(directors: Hal Roach/Charles Rogers; screenwriters: based on the 1830 opera “Fra Diavolo” by Daniel F. Auber/Jeanie Macpherson; cinematographers: Hap Depew/Art Lloyd; editors: Bert Jordan/William Terhune; music: LeRoy Shield; cast: Stan Laurel (Stanlio), Oliver Hardy (Olio), Dennis King (Fra Diavolo/Marquis de San Marco), Thelma Todd (Pamela Rocburg), James Finlayson (Lord Rocburg), Arthur Pierson (Lorenzo), Lucile Browne (Zerlina), Matt McHugh (Francesco); Runtime: 88; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Hal Roach; MGM; 1933)

One of my favorite Laurel and Hardy comedies.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This was one of my least favorite Laurel and Hardy comedies. It was the first of their operettas, and was written by Jeanie Macpherson (mistress of Cecil B. DeMille) and is based on the 1830 French comic opera “Fra Diavolo” by Daniel F. Auber. Codirectors Hal Roach and Charles Rogers present a handsome production for this minor comedy, but the slapstick jokes are drowned out by the singing and the film’s slow pace. Though they manage one classic bit, the wine drinking scene, the rest of the film was flat.

In the early 19th Century, Northern Italy had a problem with road bandits. After the misfits Stanlio (Stan Laurel) and Olio (Oliver Hardy) are robbed of their lives’ savings by highwaymen while traveling through the woods, they decide to become bandits. Their first robbery is botched, as their intended vic gives them a hard luck story and extorts money from them. Their next mark turns out to be Fra Diavolo (Dennis King, baritone opera singer), the notorious singing bandit who immediately overcomes the would-be bandits as his gang surrounds them and then threatens to have Stanlio hang Ollio and to cut Stanlio’s throat if it’s not a good hanging. But the bandit changes his mind and enslaves them as servants, as he poses as the elegant Marquis de San Marco in his plan to rob Lord Rocburg (James Finlayson) and his wife Lady Pamela (Thelma Todd) of their jewels. The aristocrats are staying at the local inn and the bandit plans to use the nitwit boys as accomplices. Of course, with the bumbling Laurel and Hardy around, everything goes wrong with Fra Diavolo’s plan. It concludes with the famous shot of the boys riding out of town on a wild bull to escape the firing squad.

It’s hard to believe, but this film turned out to be Laurel and Hardy’s biggest box office hit ever. It was released later as Bogus Bandits and The Virtuous Tramps. The story follows the thread of The Scarlet Pimpernel.