US (1936) Dir. Harry Lachman
Stan (Stan Laurel) and Ollie (Oliver Hardy) are to take their wives Mrs. Hardy (Daphne Pollard) and Betty (Betty Healy) out to lunch. Meanwhile their long lost and less reputable twin brothers Bert (Hardy) and Alf (Laurel), who ran away to join the navy, have docked in town for a few days. Their captain (Sydney Toler) asks them to pick up a parcel and meet him at a bar. Bert and Alf get their first where they meet two women Alice (Iris Adrian) and Lily (Lona Andre) and promise them a good time. However the lads have left all their money with their crafty ship mate Finn (Jimmy Finlayson) who refuses to hand it back. While Bert and Alf are away, Stan and Ollie arrive at the same bar with their wives in tow.
Hopefully the legends that are Laurel and Hardy will need no introduction and if they do then you really ought to be ashamed of yourself for not knowing how they are or not having seen their vast body of work, many of which are bona fide comedy classics. This one from 1936 is based loosely on a story entitled The Money Box by W.W Jacobs and features one of Stan and Ollie’s favourite gimmicks, the dual role.
Having already introduced us to this concept in some of their early talkie shorts such as Brats (1930) and Twice Two (1933), the boys bring it to this feature length outing in which pandemonium and confusion ensue as the two sets of brothers are mistaken for each other in the same location. Usually in this situation we are expected to suspend disbelief as the cast mistake both duos regardless of what they are wearing. In this instance Bert and Alf are in their sailors uniforms while Stan and Ollie are in their trademark suits. Fortunately the writers Richard Connell and Felix Adler gave this some thought and included some set ups which require Bert and Alf to leave the scene to change their clothes (usually ridiculous ones but this IS Laurel and Hardy) allowing Stan and Ollie to enter and suffer a hilarious case of mistaken identity.
There is a central conceit here to keep the story moving at this is the mystery parcel the captain asks Bert and Alf to pick up. In it is an expensive ring which a gang of crooks are after and, surprise surprise, it ends up in the hands of Stan and Ollie. Confusion reigns supreme when Ollie meets Alf, who happens to dressed exactly like Stan, in a fancy night club. You can guess what happens next.
Even with a well thought out story this is still chock full of classic gags and typical Stan and Ollie frolics from the underrated word play to the physical slapstick. One their favourite foils, the underrated Jimmy Finlayson, finds himself smack bang in the middle of one of these instances, responding in kind until he is overcome and is forced to suffer, displaying his feelings with his famous facial reactions that always raise a giggle or two. Finlayson was always the unsung hero as a contributing factor in the success of Laurel and Hardy films and while many folk may not remember his name they will know his face with the thick moustache, bald head and of course his legendary one eyed double take.
It’s refreshing to see Stan and Ollie in the roles of fairly comfortable and settled men rather than the hopeless and hapless fools they usually portray, leaving that, in a lesser sense, to the Bert and Alf characters, although as navy men they are not so incompetent. But fear not because their familiar characteristics are present so this is not a huge departure for them. Another subtle aspect that may have gone over the heads of the audiences were the wives – Mrs. Hardy was the short, pitbull of a woman who had Ollie henpecked (even if he didn’t want to admit it) while Betty is taller than Stan but shares some of his simple mindedness, but was no fool either.
In the grand scheme of appraising the Laurel and Hardy oeuvre Our Relations is a film that often gets overlooked in favour of the much loved and established classics but in all honesty, this is just as enjoyable as those films, inventive in both story construction and in the dual screen effects of having two Stan and Ollies (aside from the very obvious double for Stan at the end who was a few inches taller and more butch looking than the real thing). Fans of the great men who may have passed this film over would do well to revisit this less well known gem.