Blotto - Period Reviews

JUDGE (Pare Lorentz): "I am late getting around to Laurel and Hardy. I always suspect all clichés. I have never joined the Amos 'n' Andy school and I do not belong to the now deceased Moran and Mack league. However, without a doubt, the two reel comedies of Laurel and Hardy are the best directed and funniest movies being made today. The director, James Parrott, has developed a peculiar, methodical, simple routine for his comedy team. The last one I saw, BLOTTO, had very few gags and not much story. But the gags were pulled so deliberately and with such finesse, I wonder that Mr. Parrott does not establish a new school of movie direction."

When this critique was first excerpted by John McCabe forty years ago, he explained the reviewer had no way of knowing that the principal force behind the scenes was really Stan Laurel, in effect directing the directors of Laurel & Hardy comedies. Never by force, always in a spirit of harmony. Gag man and director Charley Rogers told McCabe that Laurel was, by nature, "a polite man and a gentle fellow, and those two qualities always come over, in front of the camera and behind it. He was the director's conscience."

Pare Lorentz was an important critic. He became an advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and a distinguished documentary filmmaker himself. His assessment of Moran and Mack was accurate. And while it was true that Amos 'n' Andy did not succeed in films, they did triumph in theaters every time movie programs were suspended so that filmgoers could listen to broadcasts of radio's most popular series, AMOS 'N' ANDY. Even Laurel & Hardy acknowledged this other comedy team with a line of dialogue in PARDON US, and later the hilarious AMOS 'N' ANDY television series was shot at Hal Roach Studios.

It should be noted this and the following three trade paper reviews are all excerpted from critiques of the l930 release, not the l937 reissue.

THE FILM DAILY: "Plenty of fun. The Laurel and Hardy team again puts over a fast one. They have turned out a piece of comedy that has laughs galore....This should prove capital entertainment."

MOTION PICTURE NEWS: "M-G-M -- Roach All Talker, great comedy stuff. Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in 30 minutes of fun. There's a laugh every second, it seems. The pair is at its best....James Parrott directed. Use as a novelty short, that's all."

VARIETY: "A nice, easy laughing comedy, much more legitimate than Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy have made for some time. It will please any audience. One or two real low down bits are done so well the true intent of at least one will escape almost any house, but still remains funny. It's your old friend, the seltzer bottle, once more.

"Hardy does the more and better work in this, mostly entirely pantomimic by himself. He is gotten out of his home at night through advice per a phone call from Laurel, with Hardy's wife overhearing the phone conversation from an extension.

"James Parrott directed without costing a laugh. Anna (sic) Garvin is featured on the slides as the wife. Victor recorded on Western Electric equipment.

"BLOTTO is the English expression for stewed."

So much for vintage film criticism when the reviewer, possibly stewed himself, does not know who Anita Garvin is, and what's worse cannot tell Stan Laurel from Oliver Hardy (Bill Everson made a similar mistake in his text, referring to Anita Garvin, whom he thought was Dorothy Christie, as "Mrs. Hardy"). Possibly the writer (later the editor of VARIETY, Sime Silverman) was fooled by the boys' unique marital set-up. BLOTTO is the only film in which Stan is married, but Ollie is not. What's more, Stan has three wives in BLOTTO -- a merry man was he.

Studio still photographer Bud "Stax" Graves took full advantage of this circumstance in a series of publicity photos. One ran in the February 8, l930 issue of EXHIBITORS HERALD-WORLD with this caption: "A bigamistic illusion. There are wives and 'wives.' It all depends on the quotation marks. The three lovely creatures shown above with Stan Laurel, are not his wives but his 'wives.' Cinematically speaking, they were married because the Roach-M-G-M comedies starring Laurel and Hardy are being made in three languages, so Georgette Rhodes was Stan's better half in the French version, Anita Garvin in the American, and Linda Loredo in the Spanish, of a new film." The title of which was apparently unavailable at press time.

Off-screen Stan Laurel was still happily married to Lois Neilson, probably never imagining he had another three wives and seven more marriage ceremonies to look forward to. Or not. Which offers another subtext to consider while watching his marital discord as portrayed so wonderfully in BLOTTO.

On-screen the icy, regal countenance of beautiful Anita Garvin provided the penultimate mate and connubial opponent for Stan Laurel. For BLOTTO's climax, Stan and Ollie's hysterical paroxysms of laughter are finally broken in a priceless moment when Anita confronts them, calmly, dead-serious, and armed for decisive action.

"If you will forgive me," Anita Garvin laughed heartily in l98l, "or even if you won't, I think that scene in BLOTTO is one of the greatest ever. Bar none. I'm sorry. Really. I love that scene. What marvelous comedy -- I mean I'm talking about Stan and Babe, not me! Stan and Babe laughing! I never get tired of watching those two laugh like that. I laugh so hard myself every time I see it, especially Stan, the way he's holding his sides, throwing his head back. You know, it's contagious.

"Even when we were filming, I had all I could do to play that scene with a straight face, much less look so stern and ready to kill poor Stan. Actually I see (BLOTTO) today and I think I overplayed that scene in the club. On a theater screen your expression and your thoughts -- even in a medium shot -- are magnified many times over. I didn't have to play it as broad as I did. Too late to fix now! And it was too late to fix even then because we did so many scenes in either one or two takes. We were proud of that.

"We shot a lot at night on that one. Like the finale on the street. That was done on the back lot. I fired the shotgun, the crew pulled the wires, and the car came apart beautifully. The miracle was, we did it in one take. Everybody who worked for that man Hal Roach knew his or her job, and was proud of it.

"Something funny happened the first day we were shooting inside the house, which was just a set on Stage 2. George Stevens was the cameraman. Stan and I were running our lines about the telephone, and who was it, you know. Babe. Suddenly Stan's expression became a blank stare back at me. He dropped his character and focused on looking at my hair. It was a Vaseline hair-do. I had slicked my hair back with Vaseline to highlight the black color and the heat of the lights was causing it to steam! You should have seen Stan's hair stand on end looking at me!"

-- by Richard W. Bann --