Sons of the Desert - Location Shooting

The company left the studio for only one location, the supposed double bungalow exterior of Messrs. Laurel & Hardy -- but the exterior only, not the house itself. Throughout the film, they, their wives, and their alleged physician are all shown getting out of vehicles parked at the curb. Visible in the shot across the street, which proved to be Clarington Avenue, is a distinctive looking home; it was found and authenticated as the film's location in 1971 by a member of the San Diego tent of the Sons of the Desert organization. That residence is gone now, replaced by another structure. It first appeared that the home had been built in 1927 for M-G-M writer-producer Carey Wilson, but instead the owner turned out to be a Roland C. Wilson.

The duplex exterior depicted as belonging to Laurel & Hardy in the film, at 2220 and 2222 Fairview Avenue, was actually a set back at the studio. All they filmed on location, which was 3676 Clarington Avenue nearby M-G-M in the Palms district, was the front yard opposite the Wilson home. An apartment building stands there today in place of the home we never see in the film. So the houses on both sides of the street are gone now. As far as can be determined, neither pals of the principals, nor studio employees, lived in the immediate area. With one exception. Sennett and Roach gag man and assistant director, Clarence Hennecke (co-director of YES, YES NANETTE), resided at 3627 Clarington.

Working past one o'clock in the morning, the rooftop rain scenes were also shot back at the studio, in a controlled environment, although outdoors, and not inside on a soundstage. What's confusing is that stills exist showing the two playboys dressed in pajamas on the roof at night during a storm, which corresponding scenes were used in the film, and stills also exist showing them fully dressed, in the daytime, under sunshine, and on the roof, which represent scenes not part of the film. Nor are such daytime roof scenes reflected in the extant script. The daytime stills may or may not have been taken on top of the unseen residence at 3676 Clarington. Possibly these daytime photos were staged for scenes being rehearsed, and maybe shot, but later killed. What is certain is that the daytime roof shown in this particular set of stills, and the nighttime roof as seen in the motion picture, are not on top of the same structure! The boys were atop two different roofs.

As filmed, the miscreants slide down a drain pipe during the late night storm and directly into a rain barrel full of water. (Lots of water in this film "of the desert" -- barrels and buckets full, a dangerous ocean full, plus the rain.) So when ushered by the cop into Hardy's front door, Stan and Ollie are soaking wet. Somehow after crossing the threshold (where the boom microphone is visible at the top of the frame) their clothing is magically dry. We're not supposed to notice.

Nor, earlier, were we supposed to see above the set when the wives enter the Hardy household to answer the phone call from Charley Chase. In a low angle shot the ladies come through the door, turn on the lights, walk towards the phone, and the camera tilts up, but too far, revealing the soundstage beyond the top of the home interior set. It is possible that the correct 35mm aperture plate might mask this mistake in a movie theater, but it is there for all to see who are projecting film in the 16mm format.

Another continuity problem concerned the placement, color, and number of leis worn by both Stan and Ollie as they return home from the convention, hoping to prove they've been to Honolulu. Of course, who, would ever notice anything of this sort?

Whenever I did, and mentioned it positively as casually as possible to Hal Roach, he would smile back (although only half the time) and ask, "Does noticing that, or failing to notice that, make the scene any funnier? Or not?"

The prop newspaper Stan and Ollie discover, with the "Honolulu Liner Sinking!!" headline, must have been printed in quantity. Character actor Dick Elliott is shown reading the same paper eighteen months later in Our Gang's SPRUCIN' UP (1935). And SONS stills show Ollie at home, relaxing in his smoking jacket, reading a novel entitled WILD HONEY by Frederick Niven (Scottish author of HANDS UP!), which in the film is kept on a desk near the bowl of wax fruit. Stan picks it up for something to do right before his tearful confession. The same book had been used by Charley Chase in MR. BRIDE (1932). So evidently there was a dearth of reading material around the lot of fun -- possibly a carryover from Mack Sennett's fun factory where none of the writers could possess or consult books, because, as the boss barked, "There are no gags in books!"

The SONS convention parade consumes only a few feet of film, but cost plenty to stage. Apart from paying a thousand extras, right before the start of principal photography, studio executives decided the backlot street set exteriors were not "sufficiently modern" to reflect Chicago as they envisioned for their new Laurel & Hardy feature, then contemplated as FRATERNALLY YOURS. Instead of renting space at Metro or some other movie plant in the area, Roach studio manager L.A. French was put in charge of refurbishing three blocks, or 575 feet, of the so-called New York street. Construction of new modern buildings and store fronts was planned for ten days and an expenditure of $15,000. Four crews working six hour shifts finished the job in nine days. The cost of the addition, including decorations, asphalt and lighting actually totalled $25,000.

Reel four begins with a montage of parade scenes, showing conventioneers marching past people looking on. Only the last few scenes of this sequence were those shot on the studio backlot -- the ones picturing Laurel & Hardy. Most of the montage consists of then months-old stock footage captured in Santa Monica when that city's local Lodge of Elks held a state convention. The antlered herd is shown parading past Massion Drug Co., which was located near the studio on Centinela Avenue in Santa Monica, close to where the carnage in TWO TARS (1928) was filmed.

-- by Richard W. Bann --