Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Film Ignorance #7: Way Out West

Film: Way out West
Rating: But...This Movie Sucks!
Director: James Horne
Stars: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy
Year: 1937
Reason for Ignorance: Never heard of it

Ignorance Rating: 25 (8 Votes)

Up until now, this Film Ignorance project has been completely gratifying. Sure, I didn't love Ben-Hur or Laura, but I was happy to have seen such important films, and felt better about myself as a critic for having done so. And while I guess I should feel better about myself as a film critic for having seen a Laurel and Hardy movie, I can't say it feels that great. It feels more like boredom...which I guess is not that different from Ben-Hur after all.

It's hard to describe for you what I didn't like about this movie. I would be tempted to say that they just went for every obvious and easy joke possible, but Buster Keaton never met an obvious joke he didn't like, and I love his movies. What it might boil down to is that I just felt the two main performers lacking in the charisma and natural charm to pull off a slapstick picture like this. Again, it doesn't help to say that the supporting cast is uniformly wooden; the Marx Brothers movies are populated with terrible actors, including Zeppo and Gummo Marx, but they just serve to highlight the Marx hilarity.

Way out West is ostensibly a spoof of Westerns, with Laurel and Hardy as inept greenhorns out in the Wild West. The two do their classic shtick: thin British bumbler Laurel gets them into big messes; pompous fat American Hardy is only marginally less bumbling than Laurel, but lords over him like a king. The plot revolves around the deed to a gold mine which they mistakenly give to a pair of swindlers instead of its rightful owner but, as you could have guessed, the plot doesn't much matter.

A typical gag goes like this: Laurel claims that, if they don't get the deed back, he'll eat Hardy's hat. They fail to get the deed back. Hardy makes him eat the hat. Laurel takes three bites, crying after each one. Hardy gets mad that Laurel is eating the hat, takes it back. etc. What makes it worse is the obvious reference to Chaplin eating his shoe in Gold Rush - it's as if the comedians are reminding us we could be watching a better movie.
Sir Not Appearing in This Film

I am not an inhuman soulless monster. I certainly found parts of this little slapstick film amusing. The bit where Laurel stops a stagecoach by lifting his pants and exposing his bare leg, ala Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night, is inspired. Numerous other charming little gags like this are sprinkled through the film, but most of the gags fall woefully flat; the jokes rarely rise above the level of Looney Tunes, without the visual panache and pure sense of fun of those classic cartoons.

The worst part of this all is that this is only one of at least two Laurel and Hardy films on this list. I am not looking forward to Sons of the Desert. But some things can't be helped.

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