Oliver stands to inherit a large fortune from his rich Uncle Bernal, with the condition that he be happily married. But when Mrs. Hardy walks out just before Uncle Bernal is due for a visit... See full summary »
Oliver stands to inherit a large fortune from his rich Uncle Bernal, with the condition that he be happily married. But when Mrs. Hardy walks out just before Uncle Bernal is due for a visit, Stanley is pressed into duty (and into drag) to impersonate Oliver's loving spouse. He's convincing enough to earn a pass or two from a drunk at a nightclub, but when a stolen necklace gets dropped down his dress, attempts to recover it disclose Stanley's true gender. Written by
Paul Penna <email@example.com>
Comic drag routines are a matter of taste, and despite the skill of the comedian involved such sequences can easily cross the line into offensiveness, but for my money Laurel & Hardy's silent two-reeler THAT'S MY WIFE presents the flat-out funniest of all female impersonation scenarios, thanks to the skill of Stan Laurel and the Hal Roach Studio's crack team of gag writers. The underlying premise which launches the plot (Ollie's uncle will leave him a fortune only if he is happily married) might seem far-fetched to put it mildly, but the writers were reaching back to basic elements of stage farce: an absurd demand forces a panicky deception, which in turn causes bigger complications which eventually snowball like crazy. When it works as well as it does here the pay-off is rich.
Stan Laurel ventured into drag on a few other occasions, but never so amusingly as in THAT'S MY WIFE. His reactions throughout are priceless. Following a somewhat slow build-up the gags in the film's second half are non-stop, and the laxity of the censors in those days before the Breen Office was established allows for some surprisingly risqué material. Case in point: the extended running gag in the restaurant, when jewelry has been dropped down the back of Stan's dress and Ollie tries to help retrieve it. Despite the boys' attempts to be discreet, they are repeatedly interrupted by other patrons in increasingly embarrassing positions (reminiscent of the frustrated pants-switching routine in LIBERTY). This climaxes in a spectacular humiliation before the entire assemblage when they accidentally wind up on stage instead of the advertised floor show "Garrick and Lucille in The Pageant of Love." The resulting pageant consists of two middle-aged men, one obviously in drag with wig askew, grappling on the floor doing God knows what. Even today, a startling sight. And yet despite it all Stan and Ollie retain a childlike innocence, even when engaged in a blatantly dishonest scheme to grab money that-- according to the uncle's absurd stipulation --they don't deserve.
Casting note: the amorous drunk in the restaurant is played by Jimmy Aubrey, a one-time colleague of both Stan's and Charlie Chaplin's in the Fred Karno troupe of English Music Hall players. A few years earlier Aubrey was starring in his own series of short comedies (working with Oliver Hardy among others), but he was struggling at this point in his career. He has a nice featured role in this film, but for whatever reason didn't stay long at the Roach Studio, and wound up playing sidekicks in Westerns elsewhere. Jimmy Aubrey lived a very long life, dying at the age of 94 in 1983.
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