Why Girls Love Sailors. (1927)
This title (without a question mark) does not answer its implied question.
In the meantime, it is clear that the sea does strange things to a man. Apparently, after weeks and weeks at sea, out of sight of dry land, the spectacle of Stan Laurel in a dress becomes irresistible.
Not yet a “Laurel and Hardy” movie, this Stan Laurel two-reeler features Oliver Hardy as an unshaven”heavy” – the second most vicious character on the ship, after the captain.
While Stan is skipping about in pastoral mode with his girlfriend (Anita Garvin), the Captain stares in the window of the dockside shack and decides to just take what he wants. Having poured water down Stan’s shirt (which fails to drain out of his shirt properly, inflating his stomach in a way that offers an early example of how Stan is not as other men), he picks up the girl and drags her back to his ship. Stan pursues and resists, but is just thrown around like a rag doll. (It is in fact a rag doll if you look closely.) With helpless Stan thrown into a fishing net, the Captain locks Anita Garvin in his cabin, and her prospects look bleak.
However, Stan manages to sneak on board, and is faced with the task of rescuing his girlfriend not just from the Captain but from a decidedly ugly crew, so numerous that you’d think half of them were surplus to requirements on a boat this size.
Stan Laurel would never again play a character capable of such ingenuity. The boat (for some reason), contains a large theatrical hamper. All Stan has to do is to dress up as a lady, and make “come hither” gestures at each crew member in turn. Then having lured them round a corner, “she” blips them on the head, and then rearranges their form into insulting gestures so that Ollie will spot them and throw them overboard. This works for a while. Later on, Stanley peeks through the porthole at the captain as he grapples with Stan’s girlfriend and smiles at him. The captain instantly decides that Stan Laurel in a dress is a far more exciting prospect than a real woman and invites him in.
The plot, such as it is, reaches its climax with the intervention of the Captain’s abandoned wife, and the inevitable threat of gunplay that ensues. As the rocky road of marital conciliation is painfully negotiated, the jealous wife fires a gun straight at Stan and Anita. Of course, this being a silent movie firearm, this scary-looking weapon merely produces a lot of smoke and causes both their skirts to fall off, exposing their amusing underwear. The End.
This is a lively little two reeler, which introduces Anita Garvin to the world of Laurel and Hardy, and thankfully, she’d appear again many many times, offering a certain poise and glamour to proceedings. Some of the ideas for this film would be applied a decade later for The Live Ghost, one of the most effective of the later Laurel and Hardy sound shorts. There’s nothing more amusing than an over-elaborate scheme to blip people unconscious one at a time.
It worth noting the frequency with which Laurel and Hardy are involved with sailors and/or boats and/or the sea in general. There’s a kind of maritime context of constant threat and endangerment that suits their distinctive incompetence. One peculiar stereotype that proves comically convenient is the idea that sailors are notoriously superstitious.
It’s the only dramatic excuse for the idea that Stan Laurel with his jumper pulled over his head can transformed a hardened (because unshaven) sailor into a sobbing wreck.
Tiny observation – there used to be a theatrical/filmic convention that tipping your cap forward on your head was a signifier of sexual intent. When did that stop meaning anything? Perhaps its demise is just a symptom of the fact that we don’t all wear hats outdoors all the time any more.