The Laurel and Hardy sound catalogue was frequently interspersed with music, primarily from the magical fingers of T Marvin Hatley and Leroy Shield. In this, we look at the incidental and background music, the actual movies that were planned and released as ‘musicals’ as well as the frequent occasions when the films we love so well were ‘interrupted’ by Stan, Ollie and occasionally others with a musical interlude or two.
The boys made four films that were specifically billed as musicals: These were Swiss Miss in 1938, Babes in Toyland (aka March of the Wooden Soldiers) in 1934, The Bohemian Girl (1936) and Fra Diavolo (aka The Devils Brother) in 1933. As you might expect, these varied in quality, some were the subject of much wrangling between Stan and Roach and one was shaded in notoriety when one of its stars died in ‘mysterious circumstances’ only five days after the initial preview.
Several of us Beau Chumps tent members got together and discussed these, and what follows is our collective thoughts on the musical aspects of this genre, though we must give our grateful thanks to Randy Skretvedt and his amazing ‘Laurel and Hardy: The Magic Behind the Movies’ which we used to verify memories and to confirm facts that are too many to mention individually! As is usual in our posts, if you would like to see a brief overview of each film, click on the individual film titles highlighted in each section.
We start though with a genre that largely goes unnoticed, perhaps because we are so used to and comfortable with it, or maybe as it has become synonymous with the classic Roach sound shorts and features. We refer of course to the incidental music that is such an essential part of those wonderful movies.
Laurel and Hardy Background Music
In 1936 and 1937, many early Laurel and Hardy sound shorts were reissued with musical soundtracks that had been added to the original releases. While it is great to see early productions like Brats and Berth Marks as originally released – with dialogue and sound effects only – I do feel that the addition of background music, even though not specifically written for those re-releases, really adds another dimension to them. I’m not so naïve as to think that this was done for purely artistic reasons, but instead to excuse their reissue to capitalise on a new audience while Laurel and Hardy were at their peak.
Background or incidental music began to be added to the boys sound shorts from mid-1930, and the bulk of these ‘stock themes’ that became a staple of Roach comedies in the thirties were penned by LeRoy Shield who had joined the Studio in 1930. He also scored Fra Diavolo as noted, as well as Our Relations.
Perhaps better known for Laurel and Hardy music though, was T Marvin Hatley; Hal Roach Studios Musical Director and the earlier composer of ‘Dance of the Cuckoos’ aka ‘Ku-Ku’ aka ‘The Ku-Ku song’ etc. Their compositions were so evocative of the day, so perfectly ‘in tune’ (if you’ll pardon the pun) with the on-screen action, that it is really difficult to imagine the films we love so well without them.
In the early thirties, many of these tunes were used in the Hal Roach comedy output in general, and if you happen across anything from the studios in that period – be it Charley Chase, Our Gang, Thelma Todd and Zazu Pitts / Patsy Kelly, Anita Garvin and Marion Byron et al, you will hear familiar ditties such as Here We Go, On to the Show, Teeter-Totter, Give Us a Hand etc. etc. In case you didn’t know, Randy Skretvedt’s definitive tome on the boys, ‘Laurel and Hardy : The Magic Behind the Movies’, lists all of the incidental music – in running order – for almost every sound short and all of the features.
As Musical Director for the Roach Studios from 1930 to 1939, Hatley more than occasionally appeared onscreen; in particular with Charlie Chase with whom he wrote many songs, but more obviously from our perspective – for instance – as the night club pianist in Sons of the Desert. He was Oscar nominated for both Way Out West and Block-Heads and was famously known to have said the only time Hal Roach ever spoke to him was when Roach first heard ‘The Frolic of the Lambs’ (the piccolo and bassoon tune from Way Out West) when he remarked “Cute music, cute music”!
Hatley wrote The Cuckoo Song (Ku-Ku) which became the Laurel and Hardy trademark intro tune and which debuted in Night Owls (in January 1930). He was 25 at the time and had written it as a time signal to be played on the hour on radio. There are several versions of what happened next, but as always, I defer to our friend Randy Skretvedt for the definitive: Stan had said to Hatley that “The top notes, or the melody represented Oliver Hardy – it sounded like a bugle call, very dominant. And the other part represented Stanley – its only two tones, very limited and its cuckoo because Stanley is always doing the wrong thing”. Babe reportedly purchased the rights to the tune off Hatley for $25, but that bit is not from Randy!
Hatley could play virtually any instrument “except the Harp” and was frequently needed to play just off camera – the piano in The The Music Box, a trumpet in Oliver the Eighth, a Tuba in Swiss Miss and Pick a Star. So crucial was Hartley to the studio that when he left Roach in 1939, the latter was forced to hire several new men to perform all of Hatley’s former duties!
Leroy Shield, who was noted as the composer of the underscore of 1933’s King Kong, already had two Laurel and Hardy scores to his name by then. The tunes used in Pardon Us would become staples of Roach comedies for years to come and a particular example of this is The Live Ghost where his compositions from 1930 and 1931 underscore the entire film.
He was first noted by the Roach studios for being the pianist for Thelma Todd’s tests in 1929 (for Victor Records – a recording career that came to nothing). He wrote bespoke scores for Another Fine Mess and Be Big in 1931 and quickly realised that much of his music could be used generically for other films. Indeed, it emerged that the studio was doing just that with some of his earlier compositions without permission or payment! This was ironed out though and he returned to the fold in 1933 where he rearranged and recorded Daniel Auber’s 1830 score for Fra Diavolo.
While much of Shield’s Roach output comprised background and incidental music, we get a rare chance to hear an uninterrupted performance of a Shield tune, in this case “You Are the Only One I Love”, while Stan and Ollie wrestle with the jigsaw puzzle in Me and My Pal (1933). His finest hours though were in Our Relations. He was signed on $500 per week plus expenses to get from his home in Chicago to write the score and he came up with over an hour of music, some of which was so good it was thought it might detract from the onscreen action! Sound engineer and music editor, Elmer Raguse, was therefore only interested in using the catchiest sections, and the more elaborate pieces were discarded. Some of his fine compositions were recycled in the final Laurel and Hardy–Hal Roach collaboration, Saps at Sea in 1940.
As mentioned earlier, initially, sound shorts were released with dialogue and sound effects but very little else. Several, including Perfect Day, Blotto, Brats, and County Hospital were reissued in 1937 and 1938 when sound editor William Ziegler added several tunes that Leroy Shield and T Marvin Hatley had written for Our Relations and Way Out West respectively. Newer sound effects were also added in some instances and others were ‘cleaned up’ to eliminate any ‘pre-code* ‘ material that may have been construed as objectionable. Sadly, in more than one case, it is only the re-released versions of these classics that survive today, though as touched on, both the original versions and 1937 re-rrelease of Brats and Berth Marks appear on the 2020 ‘Definitive Restorations’ DVD / Blu-Ray collection.
* The Motion Picture Production Code was the set of industry moral guidelines for the self-censorship of content that was applied to most United States motion pictures released by major studios from 1934 to 1968. It is also popularly known as the ‘Hays Code’, after Will H. Hays, who was president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) from 1922 to 1945.
Beau Chumps Vice Sheik (more from him later) sent this link to much of the incidental music used in the Laurel and Hardy films which was recorded between 1992 and 2000 by the Dutch revivalist music ensemble ‘The Beau Hunks’. If you haven’t head these versions before, don’t miss them – they are just wonderful!
The link will take you to “Bells” and will automatically move on to “Change my Clothes” and then “Colonial Gayeties” and so on and so forth…. However, you can click on the list on the right of the screen to listen to many selections in whatever order you like!
There are so many instances of musical interludes in Laurel and Hardy movies – who can forget Ollies “Go to Sleep my Bayhaybee” in Brats or his beautiful “Lazy Moon” in Pardon Us – but there were only four actual musicals. We’ll look at the musical interludes shortly, but firstly…
This is a musical without any good songs. Only the “Cuckoo Song” and “The Frolic of the Lambs” (the piccolo and bassoon tune from Way Out West) stand out but that may be because I am familiar with them.
‘How are you, what’s happening, what’s new?’ trills composer Victor Albert as he wends his way to the hotel in his pony and trap. The hotel staff come out in sympathy with Mr Albert and join him in song.
The song is entitled “Yo-Ho-Dee-O-Lay-Hee” which must owe its title to traditional Swiss yodelling (and we do get to hear the odd yodel before the start of the song).
There’s a scene in a shop in which Stan and Ollie speak a few lines in verse. It’s a sweet rhyme which comes just before a short song “It’s just an idea of my own” that Stan and Ollie sing with the shopkeeper. Stan is given a deep bass voice for the last few bars just like in Way Out West. The technique isn’t as effective here, partly because it’s difficult to understand the words I can’t understand much of what he’s singing.
I’ve read that only a short segment of the song remains in the film but I would be interested to know if this and the earlier rhyme formed part of a longer, continuous musical interlude.
Tunes like “The Cricket Song” and “I Can’t Get Over the Alps” are bad enough when sung by one person but they are even worse when most of the cast join in as well. The only good thing about the latter title is the gusto with which Eric Blore performs it. His hand gestures and facial expressions make it worth watching (with the sound turned down).
There is a nice scene in which Ollie serenades Mrs Composer (Della Lind) with “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” from beneath her window. Stan accompanies him on the tuba but I would like to have seen him do one of his eccentric dances, as he does in Pardon Us and The Flying Deuces. It would have added some charm to a film that doesn’t have much of it.
Hal Roach intended to shoot the film in colour and this may have been a good idea, if only to take the viewer’s mind off the songs. The only downside to colour is that the flag scenes near the end would probably look even more like a Nazi rally than they do in black and white.
Oh yes, I nearly forgot – there’s a song about a cricket in there too.
The Bohemian Girl
Billed as a comedy version of the opera by Michael W Balfe, this opens with a joyful ensemble rendition of “In the Gypsy Life” by the band of gypsies encamped illegally on the Arnheim estate, which is revisited quite magnificently by ‘Stan’ later.
Early on there is a delightful exchange between Ollie and his errant wife (Mae Busch, in her final appearance with Laurel and Hardy) where egged on by Stan – whom Busch calls “Woodpecker” – both the egging and name-calling being very reminiscent of similar scenes in Sons of the Desert (“You waxeater!”)
The culmination of Mae’s indiscretions results in one of Stan’s lesser known but still great lines: “Did you see him chuck her under the chin? If she was my wife, I’d chuck her under the wagon!”
We understandably hear operatic background music (largely by Nathaniel Shilkret) rather than the Marvin Hatley / Leroy Shield ditties we are used to, though we do get “Funny and Mysterious”, the same piece of Hatley music used to build tension as used when the Boys are trying to break into Mickey Fins Palace in Way Out West.
Looking at the sets, there clearly was a large investment in the movie which was severely compromised by the untimely and still mysterious death of the lovely Thelma Todd of whom we only get brief glimpse lip synching to “The True Song of the Gypsies” (below). Felix Knight (Tom Piper from the earlier Babes in Toyland) was one of the ‘fillers’ brought in to cover the big hole left by the deletion of Thelma’s scenes, when he warbles ‘Then You’ll Remember Me’.
In one of Stans many feats of unusual dexterity (think Finger Wiggle and Earsie-Kneesie-Nosie here), just after ordering two tankards of the proprietor’s finest vintage with his “and put a wallop in it” Stan proceeds to play ‘fingers’ with Ollie. Naturally he wins comfortably.
Ollie finding out he’s a father is very touching, and Busch not telling him until Arline is “old enough to stand the shock” goes straight over his head as he contemplates his new role.
Back to Stan’s ‘magnificent’ rendition of “In the Gypsy Life”. Ollie is getting young Arline (Darla Hood) ready for bed when we hear the tune in a beautiful falsetto voice and in walks ‘Uncle Stanley’. Ollie: “you know, you have a nice voice”. Stan: “Oh I had a much nicer voice until I ran a nail through it!” Stan then repeats the tune this time delivering it in deep baritone … the opposite way round to his routine during the marvellous rendition of “Trail of the Lonesome Pine” in Way Out West.
Twelve years later the gypsies have returned to the Arnheim Estate and a now adult Arline (Jaqueline Wells) is looking after our heroes. She sings “I Dreamt I Dwelled in Marble Halls” (or rather is dubbed by Rosina Lawrence) and Ollie is transfixed by her while Stan eats all of their breakfast. “Well, I didn’t want it to get cold”.
Stan is then given the task of bottling the wine but in a classic solo sequence lasting over 4 minutes he manages to drink most of it, getting “guzzled” in the process! This was a reworking of the Flagon drinking scene in Fra Diavolo (1933) where on that occasion, Ollie says he is “spiffed”!!! (see below: one assumes the latter got past the more lenient sensors of the day, where the aforementioned ‘code’ came in in 1934)
Arline is apprehended as ‘just another gypsy’ whilst hearing Count Arnheim singing a pretty torturous rendition of “Memory is the Only Friend that Grief can Call it’s Own”.
Finally, and speaking of torture, the boys are tortured in Arline’s stead. While Ollie howls while being stretched, Stan’s reaction to being squashed is, brilliantly, to not make a sound. Just raising his eyebrows and clamping his eyes shut in time with the pressure being applied is enough!
A nice touch is that throughout the movie, both Stan and Ollie have what look like blue noses with the cold! Perhaps Stan had in mind the title card from Below Zero. Or perhaps not, or he would have shot Mr Hardy’s for a jaybird…
Strangely, the musical interludes do not overpower the segments with the boys, nor do their comedic sequences seem contrived or inserted as filler. In short, the film works, though not particularly well as whenever the music is happening, we are desperate to get back to Stan and Ollie, who are on top form here. There is some awful acting by several of the ‘characters’: Devilshoof (Antonio Moreno) in particular, who perhaps was unhappy at all the reshoots that were needed to accommodate the changes to the film necessitated by the loss of Thelma. He was paid $250 less per week for these and, elsewhere in the movie, even has the nerve to refer to Stan as a ‘nitwit’!
Fra Diavolo / The Devil’s Brother
This is very much the Dennis King and Thelma Todd show and they are brilliant together. Thelma has never looked more glamorous and beautiful. Dennis King only did a few films as he was a theatre man, which was a shame as he is a natural star.
In the opening credits which are accompanied by the usual “Overture” of music to come, Both Ollio and Stanlio have signed their names; Stanlio with an X as he does in Any Old Port. The jaunty background we hear that returns throughout the picture is “Drink for Joy Bestowing”.
Fra Diavolo (Dennis King) masquerades as the elegant Marquis De San Marco and we see him in a coach serenading the beautiful Lady Pamela (Thelma Todd) with “On Yonder Rock Reclining” much to the boredom of her husband Lord Rocburg (James Finlayson) Lady P shows off her jewellery much to the Marquis’s delight.
It is nine minutes in until we see Stanlio and Ollio and they arrive to a tune not in the original opera but to Marvin Hatley’s “Ku-ku”, which Leroy Shield had rearranged in a baroque style for the scene. They’re on the road on horseback and Stanlio is the one stuck with a stubborn mule. Within minutes they are both robbed of their life savings but Stanlio has a plan to earn it back by becoming bandits themselves and pretending that Ollio is Fra Diavolo! He loves the idea and asks Stanlio to repeat it. No prizes for what follows … a usual hilarious Stan mix up.
Their first victim is an old woodcutter (James C Morton) who gives them a sob story and the boys end up giving him money – which he pops in the big bag of cash he pulls from his shirt! Next though, they try to rob Fra Diavolo himself and their punishment is that Stanlio must hang Ollio. This is probably my favourite scene in the film. Stanlio crying: “This is going to hurt you more than it’s going to hurt me”. Of course, Stanlio makes a mess of it and for some mad reason, Diavolo gives them a second chance; making them his personal servants on his quest.
Lord and Lady Rocburg arrive at an Inn to “My Lord and Lady Have Been Robbed”, and the boys also deliver Diavolo in his litter but have a comic run in with a bull because Stanlio waves his red handkerchief at some girls. The boys then see a reward poster for Diavolo and decide to cash in, but again make a mess of it by capturing Lord Rocburg by mistake. Diavolo realises what has gone on and chases them down a well, but is obviously a glutton for punishment as he gives the boys another chance. Cut to the bar and Stanlio starts playing ‘Earsy, Kneesy, Nosey’ much to Ollio and the Innkeepers annoyance (Henry Armetta), keeping the latter up all night trying to perfect it.
Diavolo then plots to steal her ladyship’s jewellery and the 500,000 francs she has hidden in her petticoats, using a signal – him singing “Silence Befriending” – to get the boys attention. Part of the plan is for the boys to deliver a drugged glass of wine to Lord Rocburg but Stanlio drinks it instead. So throughout the whole robbery attempt, Ollio must try to keep Stanlio awake to great comic effect, but I must admit it goes on a bit too long.
A risqué scene where the innkeeper’s daughter, Zerlina, strips down to her lingerie and admires her figure in the mirror while singing “For a Servant There’s No Denying” precedes the day of her wedding where Stanlio plays ‘finger wiggle’, again to Ollio and the Innkeeper’s frustration.
The boys are told to go down to the cellar to fetch the wine for the wedding and what follows is classic Stan and Ollie. Stanlio gets ‘spiffed’ on the wine to the tune of a drunken version of “Drink for Joy Bestowing” and has a laughing fit which Olllio joins in with – very reminiscent of Blotto. Stanlio’s drunkenness gets them all caught and are sentenced to death by firing squad but are saved when he asks to blow his nose with his red handkerchief which enrages the bull again! In the confusion they all escape bringing the movie to an abrupt end.
The sets and costumes in this are as good as anything you will see at that time and the music is from Daniel Auber’s original score, splendidly arranged by Leroy Shield. Some of the songs are quite catchy and there is some classic Stan and Ollie but not enough. Some of the editing is poor and Fin’s comic talents are wasted as Lord Rocburg. I thought he would have been better as the Innkeeper. For me though, why this was Stan and Ollie’s apparent favourite is a mystery.
Babes in Toyland / The March of the Wooden Soldiers
Loosely based on Victor Herbert’s 1903 Operetta, this is not one of my favourite Laurel and Hardy outings as it contains far too much plot. Even though the segments with the boys are generally enjoyable, sometimes these feel ‘inserted’ into the film. The story is a simple one: Stannie Dum and Ollie Dee do what they can to keep their landlady, Mother Peep (Florence Roberts), from being foreclosed by evil landlord Silas Barnaby (Henry Brandon), who also has designs on Mother Peep’s daughter, Bo-Peep (Charlotte Henry).
Stan and Hal Roach fell out over the ‘script’ for this feature which was completely rewritten from Roach’s initial concept, and the final product deviated massively from both that and the original operetta.
The film itself – which understandably given the beautiful, high-colour sets was originally planned to be filmed in colour – opens with the usual orchestral “Ovation” of many of the largely Herbert composed pieces that would follow.
Mother Goose then sings “Toyland” to an opening story book with Stannie and Ollie asleep inside, but blowing a feather between each other which Stannie eventually swallows.
Barnaby distracts Bo-Peep with a proposal of marriage so the sheep escape and Tom Piper (Felix Knight) sings “Don’t’ Cry Bo-Peep…” and he instead announces the future Mrs Piper to the ensemble in the background.
Barnaby though has the mortgage on Mother Peeps house, which he uses as leverage to get Bo-Peeps hand. Stan knocks his hat off with a beautifully placed pee-wee shot, though on this, Ollie says: “Piffle; that’s the silliest thing I ever saw” He then goes on to chide Stannie that anything he can do, he himself can do better. Stannie quickly reminds him of his finger wiggle in an homage to Fra Diavolo which was made the previous year.
When the boys try to hide Ollie in Barnaby’s house so he can steal the mortgage deed, the music “I can’t do the Sum” is playing, and we hear this repeatedly throughout the movie when building a melodramatic atmosphere is needed. It doesn’t work and Bo-Peep reluctantly agrees to Barnaby’s proposal.
In an uncomfortable sequence echoing back to Our Wife Ollie has the idea of Stannie pretend to be Bo-Peep and marrying Barnaby but Stannie is distraught when he realises what has happened: “…but I don’t love him”
Tom tells Bo-Peep that she no longer needs to worry about Barnaby has he will take her away singing “Castles in Spain”, but then we hear “Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf” as Barnaby frames Tom for ‘pignapping’.
In Bogeyland, Tom Tom and Bo-Peep sing “Go to sleep, Slumber Deep” while Barnaby summons his friends, the bogeymen by er, bashing a couple using a stalactite as a club. Whenever the bogeymen appear, “The Spiders Den” is playing.
Triumphant music “March of the Toys” is playing when Stans one-hundred toy solders six-feet high are ‘dealing with’ the bogeymen.
I didn’t really enjoy this as much as I remember from way back when, but the sequences with Stan and Babe in are usually good value and enjoyable.
So, those are the Laurel and Hardy Musicals. We generally thought that too much plot waters down Laurel and Hardy, and the musicals are, of course, heavy with back stories. Some of the later Roach Features could possibly be similarly criticised, but what about very little plot and just a little bit of music here and there? For this, dear reader, we consider …
In addition to the actual musicals, Laurel and Hardy frequently had ‘musical interludes’ in their comedies. Some are obvious and well know, like “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine” in Way Out West, and others that are less prominent like “In the Good Old Summertime” from Below Zero.
Everyone the world over surely knows the Laurel and Hardy theme tune “Dance of the Cuckoos; aka Ku-Ku” that was created by T Marvin Hatley, but what about other musical interludes from the films of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy where they feature? Vice Sheik Peter consider these:
You may not know this but Babe Hardy was a trained singer and what a fine voice he had. Babe sang many of the musical numbers in the boys’ early films. With Stan either lending a small part – like in in a couple of songs that featured in Way Out West, but more usually, Stan danced as Babe sang. Stan performed his dance routines very well as he was very light on his feet. Babe also did a fine soft shoe shuffle but his forte was singing. He always put such feeling in to the songs he sang and you can see he took great pleasure and a little embarrassment at doing the solos; I am thinking here of Pardon Us which we will cover later.
The most famous dance routine the boys did was of course “At the Ball, That’s All” from Way Out West when they dance to the song being sung by The Avalon Boys. The boys show great skill and poise from the slow start tapping a foot to the great routine of light footsteps, moves and charm so beloved by all Sons of the Desert and everyone the world over. You cannot forget their almost UK number one hit single “Trail of the Lonesome Pine” in 1976 which originated in 1913 by Ballard MacDonald and Harry Carroll. Funnily enough the song was inspired by the 1908 novel of the same name by John Fox Jnr.
The way Ollie interrupts one of the Avalon Boys as the singing cowboy is great. Then Stan joins in to harmonise with Babe to continue the song. When Stan changes in to deep baritone (sung by Chill Wills) this annoys Ollie enough to crack Stan on the head with a mallet, only for Stan to change key to falsetto (sung by Rosina Lawrence) for the big finale when it’s ‘goodnight Vienna’ for Stan as he keels over and snores away happily. Pure genius. At the end when they sing “I want to be in Dixie” with Rosina’s Mary Roberts, Stan lends his voice to the trio but he is not quite as tuneful as Ollie, but at least Stan knows how to spell Dixie.
The film is bursting with other interludes too. In almost the opening sequence, we hear Lola Marcel (Sharon Lynne) belting out “Won’t You Be My Lovey Dovey?” which was first published in 1905, with lyrics by E. P. Moran and music by Seymour Firth. An then there’s an hilarious instrumental version of “Where Did You Get That Hat?” (Joseph Sullivan, 1888) where Stan is attempting to eat Ollie’s hat. We hear that Marvin Hatley added the song to the score at Stan’s suggestion.
In Pardon Us, while the boys are in disguise, Ollie gives a wonderful rendition of “Lazy Moon” that was written by Bob Cole in 1903. Its a beautiful performance and you can see how much he is enjoying singing the song and at the end as I mentioned earlier, when he receives the applause, he shows his embarrassment. Truly wonderful. Then Stan is pushed forward to do ‘his turn’ with a graceful dance ending up with him going head first in to the pond. Staying with Pardon Us for a little more musical sidesteps – but not featuring Stan and Babe, we have “Swing along chillum” and “I Want to go back to Michigan” again sung by the Avalon Boys.
A very similar routine to that of “Lazy Moon” is when Babe sings “Shine on Harvest Moon” in The Flying Deuces. This tune was created by married vaudeville team Nora Bayes and Jack Norworth, with Stan doing an almost identical but shorter dance. Still with The Flying Deuces, how can we forget Stan’s bed harp solo. Harpo Marx eat your heart out!
Ollie is so pleased that the rather unbalanced Mae Busch has answered his telegram in Oliver the Eighth, he warbles “I’m Sitting on Top of the World” (Henderson, Lewis and Young) while packing to leave his and Stan’s ‘Tonsorial Parlour’. The tune was published in 1925 and made famous by Al Jolson.
Below Zero sees the Boys busking with a cheery tune “In the Good Old Summer Time” which was written in 1902 by George Evans and Ren Shields. The only problem is it is snowing, freezing cold and somewhat getting the back up of Charlie Hall as he shovels snow from the sidewalk. It’s just great when Charlie sneers at them “In the good old summer time!” Talk about a song being ironic but hilarious.
Hardly musical, but what about Stan’s tooting of the horn while Ollie warbles “Fre-hesh fiiiiish, caught in the ocean this mo-o-orning!” in Towed in a Hole. Incidentally, have you ever noticed, in the final few frames at the end of that sequence Stan smiles to someone off camera and appears to poke himself in the eye with said horn?
Charlie Hall is again on the receiving end of a musical spot in Them Thar Hills when he returns to the trailer to see and hear his wife, the fantastic Mae Busch and the boys somewhat merry, with mountain well water (Its the iron in it!) You’ll remember “The Old Spinning Wheel” – da dadaa, da dadee, da dee dum dum. Pom Pom. This is preceded by Stan and Ollie starting to sing this little ditty as they prepare a delicious meal of a plate of beans and a pot of steaming hot coffee. If only the top Michelin starred chefs could plan a meal like that.
Ollie, as Colonel Buckshot, tinkles the ivories with “The Flea Waltz” in Another Fine Mess to impress Lord Leopold Ambrose Plumtree (accent on the ‘lum’) with a dramatic start and finish to his rendition. Then in Chickens Come Home as Mae Busch is on her way to gatecrash the Hardy residence, he accompanies his wife at the piano with an ironic rendition of Irving Berlin’s 1913 classic “Somebody’s Coming to My House”. Another song that fits the scene perfectly; especially with Babe’s quite brilliant acting.
In Brats, Big Ollie gives us a rendition of the lullaby “Go to Sleep My Baby” which works in getting in little Stan and little Ollie to sleep until big Stan puts his oar by lending his voice to the serenade. Stick to snapping your fingers to the tune Stan, it’s safer.
“The ideal of my dreams” is sung by lovelorn Ollie in Beau Chumps, which was written by Herbert Ingraham in 1920. He sings this with such heartfelt feeling to the love of his life, only to have his heart broken by that vampire, that wrecker of men’s happiness, Jeanie Weenie, aka the blond bombshell Jean Harlow. And to think, Ollie learned about women from her.
Ollie also sings a couple of songs very briefly in a couple of features. In Swiss Miss as we have aleady heard, there’s “Let Me Call You Sweetheart”, a 1910 composition by Leo Friedman and Beth Slater Whitson where he attempts to serenade Della Lind’s Anna, accompanied by Stan on the very large tuba we have seen above. Then, in Sons of the Desert we get Ollie’s rendition of “Honolulu Baby”, as they return home after the convention or should that be from the break in Honolulu, having already heard Ty Parvis rendering the ‘official’ version.
Although neither of them sing or dance in Blotto, Stan is in floods of tears as he is full of guilt and remorse at the way he has betrayed his wife by drinking her liquor when they are sitting in the Rainbow Club listening to “The Curse of the Aching Heart” (Al Piantadosi and Henry Fink, 1913). This was thought to be ancient in 1929 and is therefore even funnier now!
Together, the boys do a music spot during Jitterbugs as their original Zoot Suit band with mechanical accompaniment entertain the crowd at the fair.
I do enjoy these musical snippets with Stan and Babe – there are more – and I hope you do also but at the end of the day, as long as Stan and Babe are featured, it can’t be bad.
Willie McIntyre mentioned Marc De Coninck’s book THE MUSIC OF LAUREL & HARDY (in English, by the way!). “This is for me the best of its kind. He put an enormous amount of work into it and launched his book last year at the European Convention.”
Marc told Mike that: Despite all the literature that already had appeared about Laurel & Hardy, there was a substantial aspect of their films that remained under the radar: the music that was used in their movies. Not the music that was written especially for the films by the composers of the Hal Roach Studios like T. Marvin Hatley and Leroy Shield, but the melodies and songs that were sometimes centuries old when they were used or that were just the popular music of that time.
A lot of credit goes to T. Marvin Hatley. As head of the music department at the Roach Studios he not only composed his songs for the films but he also selected the other music. Sometimes Stan or Babe would come up with an idea for a song. For instance, in Way Out West, when Stan is eating Ollie’s hat, Stan suggested the song ‘Where did you get that hat?’ to be used in that scene. But it was primarily the musical know-how of T. Marvin Hatley that made the films of Laurel & Hardy the perfect combination of comedy and music.
That sounds good to us and if you’d like to order a copy, please send Marc an email and he will let you know the total price (The book is 15 euro + mailing costs) and how to pay. He’ll be happy to sign and dedicate your copy too!
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