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“Uncle Sam didn’t want us…” Laurel and Hardy in “Air Raid Wardens” (1942).

December 14, 2018

This late unlamented film deserves in retrospect to be seen for what it is.  It’s a contribution to the war effort.  It is not, especially, a contribution to comedy.  It begins with an unseen narrator (a device which reinforces the propaganda feel of the film) telling us about the pleasant everytown of Huxton and its amusing and wholesome inhabitants.  Stan and Ollie are introduced as pair of amiable chums who have failed at every enterprise they’ve ever attempted and are currently failing as joint proprietors of a bicycle  shop.   With the outbreak of war, they immediately volunteer, successively, for every conceivable branch of the military and are immediately rejected by every conceivable branch of the military.  Disconsolate, they return to their store only to discover that it is being foreclosed.  After a little wrangling, they agree to share the premises with a guy called “Middling” who claims to sell radios but is actually a German spy.

They are told (and so are we) that there is a war on the home front to be won and that Stan and Ollie can still fight a war on two fronts without leaving Huxton.  As Air Raid Wardens, they enter what would, decades later, become Dad’s Army comic territory.  They always mean well but they get into scrapes.  At one point they are involved with an extended tit for tat spat with a recalcitrant Edgar Kennedy, one of their oldest and fondest of antagonists, over the latter’s refusal to extinguish he lights during an air raid drill.  Somehow this is not funny.  (The absence of suitable incidental music has been noted, but I don’t think that’s the whole story.)

After some predictable episodes of destructive confusion, Stan and Ollie are asked resign from the air raid warden service.  The ceremonial surrender of whistles and armbands is milked for all the slow pathos it can muster.  But… the film isn’t over – they still manage to thwart some Nazi agents and save the day.

These Nazi agents are, incidentally, the most inept Nazi agents ever.  They have been planning for months to destroy the magnesium factory, despite that fact that it is guarded by just one person who sits in a hut and who can be knocked out with one easy blip to the head.  These agents relapse into their native German after only the most cursory glance around the store, a circumstance that makes even Ollie suspicious.  When Stan and Ollie are captured and are left for one particular Nazi thug to “take care off”, this hardened thug’s clueless sadism makes him easy enough to disarm and neutralise.

“Show don’t tell” is a fine maxim for film-makers.  Some of the best moments in the Laurel and Hardy canon are quite sentimental, but the sentiment is provokes by showing not telling.  In this film – the sentiment is spoken out loud, over and over again.  Stan is given a painfully long speech to the board in charge of throwing people out of the Air Raid Wardens all about how Stan and Ollie aren’t like other people but just wanted to try to do their bit anyway.  It is as though this accomplished production team are convinced that nobody knows who or what Laurel and Hardy are and that people need to have their characters explained over and over again.

There is, after all, a war on.  And this is a “message” film made at time of national and international emergency.   There’s a role for everyone in this war effort, even people who have failed at everything they’ve ever attempted their entire lives.  If Laurel and Hardy can help whip the Nazis then so can YOU!  Yes YOU! – middle aged civilian sitting in the movie theatre who hasn’t volunteered for anything yet.  YOU!  Join something, anything, right now.  YOU can make a difference.

I could waste time saying more mean-spirited things about Air Raid Wardens.  But it really isn’t worth it.  It’s essentially a propaganda film – a film propagating an essential and valuable message.  The usual rules of film criticism do not really apply.

I have thoughts about other Laurel and Hardy films.


The Tree in a Test Tube

A Haunting We Will Go

Great Guns:

Saps at Sea:

A Chump at Oxford

The Flying Deuces:


Swiss Miss:

Way Out West:

Pick a Star:

Our Relations

On the Wrong Trek:

The Bohemian Girl:

Bonnie Scotland:

Thicker than Water

The Fixer Uppers:

Tit for Tat:

The Live Ghost:

Babes in Toyland

Them Thar Hills:

Going Bye Bye:

Hollywood Party:

Oliver the Eighth:
Sons of the Desert

Dirty Work:

Wild Poses:

Busy Bodies:

The Midnight Patrol:

The Devil’s Brother

Me and my Pal

Twice Two:

Towed in a Hole:

Their First Mistake:

Pack Up Your Troubles


County Hospital:

The Chimp:

The Music Box:

Any Old Port:


“On the Loose”:

Beau Hunks:

One Good Turn:

Come Clean: 

Pardon Us:

Laughing Gravy:

The Stolen Jools:

Chickens Come Home:

Be Big:

Another Fine Mess:

The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case

Hog Wild

Below Zero:



Here is Night Owls:

Angora Love:

The Hoose Gow:

They Go Boom:

Perfect Day:

Men O’ War:


Unaccustomed as We are Are:

Bacon Grabbers:

Double Whoopee:

Big Business:

That’s My Wife:

Wrong Again:


We Faw Down:

Habeas Corpus:

Two Tars:

Early to Bed:

Should Married Men Go Home?:

Their Purple Moment:

You’re Darn Tootin’:

From Soup to Nuts:

The Finishing Touch:

Leave em Laughing:

Battle of the Century:

Putting Pants on Philip:

Hats Off:

Call of the Cuckoo:

The Second Hundred Years:

Flying Elephants:

Sugar Daddies:

Do Detectives Think?

Sailors Beware!:

With Love and Hisses:

Love ‘Em and Weep:

Slipping Wives:

45 Minutes from Hollywood:

Duck Soup:

The Lucky Dog:



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