FLYING DEUCES, THE (director: A. Edward Sutherland; screenwriters: Ralph Spence/Charley Rogers/Fred Schiller/Harry Langdon; cinematographer: Art Lloyd; editor: Jack Dennis; music: John Leipold/Leo Shuken; cast: Stan Laurel (Stan), Oliver Hardy (Ollie), Jean Parker (Georgette), Reginald Gardiner (Francois), Jean Del Val (Sergeant), James Finlayson (Jailer), Charles Middleton (Commandant); Runtime: 65; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Boris Morros; RKO; 1939)
“A comeback film for the lauded Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy comedy team.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A comeback film for the lauded Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy comedy team, who were last teamed a year ago, in 1938, in Block-Heads. It seems Laurel and producer Hal Roach had some issues over retakes and the producer refused to sign the star to another contract. Since Hardy had a separate contract, Roach starred Ollie with Harry Landon without Laurel in Zenobia (1939). The film flopped. Laurel and Hardy had always worked for Roach under solo contracts. During Stan’s suspension by Roach, he was approached by Boris Morros, a film composer and Broadway producer with aspirations to break into the movie business. Hal Roach gave his blessings for the boys to team up and make a film for another studio, and they signed a lucrative one picture deal with the Russian-born independent producer Boris.
A. Edward Sutherland (“Having Wonderful Crime”/”Dixie”/”Abie’s Irish Rose”), the recent director of W. C. Fields films, was asked to direct the comedy team. It was a French farce using as background the French Foreign Legion. In actuality, it was a remake of Laurel & Hardy’s four-reeler Beau Hunks (1931), a film that MGM had successfully reissued in 1937.
Stan and Ollie are a couple of fishmongers from a Des Moines, Iowa fish market, on a Cook’s Tour of Paris vacation. Ollie falls in love with the pretty Georgette (Jean Parker), the innkeeper’s daughter, and presents her with a marriage ring. When she turns him down, Stan must revive Ollie with smelling salts. The disconsolate Ollie decides to drown himself in the Seine, and ties a rope around his waist which is attached to a concrete block. He also ties the block to Stan, telling his friend to join him: “After all I’ve done for you, you’d let me jump in there alone. Do you realize that after I’m gone, you’ll just go on living by yourself? People would stare at you and wonder what you are and I wouldn’t be here to tell them.” At this time Foreign Legion officer Francois (Reginald Gardiner) waltzes by, and advises Ollie to join the Legion to forget the woman. Stan and Ollie join, thinking it’s only for a few days until he forgets Georgette, but after spending long hours at the post doing harsh tasks for three cents a day they decide to quit. On their way to the airport, they run into Georgette and to Ollie’s dismay discovers she’s the wife of Francois, his superior officer. The irate post Commander (Charles Middleton) has them arrested for desertion from their lifetime enlistment and thrown into confinement for the night to be executed at sunrise. They are under the watchful eye of the jailer (James Finlayson). A note is thrown in their cell telling of a tunnel underneath the floorboard, and the boys escape to the airport amidst a wild chase from the pursuing troops. When Stan accidentally pulls the cord to start the plane, the boys take off. In their getaway flight, the plane crash lands and Stan survives but Ollie is seen ascending to heaven. Later Stan while walking in a field, discovers Ollie has returned reincarnated as a horse.
Most critics at the time were not overly impressed with the deadpan slapstick routines of the boys, calling it the usual bumbling act with no new surprises. Though not one of their great ones, this patchy and uninspired comedy had enough funny old-fashioned Keystone bits to satisfy me. Of note, Ollie sings a chorus of ‘Shine on Harvest Moon’ while Stan does a tap dance. In another funny bit, Ollie uses the bed-springs of his jail bed to play a harp solo.
REVIEWED ON 8/24/2008 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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