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Saturday, August 24, 2013

Laurel and Hardy Ride The Rails

Deeper Into Talkies With Berth Marks (1929)

Laurel-Hardy's second talker, and one I increasingly like despite Bill Everson once placing it among their weakest shorts. Most of action is confined to an upper train berth in which the boys try to get out of clothes and to sleep, an exercise in frustration shared by  some viewers not so crazy about L&H, but manna for those who figure this team can do no wrong. The added and orchestral (for a reissue) Cuckoo theme in opener scenes takes me aback still as prints our local TV ran in the 60/70's were mute after titles, which I frankly prefer for train station ambience and more natural sounds. The platform attendant's fast recite of stops must have been a big laff-getter in '29 when  gags based on novelty of sound were fresher than fresh. I've read of location onlookers disrupting work with giggle noise, a bane for comedians who'd had luxury of silent-era shoots where crowd chatter didn't matter. Is this part of why Stan later said he preferred doing those earlier shorts? Trains are such leviathans in this and same-period shot Railroadin' with Our Gang, Roach crews clocking days among choo-choos that fascinate us for sheer brute. An on-board and clothes-ripping Battle Of The Century is drug in by heels, L&H still guided by tropes reliable from a start of teaming. Paulette Goddard is said to be among train extras; has anyone made positive identification? I haven't so far. Mournful sounds of rail travel drone over Stan/Babe caught in their garment tangle, an effect maybe not intended, but a plus for those who like vibe of starter talkies. There's a silent version of Berth Marks out there that would make interesting comparison. Blackhawk used to sell it. I wonder how many collectors still have prints in 8 and 16mm.


Blogger Dave K said...

Everson, of course, also slammed the later L&H feature THE BIG NOISE which contains a wonderful reworking of the berth sequence, this time with the added ingredient of a drunk Jack Norton. Both versions still play pretty great with a crowd, although you pretty much have to drop into a Sons of the Desert gathering to see these on a big screen (programers for more general screenings always seem to avoid the 'lesser' L&H films, staying safe with a handful of well know 'classics').

11:39 AM  
Blogger Ken Zimmerman Jr. said...

I have to agree with Dave. I think The Big Noise and Chumps at Oxford are under rated. It is hard to find a bad Laurel and Hardy film, whether they are a short or feature film. The local programmer normally plays March of the Wooden Soldiers around Thanksgiving. It has become a holiday favorite.

1:01 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

I learned early not to be guided by the opinions of writers.

Too many films I had read were not very good turned out to be pretty amazing when viewed with an audience.

We forget that movies were made to be seen in theaters with hundreds, possibly thousands, of other people.

When you see a film a writer dismissed with an audience that enjoys it immensely it is a quickening experience.

I learned early in my animation programs NOT to give the audience a list of titles as,invariably, some "expert" would say,"That's good,that's not good, this is good, why is he showing us this?" which colored the reaction of the crowd.

I use my screenings to learn. The books are, depending on the authors, good for history but it is important to remember that opinions expressed are those of one person only. We don't have to agree with them.

In fact,until we have seen the film with several HUGE non-fan audiences we should not express an opinion at all. And that is not a good measure,either. The classic example is The Marx Brother's DUCK SOUP which, by all accounts,was not greeted with great enthusiasm on original release.

4:26 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Donald Benson reflects on "Berth Marks" and a memorable gag:

For some reason, my personal biggest laugh comes when their music is scattered to the four winds. After Ollie asks rhetorically what they're going to do, Stan considers for a moment and says "We can fake it."

Also, Hardy singing romantic ballads to Laurel's soulful accompaniment on bass sounds like an act worth seeing.

7:39 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Always enjoy Hardy's singing.

10:13 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

The Spanish release of "Berth Marks" (which combines with "The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case")completely eliminates the fast-talking conductor, but features extended scenes of pants-ripping among the train passengers. It's interesting to see the two movies presented as a feature, titled "Noches de Duendes"("Night of Elves")and wonder how U.S. audiences would have responded to it.

There are two Charley Chase shorts, "High C's" and "Rough Seas" that were obviously intended to be a feature, but were eventually released separately. I wonder if these were put back together for foreign release.

And as for Everson's opinion on Laurel & Hardy's "weaker" movies -- I've always found "Be Big" to be funnier than he gave it credit for. And while "Berth Marks" is no "Music Box," it's more entertaining than he believed it to be. Now, "Twice Two" -- that's pretty much unwatchable.

9:04 AM  
Blogger Steven said...

I've always thought Oliver HARDY'S two characters, as himself and as Stan's wife, as wonderful stuff; especially facto Hardy's female voice dubbed by Hal Roach comedy-co-star May Wallace as being so hilariously perfect,("SPENT THE FIFTEEN CENTS CALLING ME UP!") bringing laughter from the very thought of his character(s). (Another scene has OLLIE's camera reaction after Stan's silent question pertaining his pocket money being snatched....!). I always thought that OLLIE in drag tuned in better than STAN's version as female (rather embarrassing in the later FOX FILM "THE DANCING MASTERS" & others; STAN being much older for that kind of stuff & having no say in the Fox Films).Stan's NAPKIN BIT bit at the dinner table,(as Ollie's husband) I thought, was one of his best! "TWICE TWO", methinks, is much better than the sort-of-somewhat unfavorable views it has weathered throughout the years.

12:54 PM  

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