comedians works with the team. Included are Jimmy Finlayson, Sidney Toler, Daphne Pollard and Arthur Housman, with his drunk act. Alan Hale carries one of the few straight roles. Richard Connell and Felix Adler's screen story of W.W. Jacobs' original story with adaptation by Charles Rogers and Jack Jevne, is a series of gags which brings forth different degrees of laughter, ranging from snickers to howls. Under Harry Lachman's direction, the scenes are well done and the players come through with first rate performances. Rudolph Maté's photography is nice work throughout."
According to BOXOFFICE, "Here's a comedy riot from start to finish, replete with old-time slapstick technique to bring up the belly laughs. Taking full advantage of a good story, Laurel and Hardy time their laughs like a Max Schmeling punch and earn the right to be known as the laugh-champ team of filmdom."
The critic for THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER was not as enthusiastic: "OUR RELATIONS turns out to be a weak sister for Laurel and Hardy. Acknowledged, and deservedly so, the funniest team of comics on the screen today, story and direction sends the boys floundering through a morass of unfunny incidents. The only laughs in the feature are obtained from pieces of business seemingly ad-libbed in the typical Laurel and Hardy style.
"The screenplay is cumbersome and wordy, direction rather deliberate. The whole thing lacks spontaneity. A major job of cutting is called for, as sequences run far past the point of laughter. Photography by Rudolph Maté is a highlight, boasting compositions unusual in a comedy.
"Few of the supporting cast lend much beside their presence to the proceedings. Alan Hale and Arthur Housman, the latter doing his grand drunk, definitely score. The others are simply supers. The mystery is how Daphne Pollard got lost.
"A screen credit calls OUR RELATIONS a Stan Laurel production. The feeling is that Laurel did his level best to adapt the inadequate material at hand to his and Hardy's great comic talents. Certainly the team worked hard and valiantly only to be hampered by indecisive story values."
It is always curious when critics attending the same exact screening gauge the audible laugh response of a given audience differently. One hears "hysterics" and "howls," another notes "bellylaughs," so the reader might wonder and worry about the listening acuity of the reviewer for THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER. What screening did he attend?
MOTION PICTURE DAILY judged OUR RELATIONS positively: "Supplied with one of the best ideas yet devised for Laurel and Hardy, the team appears here as a double set of twins. At the preview the film drew more laughs than any of their recent pictures, and it should prove satisfactory entertainment wherever the pair are a good attraction.
"The comedy situation revolves around the team as sailors and marital martyrs. The laughs abound when the exchanging of wives begins, and one set of twins suffers in hilarious fashion for the indulgences and mistakes of the other brothers. The audience was kept busy sometimes trying to figure which was which.
"The best laugh sequences occur with Laurel, Hardy and the inebriated Arthur Housman, in a telephone booth, and when gangsters cement the comedians' feet in concrete bowls on the edge of a dock. The usual cake and pie-slinging characteristics prevail.
"Daphne Pollard and Betty Healy turn in good supporting work as the wives, and Sidney Toler is good as the irate ship's captain. Harry Lachman has directed with good judgement of pace and spacing of laughs."
-- by Richard W. Bann --