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 <email@example.com>
Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy's first feature-length film. Producer Hal Roach had wanted to use some of the sets left over from MGM's big-budget prison picture The Big House (1930) to do a prison-movie spoof, but discovered that it would be too expensive to make as a short subject. See more »
Stan has a loose tooth that "buzzes" after he speaks, unless he holds it down. But in the school room he is able to sing without it buzzing, despite not holding it in place. See more »
When are you going to get that tooth fixed? Every time you speak you make a funny noise. It sounds like a pipe organ.
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So says Ollie at the start of a sustained eleven-minute sequence where he and Stan paint their hands and faces to hide amongst a black community. On two occasions the paint gets washed off and has to be replaced; Stan with dirt from a puddle, Ollie with oil. Like the stereotypical black people that occupy the piece, it's one of those "would never be allowed nowadays" moments that marks Pardon Us out as an unusual curio. The boundaries between innocence and unintentional risk-taking occur throughout. Set largely in a prison, there's a later scene where Stan is threatened by a knife, and an inmate is shown to be a potential rapist when coming face to face with the warden's daughter. Although Stan's sharing a bed with Hardy and the same inmate promising that he and Stan will be "great pals" is played without any form of sexual connotation.
This sort of politically incorrect humour is not only common to Pardon Us, however. In the following year's Pack Up Your Troubles the duo would pretend to have only one arm in order to escape being drafted into the army. Stan would pour boiling hot water over three men, while the two would steal $2000 from a bank. The 1932 film would also tackle the theme of wife battery and feature another race joke, which takes us back to Pardon us. In a curious scene, Stan mistakes two prisoners one black, one Asian as the radio "blackface" double-act, Amos and Andy. It's impossible to condemn the film on such matters, and I wouldn't even try, as that sort of thing was commonplace for the time it was made. But it's notable, and slightly alarming, even so. Whoever would have thought such naive humour still had the ability to shock seventy years on?
Laurel and Hardy perhaps never had wide ambitions, though did some pretty groundbreaking stuff in terms of stunts and special effects. More intelligent than The Three Stooges, they nevertheless didn't aspire to the same terms of art and film as, say, Chaplin. But while they may not be as admired as Charlie, Keaton or even Lloyd, they are doubtless more loved. Even though most of the jokes are clearly set-up, their assured execution, by Laurel, particularly, means they never fall flat. It must be said that the interplay between the two stars isn't as good as it would be, and that as their first full-length talkie, the pace is notably slower than what was to follow. The age of the silent movie is still felt throughout, with a lone damsel in distress in a burning building, and some overstated body language from the bit players. The film opens with a caption, and incidental music is almost omnipresent both now redundant, and slightly distracting. Though while the rapport between the two would be stronger - only their 24th talkie, they would appear in another 52 together after this - Pardon Us is still a fine example of their work. Stan's gormless, inane smile, dopey eyes and sticky ears are a delight, while his mastery of physical comedy is exceptional. Those who wish to build an argument that Stan was the talented one will be served here by a Hardy who gets to be second fiddle all the way, and is encouraged to double-take to camera a few too many times.
Lastly, two points come to mind. One is a dentist calling Stan "Rosebud" was Orson Welles inspired? And Ollie here says "another nice mess", not the oft-quoted "fine".
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