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Get with the beat, hep cats, it’s Laurel and Hardy in “Jitterbugs” (1943).

December 18, 2018


Jitterbugs is an entertaining film starring Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.  It still doesn’t feel like a Laurel and Hardy film.

They’re just not quite in character, or what we know and love as their character/s.  Oliver Hardy is very good in this movie.  Indeed, I can’t think of any other Laurel and Hardy film where Ollie is quite so funny quite so independently of Stan.  Ollie is not quite playing “Ollie” though.  In this film, Ollie plays someone who is consistently shrewd and resourceful.  Indeed, this is not a film about Stan and Ollie making mistakes at all, but a film in which criminal schemes are successfully thwarted.

We first meet Stan and Ollie as “The Original Zoot Suit Band” stranded in the desert without gas.  They meet an amiable grifter who is selling “gas pills” and agree to help him with his pitch at the next town.

Then we see them perform.  This is a very unusual film indeed insofar as Stan and Ollie are actually brilliant at the thing they claim to be able to do for a living.  “The Original Zoot Suit Band” is a wonderful act – two guys replicating the effect of a big jazz band with the help of an astonishing Heath Robinson contraption.  No wonder all the young people start dancing.  I know it’s not really Ollie playing the trumpet (or Stan playing the drums) but Ollie’s impersonation of a jazz trumpeter is astonishing.  It is disappointing that the film cannot find another excuse for this band to play.  It’s over far too quickly.

Chester the grifter (Bob Bailey) turns out to have a heart, and when he learns that a girl he’s instantly sweet on has a mother who’s been duped of $10,000, he decides that the grifters must be grifted if Susan (Vivian Blaine) is to be reimbursed.   He and Susan and Stan and Ollie develop an elaborate routine based on Ollie’s central performance as “Colonel Watterson Bixby”, a philandering old Texan and a conspicuously easy looking “mark” to reel in the gang that duped Susan.

This is one of those films in which Stan and Ollie “live to serve”, having no personal aspirations whatsoever other than to facilitate the happy ever after of people younger and prettier than they are.  It helps in this instance that Bob Bailey and Vivian Blaine (already a star of Broadway and later to achieve renown in Guys and Dolls) are genuinely charismatic in their own right.  Vivian Blaine has some lovely Showboat song and dance numbers, including an intriguing and engaging song and dance routine all about shoes.

By the end of the film, Susan’s fortune is restored and she’s in the arms of Chester – which is all that matters.  Stan and Ollie are floundering in the Mississippi with no prospect of rescue.

There’s enough going on in this film to make it consistently enjoyable.  I’ve heard people argue that it doesn’t have to star Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy particularly.  I would suggest, however, nobody could have played Colonel Watterson Bixby as delightfully as Oliver Hardy.  He swaggers and bows and insinuates to perfection.  In order to balance things out, Stan is required to dress up as Susan’s aunt, though comparatively little comic millage is derived from this impersonation.  It does however, enable “Bixby” and “Auntie” to jitterbug violently on the dance floor near the very end of the film as a desperate means of evading their thuggish pursuers, thus making very belated sense of the title of the film.

So Oliver Hardy has some rather interesting and original things to do in this film, showcasing a range of dramatic talents while playing someone other than “Ollie”.  Stan Laurel on the other hand seems at something of a loss here, seeming almost conscious of the fact that the film doesn’t really need him particularly.  In order to feel irritated by this film it is necessary to know Stan and Ollie’s films well enough to feel that you’re missing out on something.  You are missing out on extended relational comedy based on the way in which these two men anticipate and react to one another.

Oddly enough, I think this might have been a better film if, like Zenobia, it had featured Oliver Hardy in a solo starring role.  It could have been a Hardy, Blaine, and Bailey film with a one man band instead of a two man band.   That way would wouldn’t have had Stan hanging around all the time reminding us all the time of what we weren’t getting.

Just a thought.

I have some thoughts about other Laurel and Hardy films.


Air Raid Wardens:

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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