“Why don’t you pattern your life after mine? I go places and do things and then tell my wife. Every man should be the king in his own castle.”
‘Sons of the Desert’, directed by William A. Seiter in 1933, is an American comedy starring Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. The pair are a member of the California branch of a Freemasonry-style society who are hoping to attend a convention in Chicago. Unfortunately, their wives are less keen on their going, and so Hardy fakes an illness and, with Laurel, pretends to go on a recuperative trip to Hawaii. Instead, the two go to the convention and in the meantime the boat they were supposed to be taking on their fake trip sinks. Their wives are distraught until they happen to see the AWOL pair in a newsreel of the convention. When the two return early they hide in the attic of Hardy’s house from their suspicious wives, but ultimately a rainstorm, a policeman and Laurel’s inability to lie, lead to their discovery and disgrace. It’s a movie of slapstick comedy (literally in one scene) but not the barrage of puns and innuendo that is prevalent in the Marx Brothers movies. This film falls somewhere between the daring and outrageous students of ‘The General’ and the character of ‘A Day at the Races’, but where is really succeeds is in the electric chemistry between the pompous Hardy and the innocent Laurel. Each character is utterly charming and likeable, with the anarchic and childlike qualities, and therefore the unworldliness of the silent movie stars. The story itself is a simple one, but the twin antagonistic poles of the formal society and the disapproving wives act as perfect foils to the duo, and this is really what makes the film. It isn’t an elaborately constructed or complex plot, it’s a sequence of opportunities for the two main characters to annoy each other or the people around them, and the do this with such charm, and such meticulous comic timing, that the movie has rightfully been lauded as one of the greats.
Would I recommend it? Yes – watch in a triple bill with ‘The General’ and ‘A Day at the Races’ to get an overall view of American comedy in the 1920s and 30s, and also an idea of how this particular genre coped with the move from silent to sound.