Andrew Cobby writes: Things that make you go HM(mm)……..

In his first diatribe for a wee while, Andrew Cobby, the chief scribe of the Beau Chumps tent and a regular and very accomplished contributor to our weekly email bulletins and website, has come up with something even more ‘different than usual! his latest item, Andrew takes his usual irreverent and humorous look at, well, read on …

Things that make you go hm……..

‘Mr Hardy holds that a husband should tell his wife the whole truth – – Mr Laurel is crazy too -‘

The man himself, Harley Marquis ‘Beanie’ Walker

So wrote HM ‘Beanie’ Walker in one of his many memorable written introductions to a Laurel and Hardy short. We have to go all the way back to 1931 for this pearl which serves as the preface for Come Clean.

My thoughts have been much exercised by marriage recently. I am a firm believer in the wisdom of Mr Walker, particularly this aperçu that sometimes honesty isn’t the best policy. I tell my wife as little as possible and the little I do tell her I make up.  I am also a firm believer that this is why our marriage has, for better or for worse, lasted as long as it has.

It has to start somewhere. I was watching the wonderful Men O’War recently and one of its most charming elements is its depiction of the courting ritual. Armed with boxes of candy from Stan’s crafty win on the slot machine, the sailor boys are eager to impress the two young ladies (Anne Cornwall and Gloria Greer, aka ‘the quiet one’) who have caught their eye, and the two young flappers are equally eager to be impressed.

Beanie contributes no introductory insights, marital or nautical, to this one but, according to the credits, he is responsible for the dialogue. He even thoughtfully keeps to the maritime theme by almost sharing his name with a Royal Navy destroyer. Yes, really, there used to be an HMS Walker. As the destroyer kept us safe by patrolling the choppy waters of the British Isles, I like to think it did so with a witty aphorism on sea-faring stencilled across its bow.

HMS Walker – sadly, no witty aphorism stencilled across its bow…
Stan with Anne Cornwall in Men O’War

I don’t fancy yours much, as the old joke goes. ‘The Quiet One’ goes almost unnoticed but sparky Anne Cornwall more than makes up for her friend’s reticence. I was going to add a paragraph about Ms Greer’s lack of presence, but I think that would have been a little unfair to the young lady. According to IMDB, this was her first film, making only one more before her untimely death in 1931. Her appearance in Men O’War was a mis-match because she was up against Ms Cornwall, a veteran of over 30 films by the time the short was made. It isn’t her fault she fades into the background. Experience counts for a lot, especially when you’re being projected larger than life on to a cinema screen.  There’s no hiding place up there.

Gloria Greer

Gloria is billed in IMDB as ‘Blonde (uncredited)’ but who cares how an online database remembers her? Here’s to the ill-starred Gloria Greer who came and went before she had the chance to shine.

Stan and Ollie’s bid for naval supremacy founders under a barrage of errant row boats, flying cushions and some exuberant over-acting from Jimmie Finlayson. This was his first sound outing with the boys; indeed, it was his first sound outing, or it may have been his second. Randy Skretvedt tells us that “just before this, he had been in a First National picture ‘Two Weeks Off’ which had some talking sequences. Whether the actors whose voices were heard, we don’t know” He was good in the silents but they only allow us half the picture. Imagine never hearing his Scottish lilt, the haughty delivery and, of course, the “Doh!”Would there have been a Homer Simpson without Fin? Well, yes there would but not as we know him.

Still with Men O’War, here’s a wonderful ‘behind the scenes’ image taken on location in Hollenback Park in the Boyle Heights district of Los Angeles in May 1929. Not often seen on-set, Beanie Walker is front left and to Stan and Babe’s left is Lewis Foster and some of the crew.

Ending a film with characters submerged in water is always a sound idea – think of Perfect Day, Way Out West or Putting Pants on Philip – and the idea is even sounder if it involves a boatful of passers-by. After they got out of the lake. I wonder if Stan and his lady friend dried themselves off and went on to make it a night to remember.

The water-filled scenario could have been used to perk up the endings of some the boys’ films that tend to fizzle out. Instead of The Chimp concluding inconclusively with Ethel firing the handgun, they should perhaps have all chased her outside and fallen into a huge puddle. Or, at the end of Our Wife, Stan, Ollie, Ducky Lover, Ben Turpin and the awesome Blanche Payson (more on them shortly) could fall into a….well, you can guess the rest and maybe even make up a nice little story line of your own.

Our Wife is a little-known gem which shows a joyous Ollie ready to set sail aboard the SS Matrimony. Ah yes, matrimony – something that beings with ‘M’ and ends in ‘alas’. That isn’t one of mine, the credit and copyright for that belong to Gilbert O’Sullivan (left) who is a follower of HM Walker even if he doesn’t know it.

I refer to the film as little-known because I wouldn’t have thought that many non-fans would be aware of its existence. From my experience, the only one that non-fans remember is ‘the one where they all say goodbye….goodbye….goodbye….’

Our Wife has a simple premise. Ollie attempts to elope with Dulcie, aka Ducky Lover (henceforth referred to as DL), with the assistance of best man Stan, who manages to procure the services of an under-sized sedan. You can’t put a quart into a pint pot but the film manages to transcend the sum of its parts and become something wonderful.

With ‘Ducky Lover’, ahem, Babe London in Our Wife

It is a really funny film, helped on its way by an amusing intro from good old HM:’ – Mr Hardy was making big preparations to get married – Mr Laurel was taking a bath too -‘

DL is played by Jean ‘Babe’ London. She gives a memorable performance and keeps Anne Cornwall company in that special place I set aside for those who should have appeared with the boys more than once. For the purposes of the plot, DL tells her father that she is going to be married to Ollie and proudly shows him his picture. It’s one of Ollie looking coyly at the camera, twiddling his tie and wearing his bowler set at a rakish angle. It helps the fun that her father is played by Fin. He does a wonderful double take as he looks at the picture and then turns it upside down so that he can view the atrocity from all angles before delivering his verdict – “No! Emphatically no!”

Compare his reactions to those on display by the boating lake in Men O’War. His exasperation is more short-lived in Our Wife but it is just as intense. While we are in a comparative frame of mind, we could also consider Ollie’s reactions to seeing Stan’s picture in the newspaper in Block-Heads. It shouldn’t be funny when he looks at it for the third and fourth time, but it is.

Pride comes before a fall, or in this case, two falls and possibly a submission. Fin’s high-handed attitude is undermined when he trips over the spying butler on his way out of the door and is then sent on a headlong dive down the stairs courtesy of a carpet sweeper left lying in wait by the housemaid. That’s what I like about Fin – when he does something he does it with gusto. There are no half measures with him. He propels himself down the stairs in the same way that he jumps into the boat in Men O’War – with abandon. He is pompous and venal and devious in almost every role he plays but his refusal to deny any of these qualities makes him almost likeable. Are we laughing at him or laughing at ourselves? I suspect the answer is our old friend a bit of both.

One of my favourite interludes is when Ollie greets DL at the foot of the ladder and Stan throws rice at the pair of them. Not content with this, he goes on to throw a shoe at Ollie. It makes no difference to Stan that Ollie is standing right next to him when he hurls the shoe at him. You have to admire his reasoning. That’s what they do at weddings, so that’s what Stan does. I love the daft, pleased with himself grin on his face as he does it. Throwing rice has stood the test of time, but the reference to the old custom of throwing shoes at a newly-wed couple will be lost on most. By which I mean that it was lost on me until I consulted Inspector Google.

Bud Flanagan and Chesney Allan

It must have been a cold night because DL is wearing one of those full-length fur coats much favoured by 1930s rich kids and Bud Flanagan. It is a coat also worn by one half of the duo Clark and McCullough. I don’t know if it’s Clark or McCullough but it’s the half that doesn’t have the spectacles drawn on his face. Hope that helps.

Ollie could have got away with wearing a fur coat. He has the height and build for it and it’s disappointing to note that he doesn’t wear one as the newly-minted millionaire in Early to Bed. DL does look very fetching in it though…

Ms Payson in Our Wife

The devil is in the detail, of course, and I am particularly taken by the rags in Blanche’s hair. I don’t mean to be unkind, and I am no oil painting myself, but I wouldn’t have thought putting rags in her hair would significantly alter Blanche’s appearance for the better. Not that I’d tell her that to her face because I’ve seen her handiwork with her fists. Ms Payson died in 1964 and I still wouldn’t fancy my chances in a fight with her.

Ben Turpin gives a great performance as the minister. He reels off the words in the wedding ceremony in the manner of someone who has read them far too many times before and who no longer believes in the sanctity of marriage, assuming he ever did. Who is married to whom in the end is one of the great unanswered questions.

Mr Turpin’s rote reminds me of the auctioneer in Thicker Than Water who is equally unemotional and concerned only with driving up the price as high as he can. I half expect Mr Turpin to conclude with ‘sold to the jolly gentleman on my left’ as he slaps his hand down on the bible as if he’s playing snap.

Pat Harmon in full unintelligible flow in a nicely coloured still (by Paul Mitchell) in Berth Marks

Turpin’s minister also calls to mind the station master in Berth Marks who is similarly unintelligible when calling out the names of the train stations between here and Pottsville. Words are meant to clarify, aren’t they? They are meant to take the confusion out of things. I suppose that’s why they were invented. The station master’s patter is a fine subversion of that. Sometimes words don’t clarify, sometimes they just obfuscate (now, there’s a word).

It’s the station master’s job to make sure that passengers know where they’re going, and his recitation of station names probably makes perfect sense to him. What he fails to do is bridge the information gap between himself and the rest of the world. He has recited it so many times before that it has become meaningless. It is the same with the minister although I don’t suppose his cross-eyes help much.

While doing a bit of fact-finding for this piece I read the Wikipedia entry for Pat Harmon, the actor who plays the station master. I discovered that in 1935 he was sent to Folsom Prison, no less, for between two and ten years for stealing a horse. That is a long time for horse theft, isn’t it? I’ve been trying to think of steeds that would warrant such a penalty and I can only come up with Tony the Wonder Horse and Trigger. Mr Harmon may have been unlucky, perhaps Richard Cramer was presiding that day.

It is all sweetness and light for Ollie at the end of Our Wife. He may possibly have wed DL but then again, he may not. Regardless, it is for certain that it won’t be too long before he wakes up and sees that his lady love has morphed into Mae Busch or Daphne Pollard. This would really be messing with poor Ollie’s mind, but he may even find himself face to face with the no-nonsense Mrs Hardy from Helpmates just before she shifts her shape into the feisty character from Our Wife. Ragged hair optional.

Incidentally, I should point out that Blanche seems to refer to Mr Turpin as ‘Pa’ but she is billed as ‘Mrs William Gladding’ in IMDB and also as ‘The Wife of the Justice of the Peace’ in Wikipedia. Perhaps it’s best not to delve too deeply into the cross-eyed one’s domestic arrangements – they may be as skewed as his eyesight.

That’s Our Wife then – a great title, a great short and highly recommended as part of a double bill with Me and My Pal.

HM Walker provides another great observation on married life at the start of Brats:

‘ – Mr Laurel and Mr Hardy remained at home to take care of the children – – – Their wives had gone out for target practice – -‘

It is a good thing to learn from your mistakes, but it is just as instructive to learn from the mistakes of others. This quote is all I need to remind myself to keep my wife well away from shotguns. I can also learn the same lesson from Blotto, Sons of the Desert and Be Big! As far as I’m concerned, you can never have too many reminders.

But it’s not just about shotguns or the pots and pans. Mr Walker is too shrewd not to be referring also to those sly barbs and accusations that are a lot harder to deflect than shotgun pellets and flying crockery. You can imagine Mrs Laurel and Mrs Hardy getting together and comparing notes before returning home to re-open hostilities at a time of their choosing. Then again, that might be just my experience of marriage.

I think Stan lets the side down at the end of Sons when he comes clean to Betty. His first mistake is failing to take the long view. Puffing on a cigarette and clad in acres of silk he’ll be living in a fool’s paradise for a few days because after that he’ll be on tenterhooks waiting for the truce to end. It won’t be long before normal service is resumed, and he gets what Ollie’s getting next door.

Andrew, his hat and product placement attempt for his new computer…

HM, Beanie, even HMS – you can call him what you like, because a wise man by any other name would be as wise.

His witty contributions always set the mood with their shrewd take on the ups and downs of married life. He views marriage with a less than reverent eye and I have no problem with that. If something can’t withstand a healthy dose of disrespect every now and then what’s the point of taking it seriously the rest of the time?

In honour of the great man and his opinions on the married state I have written this wearing a beanie hat. I’ve also been listening, on repeat, to the aforementioned ‘Matrimony’ by the equally cynical Gilbert O’Sullivan. If you don’t believe me about the hat, please see the above pic. You’ll just have to take my word for it about Gilbert.

Great stuff as usual!  Andrew’s observations are both thought provoking and witty at the same time. So, I’m having a chuckle and thinking about his written word. Who says that blokes can’t multi-task! Mind you, Aperçu? Really Andrew? Why use a simple phrase when aperçu would do! 😊 I also had to look it up folks, and it apparently means ‘a comment or brief reference that makes an illuminating or entertaining point’! Andrew has a separate page on the website for his splendid musings which you can find by clicking here. MJ

6 thoughts on “Andrew Cobby writes: Things that make you go HM(mm)……..

  1. Another excellent read from Andrew, great work sir! I was particularly pleased to see a reference to Gilbert O’Sullivan! We are undoubtedly from a certain era. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Morning Ian and thanks for your kind comments that I know Andrew will be chuffed with!

      I must also complement you on the speed with which you posted your thoughts – within a few seconds, it seems, of the article being posted!

      Yes, the Gilbert O’Sullivan link “a follower of HM Walker even if he doesn’t know it”! made me chortle, and evoked memories of some of the wonderful songs he put out there!

      Stay safe and speak soon

      Mike

      Like

    2. Hello Ian – Thank you for your kind comments. You can’t beat a bit of Gilbert whether it’s Billy or O’Sullivan. I think Mr O’Sullivan was on top form when he wrote Matrimony. Take care. Best wishes – Andrew

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks Andrew. I enjoyed that!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Danny and thanks as always for visiting.

      I know Andrew has several of your books and he will be thrilled you’ve taken the time to read and indeed comment on his scribblings

      Take care and speak soon

      Mike.

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    2. You’re welcome, Danny. HM Walker is one of the many relatively unknown contributors who help to make Laurel and Hardy so memorable. I think he deserves nothing but praise and it was a pleasure writing about him.
      Thanks for commenting. Best wishes – Andrew

      Liked by 1 person

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