Blotto - Comtemporary Film Criticism

William K. Everson: "Still slow, but a decided improvement on its predecessors, BLOTTO is a generally quite satisfactory exploitation of a single situation that the comedians were very fond of re-using and embellishing.... A generally underplayed comedy in which the only traditional slapstick sight gag is the fadeout wrap-up of the collapsing automobile."

Charles Barr: "Another very rich film, not only in the drinking scene but in their subterfuges at the start: Ollie is on the telephone, Stan sending himself a telegram but not being quite logical enough to carry through the deception consistently."

John McCabe: "Babe Hardy's genius as an actor is seen countless times in their films but never more tellingly than in BLOTTO....The great moment in the film comes when Ollie takes the first two drinks of (Anita's bitter concoction)."

Leonard Maltin: "Laurel & Hardy didn't have much luck with their wives on-screen. They always married women who didn't understand them, or their friendship. That's certainly the case in BLOTTO.

"It's often been said that laughter is contagious. And indeed one of the first best-selling comedy records, back in the days of the old 78 RPM discs, was something called THE LAUGHING RECORD, a collection of people caught in the convulsions of laughter. That's what happens to Stan and Ollie in this movie. Only they think it's due to the bootleg liquor that they're drinking; we know better."

As mentioned, BLOTTO is one of the very few Laurel & Hardy comedies with a decidedly dated plot element -- bootleg liquor.

After decades of crusading by clergymen, factory owners and so-called temperance groups, on January l6, l9l9, just after World War I ended, the United States Congress ratified the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution prohibiting the manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors. The Prohibition Era went into effect exactly one year later and lasted until l933 when it was repealed by the Twenty-First Amendment. The "noble experiment" failed because the public was indifferent towards violators, making meaningful enforcement impossible.

So at the time BLOTTO was made consumption of alcohol was forbidden by law. Most citizens, however, regarded Prohibition as unwarranted interference with their personal freedoms. And it was actually a mark of distinction to possess "a bottle" during this period, as Mr. and Mrs. Laurel did.

Throughout Prohibition everyone at Hal Roach Studios knew where to get a bottle, or two, or more. They went to see Tony Campanaro, out at the location ranch on Robertson Boulevard. Campanaro managed that property, and its many animals used in movies, for the studio. He also managed the "bootlegging." Hal Roach objected only when someone brought their wine and liquor back to the main lot.

What Hal Roach particularly remembered about BLOTTO was the reaction of the preview audience when Anita Garvin poured the contents of that liquor bottle into the sink. "People cried out 'No!' back to the screen," Roach recalled with a smile. "That scene produced a roar all over the theater."

Roach stated he never once saw Stan Laurel inebriated, at the studio or otherwise. Charley Chase? Many times. But Stan Laurel, never. After a screening of BLOTTO with Anita Garvin in l984 she said, "You know, it's funny, I knew Stan half his life and I can't remember but one time when he had a drink in his hand. It wasn't at Roach. It was on a picture for Joe Rock. Mae Laurel had just been paid off and sent back to Australia. Stan wasn't laughing like we just saw in BLOTTO, but he was celebrating, and he did get drunk. He was genial drinker; funny like always. He had definitely been over-served!"

To begin with, Messrs. Laurel and Hardy versus their wives was always an indefective model. So was Anita Garvin, at her beautiful best in this film. The inexplicably sumptuous Art Deco sets (devised by Margaret Roach in one of her rare involvements with studio operations) were visually fascinating to explore, particularly in contrast with the usual interiors where Laurel and Hardy sought refuge from a hostile world.

The 1930-1931 Hal Roach release slate represented a prime period for Laurel & Hardy, just as it did for the studio's comedy units featuring Our Gang, The Boy Friends, and Charley Chase. Compared to its immediate predecessor in the Laurel & Hardy canon, ANOTHER FINE MESS, or to Chase's THE PIP FROM PITTSBURG, The Boy Friends' AIR TIGHT, and Our Gang's TEACHER'S PET, BE BIG may well be a lesser effort. But compared to all the other competing short subjects made then around Hollywood, or for that matter to any single episode of a situation comedy series produced so far throughout the history of television, BE BIG is indeed a remarkably successful effort among those films designed to place audiences at deep ease through comfortable laughter - the laughter of recognition and superiority at a safe distance.

Certainly there are more reasons for repeated enjoyment of BE BIG, critics notwithstanding. Stan Laurel's vacant, innocent stares absolutely pierce the comedy veil. The exasperation of Oliver Hardy leaves him delightfully all in a heap. Certainly is big of him. And as mentioned, the wall-to-wall incidental music score provided primarily by LeRoy Shield is nothing short of rocking, excitement, and slouching.

Plus H.M. "Beanie" Walker's dialogue is textbook definitive. Look at and listen to BE BIG to see and hear how many spoken lines have quietly crept into the daily conversation of every Laurel & Hardy fan, starting with Oliver Hardy's plaintive request of his partner, "Why don't you do something to help me?"

Anyone dismissing BE BIG is only cheating, or chiselling him or herself. As Oliver Hardy himself says, just as the wives are about to ring the door chimes. "What could be worse?"

-- by Richard W. Bann --