Way Out West

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WAY OUT WEST has Laurel & Hardy ten years into their team-up, this time taking their unique silliness to the frontier hamlet of ‘Brushwood Gulch’ ,where, through their amiable, good-natured ineptitude, they mis-deliver a gold mine deed to a dance hall toots, ‘Lola Marcel’ ( Sharon Lynn), impersonating the actual recipient, sweet servant girl ‘Mary Roberts’ (Rosina Lawrence). Of course, this error must be rectified before the 65-minute saga ends (with an expected gag).

Directed by James W. Horne, the 1937 outing generally garners glowing reviews, yet despite some indisputably funny moments, your enjoyment may depend a lot on how much of a fan you are. I was lukewarm on them as a kid (when they already seemed ancient, “old days” clowning that your grandmother enjoyed), and while acknowledging their enduring popularity, unquestioned skill and assorted charms I still have to be in the right mood to sit still for the boys achingly familiar goofiness. They really milk the jokes here, as does their occasional foil, the broadly mugging James Finlayson, playing the saloon owner partner of the golddigger vixen, and mean boss of the good gal.

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Making $2,500,000, it hobbled in at 97th place for the year; the duos popularity having seen a sharp dropoff from the first half of the decade. It may have been audiences had just tired of the antics, or they seemed outmoded given the increasingly harsh socio-political climate of a World in a long, dreary slowdown headed for another frightful showdown. The more frenetic patter of wised-up Abbott & Costello waited in the wings.*

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Best recalled for the guys doing a deft dance routine to “At The Ball, That’s All”, a foot-wagging ditty crooned by The Avalon Boys, a then-popular quartet headed by future scene-stealer Chill Wills. Marvin Hatley’s very busy music score was Oscar-nominated. That derby the boys chew on was made of licorice. Dyed-in-the-wool L&H fans will like this one more than an admittedly lukewarm observer such as myself. I do enjoy Ollie’s “camera look”, when he breaks “the fourth wall.” Hardy: “I had to become exasperated so I just stared right into the camera and registered my disgust.” 

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* The funny bone is serious business. Comedies, especially slapstick situations, are best enjoyed in company; the nonsensical, essentially deranged material having a ripple effect. Viewed in isolation (like I just re-watched this oldie) and one can tend to fidget. Looking through the time-binoculars often reveals “you-had-to-be-there.” Subsequent L&H outings such as  A-Haunting We Will Go and Great Guns are pretty weak. A&C went like a house-afire until the late 40s; after Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein topped out, they sputtered through the 50s, usurped by the hard-to-grasp antics of Martin & Lewis. Topical humor dates fairly quickly (Hope & Crosby, Rowan & Martin). My visceral discomfort with Jerry Lewis (that infantile kid-character and his real-life prick-ogre nature repel me) makes a shelved chore to take on more than the five of their 16 capers I’ve already endured (that would make this too much like a job). The basic team setup of straight-man/woman & foil unravels into full-on anarchy when there are three or more mugs to slug (The Marx Brothers, Monty Python, The 3 Stooges). To each their own. Grin and giggle or look away in disdain: The Ritz Brothers, the ‘Carry On’ crew, Burns & Schrieber, Schiller & Meara, The Smothers Brothers, Cheech & Chong, Fey & Pohler, Penn & Teller (I’d rather swallow tacks), Trump & Pence (“You’ll DIE laughing!”)…

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