Their Purple Moment - Contemporary Film Criticism

Leonard Maltin: "THEIR PURPLE MOMENT is Laurel & Hardy's first venture into the realm of marital comedy, the wives being, of course, suspicious shrews. The basis of this film was reused many times in later comedies, but no other film ever duplicated PURPLE MOMENT's key sight gag: Stan hiding his secret reserve of money from his wife in a portrait which hangs in their foyer. Before Ollie's disbelieving eyes, Stan actually opens the coat of the man in the picture to reveal a compartment inside his lapel!"


John McCabe: "(THEIR PURPLE MOMENT) offered the ultimate contrast: two very stupid husbands trying to outwit two crafty and shrewish wives. Such a theme is not new, and its success depends on implementing the basic contrarities. THEIR PURPLE MOMENT seen today is not anywhere near as funny as its stepchild, SONS OF THE DESERT, ... which had more footage in which to establish the characters of the wives. Nevertheless, the silent short contains authentic comedy."

William K. Everson: "THEIR PURPLE MOMENT is an average subject which depends too much on complicated plotting for there to be enough time for any areas to be explored thoroughly... The opening sight gag with the portrait is particularly pleasing because, like (Buster) Keaton's dive through the window into women's clothes in SHERLOCK, JR., it is a gag that is plausible as well as imaginative, and is done without trickery. Pleasing too is George Steven's happy plagiarism from WAY DOWN EAST -- his photography of the malicious gossip hurrying through the streets with her news matching exactly (Billy) Bitzer's travel shots of the equivalent gossip in (D.W.) Griffith's 1920 classic...Despite its flaws, it's an amusing subject."

Anthology filmmaker Robert Youngson must have thought it less so, since he delayed for 14 years excerpting THEIR PURPLE MOMENT until his final compilation, 4 CLOWNS (1970).

THEIR PURPLE MOMENT was handsomely made with solid production values. It was the tenth and last Laurel & Hardy entry on M-G-M's release schedule for the 1927-1928 season. It was also the final film featuring Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy to be issued under the Hal Roach All-Stars brand. Hereafter their new unit would command sufficient recognition to be marketed as a separate brand name. Laurel & Hardy were officially a team.

THEIR PURPLE MOMENT was their first domestic comedy, and hardly a mistake. Both boys were pitted against petty, vindictive, domineering wives, a rich area for comedy material not previously mined. Variations on this premise led to more marital entanglements later in WE FAW DOWN, BLOTTO, SONS OF THE DESERT, others. Related strands in the plotline were picked up again for subjects like BELOW ZERO and CHICKENS COME HOME.

THEIR PURPLE MOMENT also marked the initial Laurel & Hardy entry, of many, to be directed by Jimmy Parrott, younger brother of Charley Chase. James Gibbons Parrott had been at Hal Roach Studios before anyone else on or in THEIR PURPLE MOMENT except for H. M. Walker and Hal Roach himself. Parrott began as a gag writer and guaranteed extra on the Harold Lloyd comedies in 1917. He can be spotted in Stan Laurel's first solo series for Roach in 1918. As the star of his own series in 1923, according to ads in the Hollywood trade papers, Jimmy Parrott and Stan Laurel were to alternate in one-reel comedies released every single week. Away from The Lot of Fun, Jimmy Parrott and Stan Laurel were also fishing pals -- many photos exist of their angling outings in and around Santa Catalina Island.

In the first half of the Roaring Twenties, Jimmy Parrott soared as a star. Actually he was a prolific star, not a great star. First billed as Paul Parrott, he made scores of slapstick shorts more in line with the crude knockabout of Mack Sennett than the changing, more sophisticated style of the Hal Roach Studios. Which was one reason his series was phased out, to be replaced by single reel comedies featuring his own brother, Charley. They exchanged jobs. As Charley Parrott left directing and supervising chores to perform slapstick as Charley Chase, brother Jimmy shed his pancake makeup and walrus mustache to work behind the scenes in a canvas director's chair. Parrott had been piloting the Charley Chase two-reelers when Hal Roach assigned him to helm THEIR PURPLE MOMENT.

There was another reason Jimmy Parrott stopped acting. He was an epileptic, prone to seizures. Hal Roach was increasingly afraid of jeopardizing an entire unit and a brand name over this health issue. A director was easily replaced. A star was not. "Jimmy was a nice guy," Hal Roach explained in 1972, "but he was not a well guy, I didn't want to make him a big comedian because I was afraid the epilepsy would come out. Why make it so hard on the guy when he could serve just as well writing and directing? No one knew it, but he had trouble later on with drugs, too. When he was healthy, I would say Jimmy Parrott was one of the very best directors we had."

Anita Garvin had no specific recollections of playing that hungry, stiletto-wielding siren in THEIR PURPLE MOMENT, but did recall her fondness for Jimmy Parrott. "Everybody liked him," she said. "It's funny that Stan and Babe did not socialize much with one another, but each socialized separately with Jimmy! Eventually we all learned he had these emotional problems, a nervous condition from the war or something, I never knew for sure. But he always had a warm smile on his face, he had a gentle way with actors, and we all respected him. I loved working with Jimmy, which I couldn't say for some directors!"

-- by Richard W. Bann --