Midnight Patrol - Pressbook Stories

While his staff of writers was preparing the script for what became THE MIDNIGHT PATROL, Hal Roach was in Manhattan, as reported in the June 10, 1933 issue of MOTION PICTURE DAILY, "in shirt sleeves, feet up on desk and awaiting a date with (Loew's chairman) Nick Schenck a few minutes ahead.

" 'Any time an exhibitor books a short,' Roach was pontificating, 'he commits himself to giving it a real ride -- that is, if he's the right kind of an exhibitor. If it's worth booking, it's worth playing and by that I don't mean turning it over to the operator to grind through the projection machine as so much celluloid.' "

Click here to view the pressbook.


The 'Boss' meant theatres should read and be guided by their pressbooks, in fully exploiting all pictures on any given entertainment program, not just the feature film attraction. Shrewd theatre managers ought to advertise and play up the short subjects, too. Put the titles or at least the stars' names up on the marquee out front. Mount the one-sheet posters outside as a lure for passersby to see. Create an interior display with the lobby cards or insert posters. Convert the pressbook's written ideas for suggested stunt-type promotions within the immediate neigborhood. Circulate still photos and stories to newspapers.

In other words make the most of the drawing power of selected short subjects star names, like Laurel & Hardy, Charley Chase, Our Gang, and thereby maximize "your seat-selling and business-building potential," as Metro publicity put it time and again.

Specifically, here, with respect to THE MIDNIGHT PATROL, M-G-M publicists were reminding exhibitors they should exploit the commercial name value of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, because they "are as popular as any picture stars you play."

To help promote MIDNIGHT PATROL, National Screen Service in New York offered a "special talking trailer measuring 50 feet." Thus, if booked, the ad would run for little more than half-a-minute on movie screens following the feature film. According to the pressbook, "these trailers combine the most effective use of selling titles and scene footage from the picture itself. There is no better way of selling Laurel & Hardy to your audiences in advance! Rental cost per trailer $1.50."

And ... Sold! ... Consider any such prevues of coming attractions, still available, on this or any other Hal Roach short subject, just sold. So sold. Pack it. Ship it. Sold.

It's a safe bet many film collectors would be willing, even today, to pay at least twice that $1.50 rental fee, and perhaps as high as ten times such a sum, in order to purchase a 16mm or 35mm print of that very movie trailer for MIDNIGHT PATROL, in spite of its short length. Some might care to pay, one might venture to say, possibly, even more money than that. Really, could be a safe bet.

None of these short subjects advertising trailers, however, are known to survive. In the words of Frank Terry, "How awful." So far no exhibitor, or projectionist (the likeliest candidates to have set aside one of these prints), or their descendants, have come forth to cash in and present such a shorts prevue for preservation. The rental inventory of trailers returned to National Screen Service, following booking dates, was scrapped, long ago, for the raw materials content at the outbreak of World War II.

Sadly we can only imagine how much fun this particular prevue was, with its splashy graphics and hyperbole designed to induce moviegoers not to miss the theatre's next exciting coming attraction, including, among the selected short subjects, those two flatfoot cruisers, and capering coppers, Stan Laurel, and Oliver Hardy, in a cargo of joy, and a merry ride too, THE MIDNIGHT PATROL! ... Loaded with laughter! Coming soon! Don't miss it!

Black and white still photo reproductions of both the 27 x 41 inches one-sheet "now playing" poster, and the 11 x 14 lobby title card, thankfully do exist and are unusually fine examples of M-G-M theatre poster art.

Except for providing the set of 8 x 10 black and white still photo negatives (anywhere from approximately 15 to 30 in number for shorts), Hal Roach Studios had nothing whatever to do with advertising items created for the outside of movie theatres, the inside lobby displays, or for newspapers. Selling the picture was the responsibility of the distributor, M-G-M, not the production company, Hal Roach Studios. Metro created and manufactured all the advertising accessories offered to exhibitors through the pressbook.

That's also the reason rare 35mm exhibition prints of previews of coming attractions never came back to Roach, since they hadn't been made there. When they were returned, their destination was National Screen Service in New York, not Hal Roach Studios in Culver City.

So at the end of the run, the used trailers were either destroyed on purpose to save the cost of shipping them back (since like the "paper" accessories, they were regarded as little more than disposable advertising), or they were returned to the nearest Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer regional exchange office, or directly to National Screen Service.

Why the Roach plant nevertheless did not ask for and keep a file copy of each trailer in its vault was a question no one, it seems, ever pondered. Since no one has ever provided a satisfactory answer. Certainly storage space was not a consideration.

I am not sure Hal Roach even understood the foundation for the question when it was posed.

Few saw the future. Certainly Hal Roach did, insofar as trends in production, popular tastes, and exhibition were concerned. In so many ways, Roach was ahead of the curve until he died, on the sorry day Bill Clinton was elected president of the United States. Like virtually all of his peers, however, Roach failed to see the value of securing, maintaining, preserving and exploiting his own film library throughout the proliferation of new media, and new generations, which clearly offered fresh audiences for great films of the past. At age twenty, fifty, or eighty, Roach always preferred to focus on creating something new, and going forward, rather than dating himself by looking over his shoulder for something to reissue out of his past. It was no different for all the pioneering movie moguls and filmmakers of Hollywood's golden age.

Most present day movie paper collectors (of posters, pressbooks, stills, lobby cards, etc.), as well as art critics, do agree that M-G-M's artistic style of illustrating ads was not very appealing. The graphics and drawings may well have been effective for their designed purpose, but the Metro house style is uniformly not attractive or desirable as art, with the exception of most (but not all) of the stunning graphics and caricatures created by Al Hirschfeld, such as for the rare and highly prized ANOTHER FINE MESS or DEVIL'S BROTHER multicolor lithograph one-sheet posters. Seen in person, these posters are truly spectacular, and worth the mid-range five-figure sums they have brought in auctions. Hal Roach lived to see the beginnings of this phenomenon, and was understandably amazed by it.

M-G-M distributed the finest film product, but too often relied on the sloppiest, cheap-looking, dashed-off promotional artwork. On a proportional basis, the poverty row production studios like Monogram, Majestic or Tiffany seemed to invest more heavily in the art for their advertising accessories in order to fool potential boxoffice customers into thinking that the same kind of cost and care went into producing the films being touted. In fact the two types of expenditures varied inversely. M-G-M preferred to rely on just its reputation and trademarks and star names as the important indicators that quality entertainment was being offered. That this strategy did work doesn't make these lithographed enticements any more "collectible" today.

The nicely done key illustration in the MIDNIGHT PATROL campaign shows officers Laurel & Hardy in their patrol car, which bares only the abbreviation for "police department" on the front license plate. In today's film parlance the initials "PD" stand for something quite different -- public domain. Which MIDNIGHT PATROL certainly is not!

From the pressbook: "Laurel & Hardy take pride in announcing that they are a couple of radio policemen in their latest Hal Roach-M-G-M comedy, THE MIDNIGHT PATROL, which comes to the ... Theatre starting next ....

"With brand new uniforms, shiny buttons and badges, kings of all they survey, they are hopeful that all the undisputed honors and acclaims held by any and all police officers for bravery and conduct under fire will merit their regard and esteem."

Ollie's badge number is 82 (which is 28 backwards), while Stan's is 29 -- neither having any apparent significance. Nor is patrolman Laurel out of uniform wearing a bow tie, according to testimony supplied by the esteemed Bill Cassara of the Monterey County Sheriff's Department, not coincidentally the birthplace of Edgar Kennedy, who so proudly portrayed Kennedy the Cop in several outstanding Laurel & Hardy and Our Gang comedies. Deputy Cassara, who knows well all the living children and grandchildren of Kennedy the Cop, was the founder, in 1984, of the Midnight Patrol Tent of Monterey, California, where -- be well advised to cover more bets -- the former mayor of nearby Carmel, Clint Eastwood (himself an authority on law and order), is not related to Stan Laurel, despite persistent rumors to the contrary.

What Deputy Cassara observed, however, about the regulation outfits of policemen Laurel & Hardy, was the so-called Sam Browne belts. One doesn't see these anymore. The belts were named for a British army general who lived from 1824 to 1901. They would rest on one shoulder, cross the chest diagonally, and also circle the waist. Sam Browne belts were abandoned in the 1950s, for good reason. "Police officers came to call these things suicide straps," Deputy Cassara explains, "because suspects would grab onto them in any kind of struggle and you would be unable to maneuver and subdue your adversary. It was suicide to wear them; so they were suicide straps."

Incidentally it has been Deputy Cassara's experience that projecting a l6mm print of THE MIDNIGHT PATROL for any gathering of police officers, such as at a police academy or any other law enforcement organization, the picture has never failed to bring howls of deep laughter. Cops are the best audience for THE MIDNIGHT PATROL, a film where two alleged officers of the law, if not order, merely discourage criminals, but arrest the chief of police! Cops find this notion delicious!

And as this was the Depression, where so many qualified people in America could not find any kind of employment, one wonders who performed the background check and hired Stan and Ollie as guardians of the peace, "to protect and serve." Who did that? Ben Turpin? Just how desperate was this municipality to hire these two?

Yet for balance on this matter, with all due respect to police departments everywhere, it was incumbent to cross the continent and consult the king of all constables, the dictator of all deputies, the prince of all peace officers, the patrone of all patrolmen, the director of all detectives, the commandant of all coppers, and the foreman of all flatfoots, the famous and renowned, all-knowing Phil Serling, forty year veteran, lieutenant, retired, Onondaga County Sheriff's Department. Also, Impresario, Iconoclast, Chairman, and Founder of the Syracuse Cinephiles Society, which operates the single most respected, and best attended, classic films festival in the world, known far and wide, as The Cinefest. Where from around the globe, cineastes meet, and compete for the best seats, to feast on the film treats assembled from the most distinguished film archives and private collections of classic films and rarities that exist anywhere on the planet.

After careful thought, and upon reflection, it is the considered opinion of Dr. Serling, that "MIDNIGHT PATROL is a riot. But the prowl cars are too clean -- they couldn't possibly stay that clean. Also the radio call boxes would never have room for so much food the way they showed. Now, the timing of the comedy is impeccable, really it is, but looking at the film as a police officer, the whole thing is ridiculous. It's plain ridiculous!...Yes, I do display a life-size cutout of Laurel & Hardy in the picture window of my living room. No, sauerkraut is not unusually appealing to all police officers. The barrelfull in my basement is not nearly so large."

There you have it.

-- by Richard W. Bann --