It's Prohibition, and the boys wind up behind bars after Stan sells some of their home-brew beer to a policeman. In prison, Stan's loose tooth keeps getting him in trouble, because it ... See full summary »
It's Prohibition, and the boys wind up behind bars after Stan sells some of their home-brew beer to a policeman. In prison, Stan's loose tooth keeps getting him in trouble, because it sounds like he's giving everybody a rasp- berry. But it earns him the respect of The Tiger, a rough prisoner, and the boys manage to slip away during The Tiger's escape attempt. They disguise themselves in blackface and hide on a cotton plantation, but are recaptured when the warden happens by. Back in the big house, they find themselves in a hail of bullets, caught between the state militia and gun-toting prisoners, when The Tiger tries another escape. Written by
Paul Penna <firstname.lastname@example.org>
PARDON US (Hal Roach/MGM, 1931), directed by James Parrott, introduces the team of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy to feature length comedy. Having been paired in comedy shorts since their initial teaming in 1927, and continuing through 1935, Laurel and Hardy's participation in features began with guest spots in musicals "The Hollywood Revue" (1929) and "The Rogue Song" (1930). Working in shorts with a feature per year before promoted directly to features by 1936, for PARDON US, a parody on prison films that were the stir of the time, was in fact a spoof on MGM's own success of THE BIG HOUSE (1930) starring Chester Morris and Wallace Beery. Although a drama, Fox Studios accomplishment in prison films followed with UP THE RIVER (1930) featuring Spencer Tracy, Warren Hymer and a very young Humphrey Bogart. Being a comedy, it lacked the humor PARDON US provided, mainly because the teaming of Tracy and Hymer an attempt of copying the friendly rivals chemistry of Victor McLaglen and Edmund Lowe of WHAT PRICE GLORY? (1926) fame, can't compare to them nor Laurel and Hardy, nor did they ever try to be. Such as it is, Laurel and Hardy's PARDON US is another fine mess they've gotten themselves into, with fine results.
Opening title: "Mr. Hardy is a man of wonderful ideas ... so is Mr. Laurel, as long as he doesn't try to think." Set during the Prohibition era, Oliver has a get-rich-quick scheme about brewing beer. He tells his partner, Stanley, "whatever we can't drink, we can sell." Next scene finds the Laurel and Hardy handcuffed and escorted to prison after Stanley sells their home made beer to a policeman he mistakes for a streetcar conductor. After meeting with their warden (Wilfred Lucas) who gives them a lecture on prison life, they are then placed in a cell with four other convicts, with The Tiger (Walter Long) the leader and toughest of the bunch. Because Stanley's loose molar causes him to make a buzzing sound mistaken for what's commonly known as a "raspberry," which gets him into trouble, The Tiger takes it as a sign of courage, making Stanley his immediate pal. With Ollie wanting to get in good with the Tiger by doing the same thing, he isn't so fortunate. Going through the daily routine of prison life, attending school and placed into solitary confinement for unwittingly disrupting the class, Stan and Ollie later take part in a prison break, and hide themselves from the law by taking refuge in a Negro community disguised as black cotton pickers.
PARDON US may not be the best in the filmography of Laurel and Hardy, but delivers with its full quota of laughs. The classroom sequence with James Finlayson as the schoolmaster is a true highlight. School was never like this, especially with prisoners beginning their school day singing, "Good morning, dear teacher," along with the teacher asking students questions and getting the answers not found in text books. For the ten minute cotton field sequence where fugitives Stan and Ollie appear in black-face, they, along with the other Negro workers, do some singing while working in the fields to such tunes as "Hand Me Down," "Way Down in the Old Camp Ground," "Swing Along," "From Birmingham" and "Down at the Farm." Oliver Hardy, a gifted singer in his own right, solos during the evening's recreation period with "Lazy Moon." While there's no secondary love interest to bog down the plot, June Marlowe, as the warden's daughter, is the only female in the cast, with very little to do, probably a victim of heavy film editing. Other Laurel and Hardy stock players, aside from Walter Long's parody of Wallace Beery from THE BIG HOUSE, and the hilarious Jimmy Finlayson, include Charles Hall as The Dentist; and Stanley "Tiny" Sanford as one of the prison guards. It should be noted that in the French language version of PARDON US, Boris Karloff appears in place of Walter Long. Not that's something to see!
A neglected comedy gem that would have been virtually forgotten had it not been for television where Laurel and Hardy comedies were rediscovered by a new generation with each passing decade since the 1950s. By the 1980s, home video such as Nostalgia Merchant, and cable TV guaranteed further popularity for Stan and Ollie, where this and their short subjects and features were presented, including American Movie Classics (1994-1996), and Turner Classic Movies where PARDON US premiered April 1, 2005 as part of its April Fools festival.
While prints of PARDON US were shown in years past in slightly choppy 55 minute format, the TCM print offers better picture quality at 64 minutes. Regardless of its pros and cons, PARDON US demonstrated further that Laurel and hardy are capable of carrying on successfully in feature length comedies, especially with such masterpieces as SONS OF THE DESERT (1933), BABES IN TOYLAND (1934) and WAY OUT WEST (1937) into their not so distant future. (**1/2)
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