Way Out West - Period Reviews
THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: "This one has all it takes to please the Laurel & Hardy fans. It is quite a few degrees funnier than the more recent L & H features and will sit comfortably on any bill where there is room for boisterous laughs.
MOTION PICTURE HERALD: "...The amusement provided is nothing but unalloyed nonsensical foolishness. It blends the best pantomime technical values of the silent days with the modern idea of fun making. It gives Laurel & Hardy full opportunity to present their full talents in a way that causes continual laughter while they are on the screen. It further permits them to introduce quite a bit of up to date novelty; once in a swing dance and twice as song birds, rendering THE TRAIL OF THE LONESOME PINE and I WANT TO BE IN DIXIE.
"From an analytical standpoint, the story provided for the fun makers isn't anything that will set the world afire. It's just a vehicle on which they can hang a lot of gagging, stunting and be artistically clownish as they indulge in a potpourri of hilarious farce. The pace is rapid fire. There are no letdowns in the round of merriment for audiences who like to laugh.
"Wholesome fun in every way, a film full of glee for the youngsters, it is also one of real pleasure for grownups. Previewed at Grauman's Chinese Theatre. The audience just laughed and laughed."
BOXOFFICE: " ... a hilarious comedy, probably the best the (team) has made, one sure to be a money-grabber in all markets ... at no time does the picture drag, despite its necessarily simple story."
FILM DAILY: "Loaded with slapstick gags that bring forth boisterous laughter, this Laurel & Hardy feature comedy is one of the best of their recent works. A most entertaining innovation is both Laurel & Hardy singing and dancing. For the type of comedy that they do, their vocalizing and stepping are most appropriate and should meet with the hearty approval of their fans. The footage is one gag after another and things move very quickly. The style of comedy that made the boys famous in two-reelers is used and the piece is so full of laughs that the end comes too quickly and one wishes there were more. Laurel & Hardy are swell, and their singing and dancing open new fields for them."
VARIETY: "Latest Laurel-Hardy opus just about extinguishes the good results achieved in OUR RELATIONS, previous effort. WAY OUT WEST will do most of its pioneering on the lower side of double-bill teams. Picture may gain a share of patronage through the comedy team's showing made in preceding releases, but after that it will be tough sledding.
"Manner in which this comedy falters and stumbles along is probably due both to formula direction and scripting. Three are credited with the scenario and two for the original story. Seemingly too many took a hand; plot reads that way.
"In general pattern the latest Laurel & Hardy entry follows closely the old methods used on their shorts. There's too much driving home of gags. Several of them are new or are given new twists, but the ponderous way in which they are put over washes out their expected effect.
"Laurel & Hardy sing and dance in this one, both to neat returns. They fail to follow up the advantage achieved in their preceding film by not talking again or working their chatter ineffectually. Instead, this looks like a series of gags loosely strung together.
"For the Laurel-Hardy fans, who howl at anything the pair does, they may appear as comical as ever. They wear their usual costumes, despite the cowboy-western surroundings.
"Stan Laurel is given partial credit for being producer, which probably proves that he is best as a comic. Several smart lines creep into the sparsity of dialogue, but most of it is fundamental wordage."
So VARIETY didn't care for it.
Best of the Hollywood trade papers has always been VARIETY. The writing was (and still is) sharp. The standards were high.On this particular critique, which appeared in the weekly edition of the paper, the reviewer (in New York) was east of the mark. He missed it. (The review published in the daily edition of VARIETY, out of Los Angeles, not excerpted here, was favorable.) In fairness, despite the other glowing notices quoted, generally Laurel & Hardy had been withstanding some critical broadsides like this one for years. VARIETY's dismissal of WAY OUT WEST was not an isolated misjudgement.
Still while it is easier to assess lasting entertainment value with the benefit of hindsight, it remains true that as a litmus test of film critics or polls, any list of the hundred greatest films ever made -- "A," "B," "C," "X" or otherwise -- which does not include WAY OUT WEST to represent Laurel & Hardy should be disregarded as misguided, uninformed, and perhaps censurable.
THE SPECTATOR (Basil Wright): "WAY OUT WEST is a triumph. In the earlier films counterplots and tenors interfered with the purer aspects of comedy, but here, save for the few opening minutes establishing the toughery of Brushwood Gulch, nothing impedes their steady progress from disaster to disaster.
"There is no need to re-analyze their particular characters, which every decent moviegoer knows as well as those of his own family, but one may well note that they are the last of the great gagsters. Everything in WAY OUT WEST is built up on simple but beautiful gags, most of them probably by Laurel, who is the producer, and is now reported to be supervising Wild Westerns as well (what vistas of future joy!). Gags of incident, gags of dialogue, gags of sound; gags of Keystone vintage and gags brand new from the inexhaustible bowler; the flaming finger, the ritual eating of Hardy's hat, the vast dent in mother earth where Hardy fell from the roof, the vamp tickling Laurel into hysteria, the mule sneering from the bedroom window, the poignant cry of 'Oh, me apple,' as the golden chain tightens round Hardy's neck, Laurel's apoplectic changes of voice as he sings the poignant ballad of the Lonesome Pine -- all these, and many more, are the life blood of the picture. There is even a continuity gag; for Hardy, divested of all but decent covering in the search for the locket, departs into an inner room and gets dressed in the twinkling of an eye. Film technique, children, can do these things -- ask Aunt Eisenstein -- but Laurel, unguarded innocent, enquires, 'How did you get dressed so quickly?' 'None of your business,' replies Hardy, sublimely summing up the history of the Avant Garde movement in four pregnant words.
"They are indeed, in spite of the meteoric Marxes, the true iconoclasts of the movies, for their technique is exactly that of the highbrows, the pioneers, and the experimentalists....Only the ineffable Donald Duck can surpass them in the surprises which arise when the more remote possibilities of movie are exploited as simple and everyday incidents....
"Laurel & Hardy are unique in that the warmth of a surrounding crowd is not necessary for the appreciation of their humor. In the cold solitude of a private theatre one laughs as much, or even more; and one picks up many gems which are lost in the Empire's gale of cachinnation. The intimate crunching noises, for instance, as Laurel chews a portion of Hardy's hat, Hardy's murmured apologies to the ladies as his clothes are gradually removed, and even the finer overtones of Laurel's hysterical laughter, can only be appreciated in complete solitude....
"If there is any criticism to make, it can only be couched in a gnawing fear that -- like Chaplin and THE GOLD RUSH -- the great twin brethren can never equal the success of WAY OUT WEST. It is a film I would choose to see on my deathbed."
Without fear of contradiction it would seem the famed documentary filmmaker Basil Wright was offering a dissenting opinion vis-a-vis the grousing voiced in the otherwise reliable VARIETY.
General circulation newspapers, even those serving hard-bitten readers like those sated New Yorkers, were favorably impressed. Reported THE NEW YORK MORNING TELEGRAPH: "There must be a tremendous number of people who like Laurel & Hardy....The Rialto, at Broadway and Forty-second street, is the showroom for the latest Laurel & Hardy picture, a little tootsie called WAY OUT WEST. The customers there are packed into every seat, they stand six deep behind the orchestra, and on occasion they even wait patiently with a line extending all the way into the street in order to get in. And they laugh -- how they laugh! Bellows, guffaws, riotous shrieks and hysterical whoops of laughter all the time. My, my. Such goings on!
"The cause for all this glee, all this business, may be ascertained at first glance. Mr. Hardy falls into a creek, emerging with a look of profound resignation on his dimpled face. Mr. Laurel clicks his thumb to ignite it and light a candle, causing great surprise all around. Mr. Hardy is lifted onto a balcony by a block and tackle maneuvered by a mule, and Mr. Laurel gets himself tickled by a blonde vamp. Maybe, written down in categorical order like this, these matters don't sound very funny, but I assure you that the customers at the Rialto Theatre had a very fine time indeed watching them take place on the screen."
Again, so much for one of VARIETY's two opinions.
THE NEW YORK AMERICAN: "There are no two ways about it. You like the Laurel who is Stan and the Hardy who is Ollie or you don't. Yesterday, where Seventh Avenue and Broadway meet Forty-second Street in Times Square we liked the two of them tremendously. They are obvious, but they are extremely funny, just the same.
"The audience at the Rialto -- and it is packed -- whooped it up, with Stan and Oliver, rip-roaring through their latest Hal Roach Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer feature comedy WAY OUT WEST. In the opinion of this department, it is their funniest, their fastest, and a new high in hilarity. Hooray for Laurel & Hardy and Hal Roach!"
THE NEW YORK TIMES (Frank Nugent): "Too many books are being written on the anatomy of humor and none on the humor of anatomy. If we ever get around to it, we intend to do a special chapter on the Messrs. Laurel and Hardy, who scampered into the Rialto yesterday in an irresponsible little slapstick called WAY OUT WEST. In it we should mention that they would not be funny if both were fat or both skinny; or if the cherubic Mr. Hardy could not arrange his dimples into a perfect pattern of pained resignation; or if the long-jawed Mr. Laurel was not, by the very cut of his jib, the model of a complete dolt.
"Nature meant them to be anatomically funny men, and there's nothing much anyone can do about nature, not even a script writer. WAY OUT WEST tries to go against it by withholding all but the merest hint of a plot, but anatomy overcomes that....We still sputter when Stan, who is expected to eat a derby hat on a bet, takes a tentative bite, smiles and reaches for the salt and pepper. It is anatomical humor, as agelessly and irresistibly comic as a little man with oversize pants or a big man wearing a baby's bonnet.
"One thing more: the picture reveals that Mr. L. and Mr. H. are song-and-dance men. They run through a brief routine in front of Jimmie Finlayson's frontier-town saloon just before turning over the deed to a gold mine to the wrong young woman. (Shucks; there we've gone and told the plot!)"
Frank Nugent's opinion about cowboy pictures counts for something. He went on to pen screenplays for some of the finest Hollywood westerns, several directed by his illustrious father-in-law, John Ford, including FORT APACHE (l948), SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON (l949) and possibly the single best of all westerns ever made by anyone, THE SEARCHERS (l956) with John Wayne. Even VARIETY liked that one.-- by Richard W. Bann --