Slipping Wives (1927). And yes, I am going to blog a review of every single Laurel and Hardy movie. I genuinely think it’s a good use of my time.
This is really a Stan Laurel vehicle, though top billing is given to Priscilla Dean. Oliver Hardy is almost unrecognisable as a snooty butler.
Priscilla Dean was a well known star of the silent screen, someone whose achievements have never really translated to subsequent generations. She plays the wife of a distracted artist who has lost all interest in her. Hubby is not playing away, he’s just not playing at all. They live together in a huge mansion which, based on the uninspired quality of the paintings in evidence, demonstrates that one or other of them must be independently very wealthy. The scantily clad models that festoon his enormous studio can’t come cheap. A family friend suggests to the wife that jealousy is the only way to reignite conjugal passion and at this moment, Stan arrives – a clueless paint delivery man who immediately picks a messy paint-spilling fight with Ollie over whether or not he should use the servants’ entrance. Stan is immediately enlisted as the man who will drive the husband back into his wife’s tender arms.
Stan however mistakes the family friend for the husband. The remainder of the plot depends on this confusion. It’s hardly Stan’s fault since nobody has bothered to tell him who’s who.
Stan is introduced as a writer of fairy tales and star turn of the film consists of Stan miming the story of Samson and Delilah as an after dinner entertainment, a scene which clearly owes much to Chaplin’s miming of the David and Goliath story in ‘The Pilgrim’ a few years earlier. Unlike Chaplin’s congregation, Stan’s audience is less than impressed by this performance, particularly when the pillar felling climax makes a mess of the living room and clouts Ollie again.
The remainder of the film races to the end of its second reel in a chase of beds and gunplay. Yet again we are reminded that guns don’t really kill people, they just tear and blacken your trousers.
The premise of this film would be revisited a decade later in ‘The Fixer Uppers’, this time with Ollie rather than Stan in the hot seat. The later film is a far more sombre effort in which death is very real and very imminent.
So, not yet a Laurel and Hardy film, but a film which illustrate just how energetic the young Stan Laurel could be… the physical exertion underpinning his elegant and effortless running and jumping and diving and crashing…
Like all the best films of its kind, it’s an exhibition of athleticism.