Midnight Patrol - Music Cue Sheet
Incidental music score consisted of these compositions:
One might imagine Charlie Chaplin believed he was offering the final word, and words, on the superiority of silent films over talkies when he scripted the proverb, "Actions speak louder than words," for THE GREAT DICTATOR (1941). With the advent of sound, in their own way, Laurel & Hardy promoted visual comedy too, and continued to rely on action over spoken humor until they retired.
Being a remake of the silent short HATS OFF, their comedy THE MUSIC BOX fell back on pantomime more than other early sound comedies to tell its story and generate laughs. And as all their silents did, THE MUSIC BOX opened up with one of H. M. Walker's gag text titles. There was even a narrative title card used in the middle of reel two.
There was one other key distinguishing feature from Laurel & Hardy talkies made up to this point. Just as dialogue was kept to an absolute minimum -- and even more than usual -- so, too, was incidental background music minimized. There was a reason for that, which was evidently lost on those who, during the mid-1980s, both colorized the picture, and tampered with the soundtrack of THE MUSIC BOX by adding inauthentic musical themes to serve as an incidental score.
When this work was being done, Hal Roach no longer held any financial stake in the company bearing his name. In certain instances he could see the justification for investing the picture portion of selected subjects with tinted, bright hues -- BABES IN TOYLAND was one such example where he approved of colorization. He liked less the people who were then operating Hal Roach Studios. He was once offered a large fee by the pre-Robert Halmi and Hallmark Entertainment regime for a personal services contract to help promote the company and its brand name -- his name -- but declined. Roach countered with any offer of his own, declaring "I will pay you twice that amount to stop using (the Hal Roach name) and sell it back to me." Such proposal was not accepted.
Hal Roach was, however, curious to screen the then newly-colorized MUSIC BOX. The painted on lobby card-style coloring was fine, he thought. He did not automatically oppose such alteration of an artistic work on any kind of moral rights basis. What did upset him was what he heard on the accompanying soundtrack. Recreated background music -- a sincere but less than on target attempt -- had been added, where it didn't belong. Also certain other atmospheric sounds, and effects, such as barking dogs, had been dropped in to clutter and fill out the track. For what purpose? Only the meddlesome people responsible can say. Instead of being incidental, the newly added music and effects were not only inappropriate, but irritating. Anyone with more than a casual interest can only cry out at the screen, "What have you done to these films, and why?"
Maybe these geniuses thought we'd say, "Of course! Is it any wonder THE MUSIC BOX was awarded but a single Oscar? Not enough barking dogs in that neigborhood!"
Fans who actually know and care about the films are at a loss to fathom the rationale for such alleged improvements. As if these people who dyed and varnished the picture, then re-mixed the soundtrack, were telling us, "We know better than the Hal Roach braintrust, who after all only created these films. We will alter and fix them; and no one should notice our tampering."
Hal Roach supported his objection to the modified soundtrack with an explanation the rest of us could only guess at. "What the hell," as Roach liked saying when he became indignant, "Stan Laurel's whole idea there was to clear the track of everything -- dialogue, music, everything except the discordant sounds the damn piano made as they crash-banged it around and wrecked it. How could anyone miss that? It's the point of the film: how they're wrecking this piano and just listen to the thing as it complains and tries to tell you so! That's what he wanted people to focus on and hear."
Service with a smile.
Which happened to be part of the scintillating dialogue in the picture, as spoken by Mr. Oliver Hardy. He has another line of interest when he speaks, "Steady, Susie."
In THE MUSIC BOX, Laurel & Hardy delivered their burden using a horse drawn wagon. Horsepower for "The Laurel & Hardy Transfer Co." was provided by an old gray mare named "Susie," then eighteen years of age, and royally treated around Hal Roach Studios. More specifically, Susie (named respectfully by horseman Oliver Hardy for his own "Aunt Susie") was cared for at the Hal Roach location ranch nearby on Robertson Boulevard where all the studio animals were housed.
"Susie" received special attention to rival Roach's celebrated stable of polo ponies, having appeared in scores of the studio's films, including all the Rex, King of Wild Horses westerns, the pair of Big Horn Ranch outdoors programmers, Stan Laurel's MOTHER'S JOY (1923), Our Gang's THE OL' GRAY HOSS (1928), and many more.
We can only speculate that it was Stan Laurel who selected the film's dominant, opening theme music, called THE KING'S HORSES (AND THE KING'S MEN). This composition was employed on no other Laurel & Hardy film. The connection to THE MUSIC BOX narrative would be lost on audiences today, for the song is never named in the film, nor are any of its lyrics used. Moviegoers in 1932, however, would certainly have recognized and relished the intended association. THE KING'S HORSES, a fox trot song, was London's reigning musical sensation in late 1930 and 1931, and it was further popularized by character actor James Barton in Billy Rose's revue entitled SWEET AND LOW.
Knowing the lyrics, and picturing in one's mind the song's story, will provide a whole new level of enjoyment for screenings of THE MUSIC BOX. Beginning with the lyrics for the chorus, which corresponds to the portion of the melody used in the film, they are as follows:
The idea was to contrast the imagined smartly-dressed brigade of mounted soldiers riding in precision for the King, with the uniformed twosome of Stan and Ollie, being pulled slowly around, and quite reluctantly, by old Susie. Who, incidentally, we are intended to discern, has some kind of grudge against Ollie, and does outwit him on several occasions, which Ollie earnestly resents.
It comes as quite a surprise, therefore, to screen Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's super deluxe all-star film, GRAND HOTEL, adapted from a high-toned German novel and stage play, and then hear THE KING'S HORSES as background music on the soundtrack during the scene where Lionel Barrymore returns to his hotel room, alone and inebriated. So besides THE MUSIC BOX and GRAND HOTEL both winning best picture Oscars in their respective categories, both began shooting in December of 1931, both were distributed by M-G-M, and each shares some of the same incidental music scoring!
-- by Richard W. Bann --