Midnight Patrol - Contemporary Film Criticism

Charles Barr: "Stan has a literal mind: he cannot grasp metaphor, or hidden complexities. When he accidentally slices through a phone cable, his remedy is to tie the two ends together....He never gets the hang of numbers at all. Their police car receives a radio message 'Calling car thirteen, calling car one-three.' Stan to Ollie: 'I thought he said thirteen.' "

William K. Everson: "A lesser but very amusing Laurel & Hardy....Almost a throwback to their 1930 days with its rather over-methodical pacing, THE MIDNIGHT PATROL lacks the stiffness and awkwardness of those early talkies, however, and builds steadily to the spectacularly violent slapstick of their final entry into the house amid splintering doors, collapsing floors and barrels of flour and pickles."


Actually they fall into a barrel of what reads "sauerkraut," not flour and pickles. In either case why would anyone have a huge barrelfull of sauerkraut, or pickles, in the basement? Is either that good? To have so much of the stuff?

While the very black climax (worthy of Buster Keaton) is sensational -- with the protagonists actually being murdered, and where else in the history of movies does that ever happen? -- the film falters once Stan and Ollie arrive at 24 Walnut Avenue. The pace slows, the humor is protracted and not as sharp. MIDNIGHT PATROL's first half is so funny that it's hard to sustain that increasing level of amusement. The kind of letdown experienced in reel two is exactly what Hal Roach tried to guard against, and spoke of so often.

"The farther along you go," Roach would explain of comedy construction, "and there's any kind of lull in the pacing, or the number and quality of gags, then the farther you have to fall, and the harder it becomes to get your audience back. The hardest thing to do with comedy is to pick it up again after the audience quiets down. We knew this, our directors were cautioned about it. The directors, Harold Lloyd, Charley Chase, Stan Laurel, they all understood the idea of building comedy steadily, but it wasn't easy to do, and we often lost the audience because we started so big with great opening gags."

When he had so much trouble with Laurel over the story Roach wrote for BABES IN TOYLAND (1934), the actor cited MIDNIGHT PATROL in support of his reluctance to make what nevertheless turned out to be a wonderful feature film. "We're not funny without derby hats," Laurel complained. "We cannot work without derby hats."

Perhaps they weren't as funny without derby hats, then again a lot of critics believe their best film is THE DEVIL'S BROTHER, also known as FRA DIAVOLO (1933). Anyway, THE MIDNIGHT PATROL is underrated and unsung, which now works in its favor whenever viewed because fans are often so pleasantly surprised.

With so much new interest in the work of LeRoy Shield and Marvin Hatley, one criticism frequently voiced today is that the incidental themes in MIDNIGHT PATROL are barely audible. Fans want to hear those delightful background music tunes. That too often they can't was the work of recording engineer Elmer Raguse, in charge of the editorial department, who was guilty of forever turning down the musical score when soundtracks were being mixed.

Leonard Maltin: "Many of Laurel & Hardy's later shorts have great possibilities, like THE MIDNIGHT PATROL, which casts them as policemen on their first night on the job, but this, and others, never reach their full potential."

And there's no disputing this is true. As mentioned, it was difficult to pay off the promise of that first reel. And as always, viewing pleasure is a function of expectations. THE MIDNIGHT PATROL isn't going to make fans forget BIG BUSINESS or HOG WILD, but it is surprisingly good. The fact that we take it for granted, or that it looks like it must have been easy to make, is the best evidence of its solid craftsmanship.

Randy Skretvedt: "This picture is a reworking of NIGHT OWLS in reverse: here Stan and Ollie are on the right side of the law, and they don't know they're breaking into the chief's house. Trying to get inside a building was a virtually inexhaustible source of gags for the team; the situation crops up from 1929's BACON GRABBERS to 1937's WAY OUT WEST, with a half-dozen others in between. No one else has ever been so thoroughly frustrated by a locked door."

Ernst Lubitsch was another who knew something about filming doors -- locked, open, and shut. His skill in this area was more subtle, and storied, but then, now or ever, few devices employed by any comedy director could generate more laughs from an audience than Laurel & Hardy in top form, in or out of uniform.

That there was a definite connection in Stan Laurel's mind between NIGHT OWLS and THE MIDNIGHT PATROL can be seen in some fan mail he answered. On June 10, 1963 he wrote to Leo Riemens in Holland and stated, "Regarding MIDNIGHT PATROL, no, Dick Cramer didn't play the chief of police, that was Anders Randolph." For Mike Polacek, in 1957 he returned a MIDNIGHT PATROL still photo and wrote the name "Anders Randolph" across the chest of Frank Brownlee. In fact Mr. Randolph played the chief of police in NIGHT OWLS, not MIDNIGHT PATROL. There the part was enacted by Frank Brownlee, who'd been the boys' boss before in DO DETECTIVES THINK? (1927).

Brownlee also played the prison warden in THE SECOND HUNDRED YEARS (1927), the sea captain in SAILORS, BEWARE! (1927), the major in WITH LOVE AND HISSES (1927), and the drill instructor in PACK UP YOUR TROUBLES (1932). In 1948 Brownlee died at age 74, having appeared in several important silent films including BEGGARS OF LIFE (1928), and scores of program westerns -- naturally as a heavy -- through 1943.

-- by Richard W. Bann --