Towed in a Hole - Script to Screen
Stan Laurel's hobby was fishing. Of all large and small fry of the sea, he most particularly sought swordfish with his rod and reel. Along with Hal Roach, Charlie Chaplin, Zane Grey, and the entire P.K. Wrigley family, Stan Laurel knew well his bait and tackle. All of these anglers were active members of the exclusive Tuna Club on Santa Catalina Island 26 miles west of the California coast. Laurel was visiting Catalina to pursue his passion for deep-sea angling when he met Virginia Ruth Rogers there. On screen, he clubbed fish with a stick in FLYING ELEPHANTS (1027). He caught fish on a line in THE LAUREL-HARDY MURDER CASE (1930). Then the time came when he sketched an undated outline for a story he entitled LIVE BAIT. It would evolve into TOWED IN A HOLE.
As reported in the Hollywood trade papers, Henry Ginsberg had announced October 17 as the start date for the upcoming Laurel & Hardy picture. As usual, Mr. Ginsberg's orders were ignored if possible. In this case, the reason was, as of October 22, no one in the Laurel & Hardy company had a story good enough to shoot as production number L-11.
In 1974, George Marshall told Jordan Young, "We'd been stuck for four or five days or a week maybe. We hadn't come up with any particular story outline that seemed to progress or have any base to it. So I drove to the studio one morning, and in Culver City I passed one of these little fish wagons, and this fellow was touting his wares with a long horn as he drove down the street. So I thought, 'Well, maybe that could be the answer, with the boys selling the fish'.
"I had about that much when I got to the studio, Stan was sitting in his room. I told him about the idea and he said, 'Yeah that just might work.' We went to work on it there in the road. We started kicking it around, just the two of us that morning, making some notes. We had a little gag man there, Charly Rogers; he was making notes and possibly interjecting a gag of some kind as we talked, and out of it came the idea that if you're going to catch fish you have to have a boat, naturally. So they hock the fish wagon to get a boat. The boat they get is pretty dilapidated and has to be fixed up before it'll even float, and that's the way it went."
In 1961, Stan Laurel spoke to Chuck McCann about the progression of ideas in a comedy piece. "Stan used two examples to show how you can build an integrated routine," McCann recalled. He spoke of BLOCK-HEADS, and he spoke of TOWED IN A HOLE. They always tried to shoot in continuity so as the material could evolve naturally out of situations as they arise. That scene in the boat where Stan gets his head caught between the base on the mast and the bulkhead was an accidental inspiration. He got the idea out there at the ranch while blocking out some other scene around the boat. Then they had to drive back to the studio, find a stage, and construct a cabin set with a port hole so they could shoot that interior. Stan loved that routine: We laughed so hard he could barely tell me about it!"
George Marshall remembered the scene too. "I think Stan played that scene for - it must have been two or three minutes", Marshall said. "I don't know of any comedian today who could play that kind of scene and hold the audience. But that was the creative value of Stan, which I loved. I learned so much from him and I think I became a better director because of Stan."
"On those pictures we had to work pretty much in continuity, because the sales and releases depended on a certain amount of shootage, at that time about 1,800 feet for a two-reel short. Other gags developed as we were working - like Stan putting his finger through the side of the boat, and leaving the soap on the deck so that Babe would slip and fall into the cabin full of water. We developed so that the routine we'd written for the finish, we never got to shoot."
"In the film, they put the sails up and the boat crashed into their car right there. But the routine we had would've been funny: they put up the sails and the boat took off. We had a wild routine with the two of them going through traffic. Babe out in front with the car, and Stan in back with the sailboat, trying to throw out the anchor. He throws it out and it catches a fireplug. We never shot that scene because we had enough footage."
"That's how those films were built. You'd think of many things beforehand in story construction, but then you got out of the actual set, and the props would often lead into better things than we had written."