Way Out West - Pressbook Stories

WAY OUT WEST depends on pantomime to a greater degree than previous Laurel & Hardy films. A reporter visiting the studio during production wanted to know why. Between scenes he joshed Stan Laurel, "So you won't talk, eh?" As quoted in the pressbook, Mr. Laurel explained why, "In preparing this original western screenplay we determined on a plot to permit the elimination of as much talking as possible and at the same time not sacrifice story. In our characters we are dumber than usual and Hardy dominates to the point that every time I start to speak he stops me with one of those, 'That's all right, I know' sallies.

"It's not a question that 'I won't talk,' rather that we want to find out how the theatre-going public will take to our picture with less talk and more action. In the days of silent pictures we naturally had to depend on pantomime and developed situations for our comedy. There has been some criticism that since the advent and perfection of sound there has been too much talking in motion pictures. Maybe this is true and we will experiment and try to find out.

"Of course we have dialogue, songs and a musical score in WAY OUT WEST. We simply curtailed wherever we could. I am not an advocate of silent pictures and have a full appreciation of the advancement made in film entertainment with the recording of sound."

The WAY OUT WEST shooting script is full of amusing Hal Roach comedy shorthand, such as calling for Finlayson to "give Babe the one-eye." The pressbook carries a related story: "When James Finlayson is preparing for a scene before the camera, it sounds like a quarterback on the gridiron. The director starts out, 'Give 'em 69 and 92 in this, Jim.' It seems that the character actor from the old school of silent comedies has all his actions and expressions numbered. Finlayson has been in so many Laurel & Hardy comedies that they know him like a book. The important number is l08 which calls for the extreme in tumbles and falls."

Scenarists and gag men spent more than a month developing the screenplay for WAY OUT WEST, but their job continued through principal photography, retakes and previewings. Everyone remained available for suggestions and consultation with Laurel and the director should inspiration strike or problems arise. The property department had to be constantly available to furnish whatever might be needed.

The transition into THE TRAIL OF THE LONESOME PINE occurred just the way it is depicted on screen. Using and inserting the song where the filmmakers did was a spontaneous decision that was developed then and there. Everyone was present on the honky-tonk set, between scenes. One of The Avalon Boys was strumming his guitar to pass time, prompting Babe Hardy to lift his lilting tenor voice and join in. This attracted positive attention, a short rehearsal was held, and then as W. C. Fields said in THE BANK DICK, "We're making motion picture history here."

The pressbook offered an account of how the swing dance episode was created: "The inimitable comedians scored a hit in BONNIE SCOTLAND with a novel dance routine but since then Oliver Hardy has reached a maximum of 303 pounds and there's more weight to his tripping the so-called light fantastic.

"The terpsichorean effort was an impromptu offering during a rehearsal. The script called for Laurel & Hardy to alight from an old stagecoach and enter a honky-tonk of the Gay Nineties vintage. The Avalon Four were on the porch rendering a song and the inseparable duo started improvising steps. It was so funny that the dance was included in the production.

"Both Laurel & Hardy have done some 'hoofing' in their long experience in vaudeville and on the screen. They know all the old routines and it was no trick for them to put in the steps. Their difficulty in WAY OUT WEST was that they had a footing of loose gravel , which, it must be admitted, does not favor the most artistic of ballroom dancing."

-- by Richard W. Bann --