Laurel and Hardy gets jobs at a swanky hotel and they perform them with precision and competence. Hee hee! Nope! They make a dog’s dinner of the whole thing and a good number of extras and supporting actors end up either face down in the mud or with what we like to call a wardrobe malfunction. One of the victims is a teenage, pre-fame Jean Harlow.
Dress for success.
While there were many talented comedy teams during the Golden Age of movies, Laurel and Hardy remain my special favorites. The two men had comedic chemistry that can truly be described as magical and their patented brand of whimsy always charms.
Some people even go so far as to give potential dates the Laurel and Hardy test. I’m not that bad (yet) but I have admit that I just cannot imagine how anyone can dislike the duo.
The men had worked separately for years before being partnered at the Hal Roach comedy studios. The combination was a smash hit in silence and they only got bigger with the coming of sound.
When people discuss silent stars having “bad” voices, the actual problem is usually one of three things:
A. The star’s voice was untrained for microphone speaking (and the early mics were horrible), which is very different from having a bad voice.
B. Their voice was fine but their delivery was flawed or incorrect in some way.
C. There were no technical problems with the pipes but their voices did not match the audience’s perception of what they should sound like.
People always want to talk about the failures and disasters. Who was that silent star with a squeaky voice? (Answer: Mickey Mouse.) Which silent stars failed in the talkies? Which ones had thick accents? Who lost their contract? Suicides? Where were the suicides?
Here’s an idea: let’s talk about the silent stars who succeeded brilliantly in sound.
In the case of Laurel and Hardy, both men possessed voices that fit their established personas to perfection. Oliver Hardy’s rich, haughty, Southern-inflected voice contrasted beautifully with Stan Laurel’s reedy, British-accented whimper. Further, they had experience as live entertainers (Stan was a music hall veteran and Ollie could sing like a dream) that they combined with the balletic grace that marked the finest silent comedians.
Laurel and Hardy also instinctively knew how to temper their comedy for the new medium. In silence, the boys were harsher and more violent. Stanley was definitely more aggressive. The pair also took advantage of the relatively lax censorship of the late twenties and early thirties to bring a bit of sauciness into their films.
And this is where Double Whoopee comes into the picture. The plot of the short is just a skeleton intended to give our nincompoop heroes an excuse to start destroying the entire cast’s wardrobe. Pretty standard stuff. What sets this short apart is that one of the victims is a teenage, pre-fame Jean Harlow.
This leads us to the main question of the day: Is this film worth seeing on its own or is it mainly remembered for its soon-to-be-famous bit player? We shall see!
A grand hotel is proud to be hosting a Stroheim-esque prince (Hans Joby). Stan and Ollie are the new footman and doorman. Chaos ensues with the destructive duo causing the prince to fall down an elevator shaft (several times!), ticking off both cab drivers and the constabulary and finally, shutting poor Jean’s dress in her car door and leaving her to enter the hotel in a black teddy.
(I really dig the swept-back bob that Jean sports! It’s a great example of the sporty, easy-care-but-stylish twenties look.)
This scene gets listed as being terribly naughty but it isn’t, really. Not by silent film standards. I mean, Corinne Griffith doffed her wedding gown in the middle of the ceremony and stomped off in a tiny teddy in The Garden of Eden. The Godless Girl had Lina Basquette frolicking in the blurry altogether. Back to God’s Country had Nell Shipman frolicking in the not-so-blurry altogether. (Catchphrase: “Is the nude rude?” Yes, really.) Heck, even in post-Code cinema, Katharine Hepburn lost the back of her gown in Bringing Up Baby. (Granted, both gown and what lay beneath were far primmer but the basic joke was the same.)
No, this was a bit naughty but par for the course in many silent films. People in their underwear are funny. Starlets in their underwear are sexy. Mixing the two made box office sense. The audiences realized this and so did the producers.
Harlow fans will probably enjoy this glimpse of (quite a bit of) young Jean but she is in the film for only a minute or two. I would rate the rest of the short as well-made but not outstanding in Laurel and Hardy’s silent career.
The short starts slow but soon builds to a funny battle: Laurel & Hardy vs. Everyone in the Hotel. It’s well done and there is some amusing business with fly paper. However, it pales in comparison to the enthusiastic mass pantsing that climaxed You’re Darn Tootin’ and the cacophony of destruction (with some help from James Finlayson) in Big Business. Those two shorts left me unable to breathe. Double Whoopee got a few giggles but it doesn’t stand with their best.
Is it worth seeing? Anything with early Stan and Ollie is worth seeing. While this short is not their masterpiece, it is well made and is droll enough to keep you entertained for its entire twenty minute running time. It’s recommended for Harlow fans and Stan and Ollie fans alike.
Movies Silently’s Score: ★★★
Where can I see it?
After years and years of waiting, Laurel and Hardy finally got the box set they deserve but this box only covers their talkies. Their silents were released by Image as a series called The Lost Films of Laurel and Hardy but those discs quickly fell out of print and now cost approximately one (1) arm and one (1) leg.
I took another route. When there was still an embargo on the pair’s films in the USA, I ordered the 21-disc set Laurel & Hardy – The Collection from the UK. This set features the most annoying menus in the history of DVDs but is also has quite a few silent films, including Double Whoopee. There is also a PAL solo DVD of Double Whoopee, if you don’t want to invest in the box.