Sons of the Desert


1h 8m 1933
Sons of the Desert

Brief Synopsis

Two friends hatch a harebrained scheme to attend a lodge convention over their wives' objections.

Film Details

Genre
Comedy
Release Date
Dec 29, 1933
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Hal Roach Studios, Inc.; Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
Distribution Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 8m
Film Length
5,955ft (7 reels)

Synopsis

In Los Angeles, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy arrive late at their Sons of the Desert lodge meeting, but join with the others in taking an oath to attend the national convention in Chicago the next week. Stan is afraid that his wife Betty will not allow him to go, so on the way home, Ollie advises him to tell her that he is going rather than ask her permission, as Ollie intends to do with his wife Lottie. Once home, however, Lottie forbids Ollie to go, and when he protests, she throws a couple of vases at him. A few days later, Ollie pretends to be horribly ill, and Stan brings in Dr. Horace Meddick, a veterinarian whom the boys have bribed to tell Lottie that Ollie must go on an ocean voyage to Honolulu in order to recover. Lottie detests the ocean, and so Stan volunteers to accompany Ollie on their "ocean voyage," which is actually a trip to the convention. At the convention, the boys are having a swell time with a practical joker named Charley, who tells them that he has a sister in Los Angeles. As a gag Charley calls his sister and has her speak to Ollie, who realizes that the sister is none other than his wife Lottie, and Charley is therefore his long-lost brother-in-law. In Los Angeles the next day, Lottie and Betty discover that the ocean liner their husbands are supposedly on has sunk, and that the survivors are due to arrive in thirty-six hours. While the girls are at the liner's office trying to find out the names of the survivors, Stan and Ollie arrive home. They see the newspaper headlines about the ship sinking and panic when they hear the girls returning. They run up to the attic and decide to stay there until the next morning when the girls go out and they can climb down. Unknown to the boys, however, Lottie and Betty go to the movies to distract themselves, and while there they see a newsreel of the convention parade, prominently featuring Stan and Ollie. A terrible storm rages as the girls return home and argue about which of their husbands will confess the truth. Up in the attic, lightning strikes the bedsprings the boys are sleeping on, and when the girls hear their anguished cries, Betty gets her gun. When Stan and Ollie hear the girls coming into the attic, they climb on to the roof in the pouring rain. After they slide down the drain pipe, a passing policeman catches them and takes them to Ollie's house to verify that he lives there. Betty and Lottie agree to hear their stories, and Ollie begins a wild tale about being on the sinking ocean liner and "ship-hiking" their way back to land. Betty asks Stan if he and Ollie are telling the truth, and poor Stan, unable to stand the strain of lying, confesses all. Betty takes Stan home, and while she pampers him for being honest, Lottie pelts Ollie with crockery for lying.

Photo Collections

Sons of the Desert - Movie Posters
Sons of the Desert - Movie Posters

Videos

Movie Clip

Hosted Intro

Film Details

Genre
Comedy
Release Date
Dec 29, 1933
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Hal Roach Studios, Inc.; Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
Distribution Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 8m
Film Length
5,955ft (7 reels)

Articles

The Essentials - The Music Box/Sons of the Desert


THE MUSIC BOX Synopsis

Laurel and Hardy play a couple of movers consigned to hauling a cumbersome player piano up a gigantic set of stairs that runs from the street level to a house high above. They encounter numerous difficulties, interruptions and pratfalls along the way but finally manage, after considerable damage to the house, to complete the delivery, only to find that the blustering, angry resident, Professor von Schwarzenhoffen, hates pianos. Appropriate comic destruction and revenge ensues.

Director: James Parrott
Producer: Hal Roach
Screenplay: H.M. Walker
Cinematography: Len Powers
Editing: Richard Currier
Original Music: Harry Graham, Marvin Hatley, Leroy Shield (all uncredited)
Cast: Stan Laurel (Stanley), Oliver Hardy (Oliver), Billy Gilbert (Prof. von Schwarzenhoffen), Hazel Howell (Mrs. von Schwarzenhoffen), Charlie Hall (Postman).
BW-29m.

SONS OF THE DESERT Synopsis

Stan and Ollie take a solemn oath to attend the annual convention of their fraternal order, the Sons of the Desert, in Chicago. But getting their wives to agree to it is quite another matter. So Ollie devises a plan whereby he will appear to be seriously ill. Stan gets a "doctor" to prescribe an ocean voyage to Hawaii. Because Ollie's wife is terribly frightened of the sea, she agrees to allow her husband to go on the life-saving trip with his best friend. While the boys whoop it up in Chicago, their wives get word that the ship they supposedly sailed on is sinking in a typhoon at sea. Distraught, they attend a movie to take their minds off the worry and spot their wayward spouses in a newsreel report about the convention. When they return home, the boys are forced into greater acts of deception to cover themselves, but to no avail, of course.

Director: William A. Seiter
Producer: Hal Roach
Screenplay: Frank Craven
Cinematography: Kenneth Peach
Editing: Bert Jordan
Original Music: William Axt, George M. Cohan, Marvin Hatley, Paul Marquardt, O'Donnell-Heath, Leroy Shield (all uncredited)
Cast: Stan Laurel (Stanley), Oliver Hardy (Oliver), Charley Chase (Charley Chase), Mae Busch (Lottie Hardy), Dorothy Christy (Betty Laurel), Lucien Littlefield (Dr. Meddick).
BW-65m.

Why THE MUSIC BOX and SONS OF THE DESERT Are Essential

When Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were officially and permanently constituted as a team in 1927 after years of separate movie careers (10 for Laurel, 13 for Hardy), the silent era was nearly over and the screen was already dominated by the "Big Three" of screen comedy – Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd – as well as a number of other lesser but popular talents. But within the next two years before the coming of sound and over the course of more than 20 two-reel silent shorts for producer Hal Roach, Laurel and Hardy became immensely popular with critics and audiences alike. Even more remarkable than this burst of success, they alone among their comic contemporaries made the transition to talkies without a hitch, becoming more popular than ever before. They achieved this by forging an indelible on-screen relationship that became possible only after they reversed their previous film personae. Laurel, who had come to America as Chaplin's understudy on a vaudeville tour, started his motion picture career as a grinning, aggressive, even frantic presence, while Hardy was a cherubic, self-effacing second or third banana as well as an occasional mock-villain in comic melodramas. With these images, they co-starred in a handful of movies for Roach, who seemed unable or unwilling to recognize at first what he had in the pair. But once Hardy was elevated to the position of perturbable take-charge perpetrator and Laurel became the timid, blinking reactor to his actions, an interaction became possible that no screen team before or since has quite matched. (Ironically, it was Laurel who not only claimed first billing but also retained creative control of all of their material).

Their brand of comedy, based on relationship and emotion as much as slapstick and physicality, translated well into talking pictures, and their voices matched their visual personalities so well that audiences immediately accepted them with sound. The Music Box and Sons of the Desert represent the best of this period. The Boys (as they were often known) were at their best in two-reel shorts that allowed them to find a rich variety of gags within a single basic situation. Such was the case with The Music Box. The simple story offered a number of physical comedy possibilities in the movement of a piano up an implausibly long flight of stairs and verbal humor in interactions with a range of characters providing roadblocks along the way. Although expanded beyond their earlier shorts to three reels, some of which were built around the same basic premise, the comedy is fresh and inventive. Case in point: cutting away for just a moment from the awesome load they bear, the camera follows a hat bouncing merrily down the staircase, almost giddy with freedom and lightness, until it lands in the street and is immediately squashed by a passing vehicle. The film so impressed and delighted the public, the reviewers and the industry alike, that Roach was able to convince the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to create an award for comedy shorts, and The Music Box became the first film to win in that category. The film has remained so indelibly in the popular imagination that the staircase location has become a historic site, revered by fans and other artists.

With the coming of sound and the Depression years, motion picture exhibition underwent some changes. More and more, people wanted to see double features, and Hal Roach, who had built his comic empire on shorts, reluctantly turned to feature production to meet the demand. Laurel and Hardy were the top attraction in shorts, and their names alone often brought in more audience members than the full-length films with which they were paired. But the trend was inevitable, and Roach knew he had to build longer films around his two biggest stars. In later years, particularly after they left the Roach Studios, the duo's features would become uninspired and monotonous and too lengthy to play to their strengths as effectively. But in the early 30s, Roach was able to fashion films of approximately an hour's length that still captured what the Boys did best.

Sons of the Desert, the fourth of their longer films, is generally considered the pinnacle of Laurel and Hardy's feature work for Roach, and an inspiration for fans the world over. Playing on a familiar Laurel and Hardy motif – their attempts to outwit their domineering wives to enjoy themselves at more "manly" activities – and featuring a guest appearance by popular Roach player Charley Chase (whom the duo supported in the comic's early silent shorts), the picture became one of the Top 10 box office hits of the year. While not totally avoiding full-out slapstick, the humor in this picture derives primarily from character and situation, making it one of their subtlest yet funniest films, thanks to the association with one of their most compatible directors, William Seiter. Unfortunately, the three never worked together again.

For fans, these are the films to return to again and again; for the uninitiated, they are the ones to go to for a clear picture of what made this team so great. Stan Laurel always resisted analyzing their comedy, believing it an impossible task because of the ephemeral nature of humor. But Oliver Hardy once noted that the characters they created "were nice, very nice people. They never get anywhere because they are both so dumb, but they don't know they're dumb. One of the reasons people like us, I guess, is because they feel superior to us." Perhaps Hal Roach said it best: "Each was individually brilliant as a comedian, yet each could serve as a foil for the other. They complemented each other perfectly. Basically, the Stan and Ollie characters were childlike, innocent. The best visual comedians imitate children, really. No one could do this as well as Laurel and Hardy, and still be believable. We always strived for that and we sure must have succeeded....People like that aren't around anymore."

by Rob Nixon
The Essentials - The Music Box/sons Of The Desert

The Essentials - The Music Box/Sons of the Desert

THE MUSIC BOX Synopsis Laurel and Hardy play a couple of movers consigned to hauling a cumbersome player piano up a gigantic set of stairs that runs from the street level to a house high above. They encounter numerous difficulties, interruptions and pratfalls along the way but finally manage, after considerable damage to the house, to complete the delivery, only to find that the blustering, angry resident, Professor von Schwarzenhoffen, hates pianos. Appropriate comic destruction and revenge ensues. Director: James Parrott Producer: Hal Roach Screenplay: H.M. Walker Cinematography: Len Powers Editing: Richard Currier Original Music: Harry Graham, Marvin Hatley, Leroy Shield (all uncredited) Cast: Stan Laurel (Stanley), Oliver Hardy (Oliver), Billy Gilbert (Prof. von Schwarzenhoffen), Hazel Howell (Mrs. von Schwarzenhoffen), Charlie Hall (Postman). BW-29m. SONS OF THE DESERT Synopsis Stan and Ollie take a solemn oath to attend the annual convention of their fraternal order, the Sons of the Desert, in Chicago. But getting their wives to agree to it is quite another matter. So Ollie devises a plan whereby he will appear to be seriously ill. Stan gets a "doctor" to prescribe an ocean voyage to Hawaii. Because Ollie's wife is terribly frightened of the sea, she agrees to allow her husband to go on the life-saving trip with his best friend. While the boys whoop it up in Chicago, their wives get word that the ship they supposedly sailed on is sinking in a typhoon at sea. Distraught, they attend a movie to take their minds off the worry and spot their wayward spouses in a newsreel report about the convention. When they return home, the boys are forced into greater acts of deception to cover themselves, but to no avail, of course. Director: William A. Seiter Producer: Hal Roach Screenplay: Frank Craven Cinematography: Kenneth Peach Editing: Bert Jordan Original Music: William Axt, George M. Cohan, Marvin Hatley, Paul Marquardt, O'Donnell-Heath, Leroy Shield (all uncredited) Cast: Stan Laurel (Stanley), Oliver Hardy (Oliver), Charley Chase (Charley Chase), Mae Busch (Lottie Hardy), Dorothy Christy (Betty Laurel), Lucien Littlefield (Dr. Meddick). BW-65m. Why THE MUSIC BOX and SONS OF THE DESERT Are Essential When Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were officially and permanently constituted as a team in 1927 after years of separate movie careers (10 for Laurel, 13 for Hardy), the silent era was nearly over and the screen was already dominated by the "Big Three" of screen comedy – Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd – as well as a number of other lesser but popular talents. But within the next two years before the coming of sound and over the course of more than 20 two-reel silent shorts for producer Hal Roach, Laurel and Hardy became immensely popular with critics and audiences alike. Even more remarkable than this burst of success, they alone among their comic contemporaries made the transition to talkies without a hitch, becoming more popular than ever before. They achieved this by forging an indelible on-screen relationship that became possible only after they reversed their previous film personae. Laurel, who had come to America as Chaplin's understudy on a vaudeville tour, started his motion picture career as a grinning, aggressive, even frantic presence, while Hardy was a cherubic, self-effacing second or third banana as well as an occasional mock-villain in comic melodramas. With these images, they co-starred in a handful of movies for Roach, who seemed unable or unwilling to recognize at first what he had in the pair. But once Hardy was elevated to the position of perturbable take-charge perpetrator and Laurel became the timid, blinking reactor to his actions, an interaction became possible that no screen team before or since has quite matched. (Ironically, it was Laurel who not only claimed first billing but also retained creative control of all of their material). Their brand of comedy, based on relationship and emotion as much as slapstick and physicality, translated well into talking pictures, and their voices matched their visual personalities so well that audiences immediately accepted them with sound. The Music Box and Sons of the Desert represent the best of this period. The Boys (as they were often known) were at their best in two-reel shorts that allowed them to find a rich variety of gags within a single basic situation. Such was the case with The Music Box. The simple story offered a number of physical comedy possibilities in the movement of a piano up an implausibly long flight of stairs and verbal humor in interactions with a range of characters providing roadblocks along the way. Although expanded beyond their earlier shorts to three reels, some of which were built around the same basic premise, the comedy is fresh and inventive. Case in point: cutting away for just a moment from the awesome load they bear, the camera follows a hat bouncing merrily down the staircase, almost giddy with freedom and lightness, until it lands in the street and is immediately squashed by a passing vehicle. The film so impressed and delighted the public, the reviewers and the industry alike, that Roach was able to convince the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to create an award for comedy shorts, and The Music Box became the first film to win in that category. The film has remained so indelibly in the popular imagination that the staircase location has become a historic site, revered by fans and other artists. With the coming of sound and the Depression years, motion picture exhibition underwent some changes. More and more, people wanted to see double features, and Hal Roach, who had built his comic empire on shorts, reluctantly turned to feature production to meet the demand. Laurel and Hardy were the top attraction in shorts, and their names alone often brought in more audience members than the full-length films with which they were paired. But the trend was inevitable, and Roach knew he had to build longer films around his two biggest stars. In later years, particularly after they left the Roach Studios, the duo's features would become uninspired and monotonous and too lengthy to play to their strengths as effectively. But in the early 30s, Roach was able to fashion films of approximately an hour's length that still captured what the Boys did best. Sons of the Desert, the fourth of their longer films, is generally considered the pinnacle of Laurel and Hardy's feature work for Roach, and an inspiration for fans the world over. Playing on a familiar Laurel and Hardy motif – their attempts to outwit their domineering wives to enjoy themselves at more "manly" activities – and featuring a guest appearance by popular Roach player Charley Chase (whom the duo supported in the comic's early silent shorts), the picture became one of the Top 10 box office hits of the year. While not totally avoiding full-out slapstick, the humor in this picture derives primarily from character and situation, making it one of their subtlest yet funniest films, thanks to the association with one of their most compatible directors, William Seiter. Unfortunately, the three never worked together again. For fans, these are the films to return to again and again; for the uninitiated, they are the ones to go to for a clear picture of what made this team so great. Stan Laurel always resisted analyzing their comedy, believing it an impossible task because of the ephemeral nature of humor. But Oliver Hardy once noted that the characters they created "were nice, very nice people. They never get anywhere because they are both so dumb, but they don't know they're dumb. One of the reasons people like us, I guess, is because they feel superior to us." Perhaps Hal Roach said it best: "Each was individually brilliant as a comedian, yet each could serve as a foil for the other. They complemented each other perfectly. Basically, the Stan and Ollie characters were childlike, innocent. The best visual comedians imitate children, really. No one could do this as well as Laurel and Hardy, and still be believable. We always strived for that and we sure must have succeeded....People like that aren't around anymore." by Rob Nixon

Pop Culture 101 - The Music Box/Sons of the Desert


"If I have drawn from anyone more than others, I would say it would be Laurel and Hardy. I guess I have every film they ever did, and quite often they come to my rescue in a strange way. If there's a moment when I need a physically humorous perspective and I'm dealing with one or two people, I seem to revert to doing Stan and Ollie...and that seems to save me. I love them dearly. They bring tears to my eyes along with the laughter. I owe them a lot of thanks." – Blake Edwards, director of such comedies as 10 (1979), Victor/Victoria (1982), and the Pink Panther series.

Actor Chuck McCann has performed as Oliver Hardy a number of times with various co-stars as Laurel. His first network prime time television appearance in tribute to Hardy was in a late 1950s episode of The Gary Moore Show with Dick Van Dyke as Laurel. Other "Laurels" have included Tom Poston and Jim MacGeorge, with whom McCann appeared in a series of TV ads for such products as Arby's, Tony's Pizza, and Anco Windshield Wipers. McCann also had a couple of early TV shows based on the duo: Chuck McCann's Laurel and Hardy Show and Laurel and Hardy and Chuck. He was one of the founding members of the Sons of the Desert organization.

The staircase used in The Music Box has become a popular tourist site, although for many years its location was unknown. Dedicated Laurel and Hardy fans spent years trying to find the stairs, and in 1970, Pratfall magazine published a photo of co-star Billy Gilbert (whose home the duo destroys in the picture) with fans and magazine staffers standing next to a set of stairs assumed to be the ones from the movie. They were, however, similar stairs used in the Three Stooges movie An Ache in Every Stake (1941), which was inspired in some measure by the Laurel and Hardy picture. The real stairs were identified several years later, and in 1994, a plaque was placed at the location (between 923 and 927 Vendome St. in the Silverlake neighborhood of Los Angeles) marking the 67th anniversary of Hats Off (1927), the first film in which they struggled comically with the steep location. The ceremony included music, a video of The Music Box, reporters, city officials, Laurel and Hardy impersonations, and a speech by film critic Leonard Maltin.

Author Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles) has been a lifelong fan of Laurel and Hardy and frequently tells of his delight in seeing them perform live in Dublin in the 1940s. Bradbury wrote two short stories set at the famous steps of The Music Box. In "Another Fine Mess," their ghosts haunt the location after dark, and in "The Laurel and Hardy Love Affair," a romantic couple arranges regular picnics at the foot of the staircase.

The Music Box was not the only time the duo made comedy around a piano. They destroyed the instrument in such films as Big Business (1929), Wrong Again (1929), Beau Hunks (1931), and Dirty Work (1933). They hauled one across a narrow, swaying suspension bridge in Swiss Miss (1938) and hid inside one in Way Out West (1937). The frequency of this motif prompted film critic James Agee to make note of the duo's "love-hate relationship with pianos."

The shots of the piano rolling repeatedly down the long staircase could possibly be a comic homage to the much more serious (and even more famous ) use of stairs in the Odessa Steps sequence of Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin (1925).

Hal Roach tried to repeat the success of the Laurel and Hardy team by creating a German/Dutch/Yiddish version called the Schmaltz Brothers in the early 1930s. Played by The Music Box co-star Billy Gilbert (using his hybrid Teutonic accent from the Laurel and Hardy movie) and Billy Bletcher, the teaming was very short-lived and never achieved the popularity of its model.

Johnny Carson, as one of his recurring Tonight Show sketch characters, the Matinee Host, often credited the fictional movies he was introducing with "featuring the ever-popular Mae Busch," the actress who played Hardy's wife in Sons of the Desert and three other movies. She also appeared in nine other films with the duo, including a few where someone else (such as Thelma Todd) played Mrs. Hardy.

In 1965, Laurel and Hardy biographer John McCabe and a handful of others founded, with the blessing of Stan Laurel, an appreciation society called Sons of the Desert. In tribute to the movie from which it takes its name, each local chapter of the organization is known as a "tent," and there are countless "tents" all over the world, bearing such names as Below Zero Tent (Anchorage, Alaska), Berth Marks Tent (Harlem, Georgia, Hardy's birthplace), Tit for Tat Tent (one of eight in Germany), Another Fine Mess Tent (one of 40 in the UK), and four Music Box Tents (Phoenix, San Antonio, Pennsylvania, and Luxembourg).

The newspaper with the blaring headline "Honolulu Liner Sinking!" used in Sons of the Desert appears again in the Our Gang short Sprucin' Up (1935).

A few years after Sons of the Desert, Charley Chase, who played the raucous lodge member the boys meet at the convention, poked fun of fraternal orders again in The Grand Hooter (1937), the lampooned group this time called the Lodge of Hoot Owls.

In addition to the obvious physical and personality connections (large, easily frustrated man partnered with a skinny, somewhat dim and emotional sidekick), the characters created by Jackie Gleason (as Ralph Cramden) and Art Carney (as Ed Norton) in the 1950s television comedy series The Honeymooners were inspired to a degree by Laurel and Hardy. And Sons of the Desert figures into their depiction of Ralph and Ed's adventures with their fraternal order The Raccoons, whose activities they must occasionally sneak off to despite their wives' objections.

The Revenge of the Sons of the Desert is an Emmy-winning documentary short by Alexander Marshall about the 1986 biennial convention of the organization.

There is a country music group called Sons of the Desert.

In 1995, Playboy magazine founder and publisher Hugh Hefner sponsored a screening of newly struck prints of Sons of the Desert and Brats (1930) as a benefit for the Los Angeles Conservancy, an organization dedicated to preserving old movie palaces. The event drew 2,000 people and featured a pre-show parade (reminiscent of the Sons of the Desert convention parade seen in the newsreel within the movie), Hawaiian food and music (including "Honolulu Baby"), and an appearance by Chuck McCann and Jim MacGeorge as Laurel and Hardy.

A 2006 BBC production, Stan, based on the radio play of the same name by Neil Brand, imagines a final meeting between Laurel and his partner after Hardy suffered the major strokes that eventually claimed his life.

Animated likenesses of the duo have appeared since the 1930s in various mediums, among them the Looney Tunes cartoons, the syndicated comic strip "Bloom County," and The Simpsons TV series.

The catchphrase "Here's another nice mess you've gotten me into" (often misquoted as "this is another fine mess...") has passed into common usage. It was first used in The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case (1930) and is uttered by Hardy in Sons of the Desert. The frequent misquote may be attributed in part to the fact that they made a movie called Another Fine Mess (1930). In 2005 the line was ranked number 60 in the American Film Institute's list of the 100 greatest movie quotes of all time.

Director Blake Edwards was a big fan of the boys and in 1983 made a deal with Roach to do a remake of The Music Box, to star Burt Reynolds and Richard Pryor. It was finally released in 1986 as A Fine Mess with Ted Danson and Howie Mandel. Although the final product did retain a bit about moving a piano and the title reference to Hardy's famous line, it was not a success or considered much of a tribute to the comic geniuses who inspired it.

Bob Einstein made a political satire about Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew called Another Nice Mess (1972), referencing Oliver Hardy's famous tag line.

by Rob Nixon

Pop Culture 101 - The Music Box/Sons of the Desert

"If I have drawn from anyone more than others, I would say it would be Laurel and Hardy. I guess I have every film they ever did, and quite often they come to my rescue in a strange way. If there's a moment when I need a physically humorous perspective and I'm dealing with one or two people, I seem to revert to doing Stan and Ollie...and that seems to save me. I love them dearly. They bring tears to my eyes along with the laughter. I owe them a lot of thanks." – Blake Edwards, director of such comedies as 10 (1979), Victor/Victoria (1982), and the Pink Panther series. Actor Chuck McCann has performed as Oliver Hardy a number of times with various co-stars as Laurel. His first network prime time television appearance in tribute to Hardy was in a late 1950s episode of The Gary Moore Show with Dick Van Dyke as Laurel. Other "Laurels" have included Tom Poston and Jim MacGeorge, with whom McCann appeared in a series of TV ads for such products as Arby's, Tony's Pizza, and Anco Windshield Wipers. McCann also had a couple of early TV shows based on the duo: Chuck McCann's Laurel and Hardy Show and Laurel and Hardy and Chuck. He was one of the founding members of the Sons of the Desert organization. The staircase used in The Music Box has become a popular tourist site, although for many years its location was unknown. Dedicated Laurel and Hardy fans spent years trying to find the stairs, and in 1970, Pratfall magazine published a photo of co-star Billy Gilbert (whose home the duo destroys in the picture) with fans and magazine staffers standing next to a set of stairs assumed to be the ones from the movie. They were, however, similar stairs used in the Three Stooges movie An Ache in Every Stake (1941), which was inspired in some measure by the Laurel and Hardy picture. The real stairs were identified several years later, and in 1994, a plaque was placed at the location (between 923 and 927 Vendome St. in the Silverlake neighborhood of Los Angeles) marking the 67th anniversary of Hats Off (1927), the first film in which they struggled comically with the steep location. The ceremony included music, a video of The Music Box, reporters, city officials, Laurel and Hardy impersonations, and a speech by film critic Leonard Maltin. Author Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles) has been a lifelong fan of Laurel and Hardy and frequently tells of his delight in seeing them perform live in Dublin in the 1940s. Bradbury wrote two short stories set at the famous steps of The Music Box. In "Another Fine Mess," their ghosts haunt the location after dark, and in "The Laurel and Hardy Love Affair," a romantic couple arranges regular picnics at the foot of the staircase. The Music Box was not the only time the duo made comedy around a piano. They destroyed the instrument in such films as Big Business (1929), Wrong Again (1929), Beau Hunks (1931), and Dirty Work (1933). They hauled one across a narrow, swaying suspension bridge in Swiss Miss (1938) and hid inside one in Way Out West (1937). The frequency of this motif prompted film critic James Agee to make note of the duo's "love-hate relationship with pianos." The shots of the piano rolling repeatedly down the long staircase could possibly be a comic homage to the much more serious (and even more famous ) use of stairs in the Odessa Steps sequence of Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin (1925). Hal Roach tried to repeat the success of the Laurel and Hardy team by creating a German/Dutch/Yiddish version called the Schmaltz Brothers in the early 1930s. Played by The Music Box co-star Billy Gilbert (using his hybrid Teutonic accent from the Laurel and Hardy movie) and Billy Bletcher, the teaming was very short-lived and never achieved the popularity of its model. Johnny Carson, as one of his recurring Tonight Show sketch characters, the Matinee Host, often credited the fictional movies he was introducing with "featuring the ever-popular Mae Busch," the actress who played Hardy's wife in Sons of the Desert and three other movies. She also appeared in nine other films with the duo, including a few where someone else (such as Thelma Todd) played Mrs. Hardy. In 1965, Laurel and Hardy biographer John McCabe and a handful of others founded, with the blessing of Stan Laurel, an appreciation society called Sons of the Desert. In tribute to the movie from which it takes its name, each local chapter of the organization is known as a "tent," and there are countless "tents" all over the world, bearing such names as Below Zero Tent (Anchorage, Alaska), Berth Marks Tent (Harlem, Georgia, Hardy's birthplace), Tit for Tat Tent (one of eight in Germany), Another Fine Mess Tent (one of 40 in the UK), and four Music Box Tents (Phoenix, San Antonio, Pennsylvania, and Luxembourg). The newspaper with the blaring headline "Honolulu Liner Sinking!" used in Sons of the Desert appears again in the Our Gang short Sprucin' Up (1935). A few years after Sons of the Desert, Charley Chase, who played the raucous lodge member the boys meet at the convention, poked fun of fraternal orders again in The Grand Hooter (1937), the lampooned group this time called the Lodge of Hoot Owls. In addition to the obvious physical and personality connections (large, easily frustrated man partnered with a skinny, somewhat dim and emotional sidekick), the characters created by Jackie Gleason (as Ralph Cramden) and Art Carney (as Ed Norton) in the 1950s television comedy series The Honeymooners were inspired to a degree by Laurel and Hardy. And Sons of the Desert figures into their depiction of Ralph and Ed's adventures with their fraternal order The Raccoons, whose activities they must occasionally sneak off to despite their wives' objections. The Revenge of the Sons of the Desert is an Emmy-winning documentary short by Alexander Marshall about the 1986 biennial convention of the organization. There is a country music group called Sons of the Desert. In 1995, Playboy magazine founder and publisher Hugh Hefner sponsored a screening of newly struck prints of Sons of the Desert and Brats (1930) as a benefit for the Los Angeles Conservancy, an organization dedicated to preserving old movie palaces. The event drew 2,000 people and featured a pre-show parade (reminiscent of the Sons of the Desert convention parade seen in the newsreel within the movie), Hawaiian food and music (including "Honolulu Baby"), and an appearance by Chuck McCann and Jim MacGeorge as Laurel and Hardy. A 2006 BBC production, Stan, based on the radio play of the same name by Neil Brand, imagines a final meeting between Laurel and his partner after Hardy suffered the major strokes that eventually claimed his life. Animated likenesses of the duo have appeared since the 1930s in various mediums, among them the Looney Tunes cartoons, the syndicated comic strip "Bloom County," and The Simpsons TV series. The catchphrase "Here's another nice mess you've gotten me into" (often misquoted as "this is another fine mess...") has passed into common usage. It was first used in The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case (1930) and is uttered by Hardy in Sons of the Desert. The frequent misquote may be attributed in part to the fact that they made a movie called Another Fine Mess (1930). In 2005 the line was ranked number 60 in the American Film Institute's list of the 100 greatest movie quotes of all time. Director Blake Edwards was a big fan of the boys and in 1983 made a deal with Roach to do a remake of The Music Box, to star Burt Reynolds and Richard Pryor. It was finally released in 1986 as A Fine Mess with Ted Danson and Howie Mandel. Although the final product did retain a bit about moving a piano and the title reference to Hardy's famous line, it was not a success or considered much of a tribute to the comic geniuses who inspired it. Bob Einstein made a political satire about Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew called Another Nice Mess (1972), referencing Oliver Hardy's famous tag line. by Rob Nixon

Trivia - The Music Box/Sons of the Desert - Trivia & Fun Facts About THE MUSIC BOX and SONS OF THE DESERT


Even after Hardy's death in 1957 and until the end of his own life, Stan Laurel continued his practice of jotting down on any piece of paper handy ideas for gags for the duo. He made a present of much of this extensive gag file to his biographer John McCabe.

Laurel told biographer John McCabe he thought The Music Box was the best film the duo ever made.

The town of Harlem, Georgia, has a Laurel and Hardy museum and a number of markers and signs announcing it as the birthplace of Oliver Hardy. The town is the site for the annual Oliver Hardy Festival on the first Saturday in October.

Sons of the Desert was released in Europe as Fraternally Yours and Sons of the Legion. It was drastically cut for TV syndication into a 20-minute version called Fun on the Run.

Sons of the Desert was carefully marketed by the MGM publicity department as "a very funny burlesque of an imaginary fraternal order. There is nothing mean or spiteful in it and nothing to which any intelligent group of officers of local lodges in your town can take exception."

In 1971 the San Diego Tent of the Sons of the Desert organization located the house on Clarington Avenue in Los Angeles that is visible in shots from Sons of the Desert in which characters are seen getting in and out of cars.

Writers have remarked on the extent of water motifs in Sons of the Desert: the rainy night and the rain barrel the boys fall in, Ollie's foot soak (which ends up soaking Ollie AND his wife), the ocean liner sunk by a typhoon.

The MGM publicity department created a poem about Sons of the Desert for suggested use in newspaper ads.

The marketing campaign for Sons of the Desert made a voluminous amount of materials available to exhibitors, not only posters (some with illustrations by famed show business caricaturist Al Hirschfeld) and banners for inside and outside of the theater but also fez hats, satin sashes, and Laurel and Hardy masks. The promotional items that have survived draw thousands of dollars from collectors.

Sons of the Desert co-star Charley Chase (1893-1940) was a comedy star in his own right. After a brief career in vaudeville, he moved to supporting parts in films starring Charlie Chaplin, Fatty Arbuckle, and others. He joined the Hal Roach Studios as a director until Roach realized what a great comic performer he had on his roster. Between 1924 and 1929 he starred in nearly 200 two-reelers, most of them directed by Leo McCarey, who would later become famous for such acclaimed comedies as Duck Soup (1933) and The Awful Truth (1937). He continued to appear in shorts in the sound era, and directed some of the earliest Three Stooges movies. His death of a heart attack at the age of 46 has been attributed to his alcoholism.

Charley Chase's younger brother, Jimmy Parrott, was also a comedy actor, gag writer and director. He directed The Music Box and at least 20 other Laurel and Hardy pictures, as well as close to three dozen featuring his brother. Parrott was a drug addict and, like Chase, died of a heart attack at the age 40 in 1939.

Charley Chase and Mae Busch, who plays his sister in Sons of the Desert, appeared in several Keystone comedies for Mack Sennett in the early days of silents.

Sons of the Desert screenwriter Frank Craven is best known for appearing as the pipe-smoking Stage Manager narrator in Thornton Wilder's Our Town, both on stage and on screen. He also co-authored (with Wilder) the 1940 film adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play.

Sons of the Desert director William Seiter worked with Laurel and Hardy just this one time. He worked on the picture on loan from RKO and didn't return to Hal Roach Studios until 1943 (to direct the John Wayne-Jean Arthur movie A Lady Takes a Chance), after Laurel and Hardy had left the company. His best-known films include the Astaire-Rogers musical Roberta (1935), the Marx Brothers' Room Service (1938), and the romantic comedy-fantasy One Touch of Venus (1948). Ginger Rogers, whom Seiter directed in five pictures, had high praise for him, writing in her autobiography: "Bill Seiter was a super guy, with a charming, adorable, witty and engaging attitude towards his actors. ... Some directors play out their problems with their cast; others, like Bill, put personal issues aside and are charming and encouraging." Seiter's final directing assignment was for Roach on the Gale Storm television series The Gale Storm Show/Oh, Susanna in the late 1950s. He died in 1964 at 72.

Stan Laurel's split from his then wife Lois caused a complicated salary arrangement during shooting and distribution of Sons of the Desert. Everything he earned had to be paid into the California Trust Company; it was then divided in half to give his ex an equal share.

Shortly before production began, Stan Laurel's marital and personal difficulties led to doubts about his continuing to work in America, which would have left his partner hanging. Roach proposed teaming Hardy with comic actress Patsy Kelly in a new series called "The Hardy Family," in which the two would be the parents of Our Gang's Spanky McFarland. Roach himself wrote the script, but Laurel stuck with the team and the alternative project never came to be. A few years later MGM launched a different Hardy Family series in which Mickey Rooney, as young son Andy, became a major star and a Top 10 box office attraction.

Dorothy Christy, who played the gun-toting Mrs. Laurel in Sons of the Desert, appropriately enough appeared in a number of Westerns. She also appeared in films with Will Rogers, Maurice Chevalier, Buster Keaton, William Powell, and Shirley Temple. She worked at the Roach Studios again in a small role as a nurse in Topper (1937).

In 1993, new prints of reels one and two of The Music Box were struck from the original camera negative. Sometime in the previous 10 years, however, the negative for reel three was lost, so the new print for that reel was made from the work print,_ meaning it will never match the high quality of the first two reels.

Frequent L&H co-star Billy Gilbert, who was the professor in The Music Box and provided a voiceover in Sons of the Desert, was a former vaudeville performer who had developed a long, drawn-out, explosive sneezing routine which became his comic trademark. He thus became the model for, and voice of, the character Sneezy in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937).

Memorable Quotes from THE MUSIC BOX

POLICEMAN (Sam Lufkin): He kicked you?
NURSEMAID (Lilyan Irene): Yes, officer, right in the middle of my daily duties.

STAN: Don't you think you're bounding over your step?

Memorable Quotes from SONS OF THE DESERT

STAN: The Exhausted Ruler said that if you took an oath it would have to be broken for generations of centuries of hundreds of years.

OLLIE: Do you have to ask your wife everything?
STAN: Well, if I didn't ask her, I wouldn't know what she wanted me to do.

OLLIE: Why did you get a veterinarian?
STAN: I didn't think his religion would make any difference.

MRS. HARDY (Mae Busch): I haven't seen you since you sang in the choir.
CHARLEY CHASE (Himself): And you pumped the organ, you little organ pumper!

STAN: I've certainly got to hand it to you...for the meticulous care with which you have executed your finely formulated machinations in extricating us from this devastating dilemma.

OLLIE: Well, here's another nice mess you've gotten me into.

STAN: That's our story, and we're stuck with it...in it.

Compiled by Rob Nixon

Trivia - The Music Box/Sons of the Desert - Trivia & Fun Facts About THE MUSIC BOX and SONS OF THE DESERT

Even after Hardy's death in 1957 and until the end of his own life, Stan Laurel continued his practice of jotting down on any piece of paper handy ideas for gags for the duo. He made a present of much of this extensive gag file to his biographer John McCabe. Laurel told biographer John McCabe he thought The Music Box was the best film the duo ever made. The town of Harlem, Georgia, has a Laurel and Hardy museum and a number of markers and signs announcing it as the birthplace of Oliver Hardy. The town is the site for the annual Oliver Hardy Festival on the first Saturday in October. Sons of the Desert was released in Europe as Fraternally Yours and Sons of the Legion. It was drastically cut for TV syndication into a 20-minute version called Fun on the Run. Sons of the Desert was carefully marketed by the MGM publicity department as "a very funny burlesque of an imaginary fraternal order. There is nothing mean or spiteful in it and nothing to which any intelligent group of officers of local lodges in your town can take exception." In 1971 the San Diego Tent of the Sons of the Desert organization located the house on Clarington Avenue in Los Angeles that is visible in shots from Sons of the Desert in which characters are seen getting in and out of cars. Writers have remarked on the extent of water motifs in Sons of the Desert: the rainy night and the rain barrel the boys fall in, Ollie's foot soak (which ends up soaking Ollie AND his wife), the ocean liner sunk by a typhoon. The MGM publicity department created a poem about Sons of the Desert for suggested use in newspaper ads. The marketing campaign for Sons of the Desert made a voluminous amount of materials available to exhibitors, not only posters (some with illustrations by famed show business caricaturist Al Hirschfeld) and banners for inside and outside of the theater but also fez hats, satin sashes, and Laurel and Hardy masks. The promotional items that have survived draw thousands of dollars from collectors. Sons of the Desert co-star Charley Chase (1893-1940) was a comedy star in his own right. After a brief career in vaudeville, he moved to supporting parts in films starring Charlie Chaplin, Fatty Arbuckle, and others. He joined the Hal Roach Studios as a director until Roach realized what a great comic performer he had on his roster. Between 1924 and 1929 he starred in nearly 200 two-reelers, most of them directed by Leo McCarey, who would later become famous for such acclaimed comedies as Duck Soup (1933) and The Awful Truth (1937). He continued to appear in shorts in the sound era, and directed some of the earliest Three Stooges movies. His death of a heart attack at the age of 46 has been attributed to his alcoholism. Charley Chase's younger brother, Jimmy Parrott, was also a comedy actor, gag writer and director. He directed The Music Box and at least 20 other Laurel and Hardy pictures, as well as close to three dozen featuring his brother. Parrott was a drug addict and, like Chase, died of a heart attack at the age 40 in 1939. Charley Chase and Mae Busch, who plays his sister in Sons of the Desert, appeared in several Keystone comedies for Mack Sennett in the early days of silents. Sons of the Desert screenwriter Frank Craven is best known for appearing as the pipe-smoking Stage Manager narrator in Thornton Wilder's Our Town, both on stage and on screen. He also co-authored (with Wilder) the 1940 film adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play. Sons of the Desert director William Seiter worked with Laurel and Hardy just this one time. He worked on the picture on loan from RKO and didn't return to Hal Roach Studios until 1943 (to direct the John Wayne-Jean Arthur movie A Lady Takes a Chance), after Laurel and Hardy had left the company. His best-known films include the Astaire-Rogers musical Roberta (1935), the Marx Brothers' Room Service (1938), and the romantic comedy-fantasy One Touch of Venus (1948). Ginger Rogers, whom Seiter directed in five pictures, had high praise for him, writing in her autobiography: "Bill Seiter was a super guy, with a charming, adorable, witty and engaging attitude towards his actors. ... Some directors play out their problems with their cast; others, like Bill, put personal issues aside and are charming and encouraging." Seiter's final directing assignment was for Roach on the Gale Storm television series The Gale Storm Show/Oh, Susanna in the late 1950s. He died in 1964 at 72. Stan Laurel's split from his then wife Lois caused a complicated salary arrangement during shooting and distribution of Sons of the Desert. Everything he earned had to be paid into the California Trust Company; it was then divided in half to give his ex an equal share. Shortly before production began, Stan Laurel's marital and personal difficulties led to doubts about his continuing to work in America, which would have left his partner hanging. Roach proposed teaming Hardy with comic actress Patsy Kelly in a new series called "The Hardy Family," in which the two would be the parents of Our Gang's Spanky McFarland. Roach himself wrote the script, but Laurel stuck with the team and the alternative project never came to be. A few years later MGM launched a different Hardy Family series in which Mickey Rooney, as young son Andy, became a major star and a Top 10 box office attraction. Dorothy Christy, who played the gun-toting Mrs. Laurel in Sons of the Desert, appropriately enough appeared in a number of Westerns. She also appeared in films with Will Rogers, Maurice Chevalier, Buster Keaton, William Powell, and Shirley Temple. She worked at the Roach Studios again in a small role as a nurse in Topper (1937). In 1993, new prints of reels one and two of The Music Box were struck from the original camera negative. Sometime in the previous 10 years, however, the negative for reel three was lost, so the new print for that reel was made from the work print,_ meaning it will never match the high quality of the first two reels. Frequent L&H co-star Billy Gilbert, who was the professor in The Music Box and provided a voiceover in Sons of the Desert, was a former vaudeville performer who had developed a long, drawn-out, explosive sneezing routine which became his comic trademark. He thus became the model for, and voice of, the character Sneezy in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). Memorable Quotes from THE MUSIC BOX POLICEMAN (Sam Lufkin): He kicked you? NURSEMAID (Lilyan Irene): Yes, officer, right in the middle of my daily duties. STAN: Don't you think you're bounding over your step? Memorable Quotes from SONS OF THE DESERT STAN: The Exhausted Ruler said that if you took an oath it would have to be broken for generations of centuries of hundreds of years. OLLIE: Do you have to ask your wife everything? STAN: Well, if I didn't ask her, I wouldn't know what she wanted me to do. OLLIE: Why did you get a veterinarian? STAN: I didn't think his religion would make any difference. MRS. HARDY (Mae Busch): I haven't seen you since you sang in the choir. CHARLEY CHASE (Himself): And you pumped the organ, you little organ pumper! STAN: I've certainly got to hand it to you...for the meticulous care with which you have executed your finely formulated machinations in extricating us from this devastating dilemma. OLLIE: Well, here's another nice mess you've gotten me into. STAN: That's our story, and we're stuck with it...in it. Compiled by Rob Nixon

The Big Idea - The Music Box/Sons of the Desert


THE MUSIC BOX

The plot of The Music Box is essentially a remake of a long-lost Laurel and Hardy silent short, Hats Off (1927), which had the boys lugging a washing machine up and down the same flight of stairs.

The inspiration to build a comedy around those steps apparently came to producer Hal Roach even before Hats Off. The location was used in a Charley Chase two-reeler produced by Roach and directed by Leo McCarey, Isn't Life Terrible? (1925), which also featured Fay Wray and Oliver Hardy prior to teaming with Stan Laurel. And they may have also figured in a Laurel solo, as a door-to-door salesman in The Pest (1922), as well as in a chase scene in one of Roach's "Our Gang" comedies, A Quiet Street (1922). It's not certain that the stairs used in those last two titles are the same as those in The Music Box, but it's a testament to the indelible imagery of that location that one can't see similar stairs without thinking of Laurel and Hardy.

The inspiration to remake Hats Off using a piano instead of a washing machine may have been inspired in part by a reissue around this time of the Charlie Chaplin short His Musical Career (1914, aka Musical Tramps, The Piano Movers) in which Chaplin and Mack Swain (another comic duo that accented their wildly dissimilar body shapes) try to move a piano with similar comic mishaps.

SONS OF THE DESERT

Although Laurel and Hardy had achieved tremendous success at Hal Roach Studios with one hit short comedy after another, by the 1930s the trend seemed to be moving toward feature double bills. Although he wasn't pleased with the change, Roach wisely turned to feature production to meet the need. He first showcased his biggest stars in the new format in Pardon Us (1931). Sons of the Desert was their fourth feature. The pair continued to make shorts into the mid-1930s, while making longer features through the rest of their careers into the early 1950s.

To facilitate feature production, Roach struck an agreement with MGM to distribute six-reel-plus movies made by his studio. For Sons of the Desert, Metro advanced $25,000 per week towards production costs, up to a maximum of $150,000. Roach put up approximately one-fourth of the projected negative cost, about $50,000. The contract would yield 60 percent of the gross receipts to Roach's company.

The story of Sons of the Desert arises from a motif frequently played out in the earlier Laurel and Hardy shorts of the boys trying to have some fun or concocting some scheme without their domineering wives learning about it. Be Big! (1931) provided much of the basis of the storyline for Sons of the Desert. In it, Stan and Ollie are invited to a party in their honor at their lodge. Ollie pretends to be ill in order to get out of a vacation he and Stan planned to take with their wives. They tell the wives to go on ahead and that they will meet them the next day. But the wives miss their train and when they return home and discover the deception, they go after the boys with shotguns. An earlier short, We Faw Down (1928), has even greater similarities. The boys pretend to be going to a show at the Orpheum Theatre in order to sneak off to a poker game. Along the way, they get involved with two young women in distress and are threatened by the boyfriend of one of them, a tough boxer. They're forced out onto a roof, frantically pulling on their clothes as they escape, and are spotted by their wives, who have rushed downtown upon hearing the Orpheum has burned down. At the end, a furious Mrs. Hardy fetches her hunting rifle, a weapon shifted to Mrs. Laurel's possession in Sons of the Desert.

Despite the antecedents in a number of earlier Laurel and Hardy shorts, plot elements for Sons of the Desert, at least according to articles in the Spring 1933 trade journal Film Daily, may have been inspired by a trip Roach took to attend an MGM sales division meeting in Kansas City. Not only was the gathering an occasion for partying, much like the Sons of the Desert national convention in the picture, but Roach's flight back was plagued by a terrible storm, which he claimed gave him an idea for a new comedy. The experience may have suggested the ship-downed-by-typhoon motif and the heavy downpour on the roof that ended up in this picture.

Oliver Hardy's good pal, actor-writer Frank Craven, was hired by Roach in July 1933 to develop the ideas for Sons of the Desert into a working script. A number of other writers, as well as director William Seiter and Laurel and Hardy themselves, also contributed to the script, without receiving onscreen credit.

William Seiter, who had been directing since the early days of motion pictures and had just completed two Ginger Rogers vehicles – Rafter Romance and Chance at Heaven (both 1933) – was hired at the substantial sum of $2,000 per week to helm the Laurel and Hardy feature.

by Rob Nixon

The Big Idea - The Music Box/Sons of the Desert

THE MUSIC BOX The plot of The Music Box is essentially a remake of a long-lost Laurel and Hardy silent short, Hats Off (1927), which had the boys lugging a washing machine up and down the same flight of stairs. The inspiration to build a comedy around those steps apparently came to producer Hal Roach even before Hats Off. The location was used in a Charley Chase two-reeler produced by Roach and directed by Leo McCarey, Isn't Life Terrible? (1925), which also featured Fay Wray and Oliver Hardy prior to teaming with Stan Laurel. And they may have also figured in a Laurel solo, as a door-to-door salesman in The Pest (1922), as well as in a chase scene in one of Roach's "Our Gang" comedies, A Quiet Street (1922). It's not certain that the stairs used in those last two titles are the same as those in The Music Box, but it's a testament to the indelible imagery of that location that one can't see similar stairs without thinking of Laurel and Hardy. The inspiration to remake Hats Off using a piano instead of a washing machine may have been inspired in part by a reissue around this time of the Charlie Chaplin short His Musical Career (1914, aka Musical Tramps, The Piano Movers) in which Chaplin and Mack Swain (another comic duo that accented their wildly dissimilar body shapes) try to move a piano with similar comic mishaps. SONS OF THE DESERT Although Laurel and Hardy had achieved tremendous success at Hal Roach Studios with one hit short comedy after another, by the 1930s the trend seemed to be moving toward feature double bills. Although he wasn't pleased with the change, Roach wisely turned to feature production to meet the need. He first showcased his biggest stars in the new format in Pardon Us (1931). Sons of the Desert was their fourth feature. The pair continued to make shorts into the mid-1930s, while making longer features through the rest of their careers into the early 1950s. To facilitate feature production, Roach struck an agreement with MGM to distribute six-reel-plus movies made by his studio. For Sons of the Desert, Metro advanced $25,000 per week towards production costs, up to a maximum of $150,000. Roach put up approximately one-fourth of the projected negative cost, about $50,000. The contract would yield 60 percent of the gross receipts to Roach's company. The story of Sons of the Desert arises from a motif frequently played out in the earlier Laurel and Hardy shorts of the boys trying to have some fun or concocting some scheme without their domineering wives learning about it. Be Big! (1931) provided much of the basis of the storyline for Sons of the Desert. In it, Stan and Ollie are invited to a party in their honor at their lodge. Ollie pretends to be ill in order to get out of a vacation he and Stan planned to take with their wives. They tell the wives to go on ahead and that they will meet them the next day. But the wives miss their train and when they return home and discover the deception, they go after the boys with shotguns. An earlier short, We Faw Down (1928), has even greater similarities. The boys pretend to be going to a show at the Orpheum Theatre in order to sneak off to a poker game. Along the way, they get involved with two young women in distress and are threatened by the boyfriend of one of them, a tough boxer. They're forced out onto a roof, frantically pulling on their clothes as they escape, and are spotted by their wives, who have rushed downtown upon hearing the Orpheum has burned down. At the end, a furious Mrs. Hardy fetches her hunting rifle, a weapon shifted to Mrs. Laurel's possession in Sons of the Desert. Despite the antecedents in a number of earlier Laurel and Hardy shorts, plot elements for Sons of the Desert, at least according to articles in the Spring 1933 trade journal Film Daily, may have been inspired by a trip Roach took to attend an MGM sales division meeting in Kansas City. Not only was the gathering an occasion for partying, much like the Sons of the Desert national convention in the picture, but Roach's flight back was plagued by a terrible storm, which he claimed gave him an idea for a new comedy. The experience may have suggested the ship-downed-by-typhoon motif and the heavy downpour on the roof that ended up in this picture. Oliver Hardy's good pal, actor-writer Frank Craven, was hired by Roach in July 1933 to develop the ideas for Sons of the Desert into a working script. A number of other writers, as well as director William Seiter and Laurel and Hardy themselves, also contributed to the script, without receiving onscreen credit. William Seiter, who had been directing since the early days of motion pictures and had just completed two Ginger Rogers vehicles – Rafter Romance and Chance at Heaven (both 1933) – was hired at the substantial sum of $2,000 per week to helm the Laurel and Hardy feature. by Rob Nixon

Behind the Camera - The Music Box/Sons of the Desert


Stan Laurel has been credited with many of the immortal comic bits in the duo's pictures. Often during shooting he would get an inspiration for a bit or gag, which he would jot down on a pad he kept just for that purpose, whether or not it was appropriate for the picture they were filming. Upon returning home, he would further flesh out the idea and store it in a meticulously arranged file cabinet for quick reference at any time.

Laurel was known for taking charge on the set whenever he thought a scene wasn't clicking. Shooting would stop while he and the writers broke the scene apart, ad-libbed new bits, and came up with new approaches, often jumping right in after these sessions to film the scene immediately without rehearsal.

Laurel once explained that the two always used their own names for the characters in their pictures because "it makes our performance more natural and also lends a certain intimacy to the roles we portray. Further this procedure insures against the confusion of the characters."

Because their comedy depended heavily on spontaneity and because it was often necessary to alter their gags and situations, Laurel and Hardy insisted on shooting their films in sequence, rather than the usual (and less costly and time-consuming) practice of shooting all scenes set in one location at the same time.

Around the time of the release of Sons of the Desert, Hardy noted that despite the hilarious final result, shooting one of their pictures could be a very arduous task, involving bumps, bruises, lacerations, scratches and the destruction of many costumes. "If anyone thinks that this is fun, they should try working in comedies," he said. In 1964, Laurel weighed in on the subject: "It's just bloody hard work. These people who say making pictures is fun...they kill me!"

Publicity materials commented on the trademark "genteel shabbiness" of the clothes the duo wore, the same basic costume in every picture (the exception being the outfits they wore in the occasional period piece). The same publicity claimed that it took a lot of money and expert tailoring to create the ill-fitting, seemingly cheap suits that would stand up under the rough treatment given them in the course of shooting the films.

THE MUSIC BOX

Principal photography took place in less than two weeks during December 1931.

The working titles for the film were, at various times, "Top Heavy," "Words and Music," and "The Up and Up."

Although the staircase was a real location, the house at the top was shot in the studio.

A special police squad was on duty at the Vendome Street staircase over the course of the four-day location shoot to keep more than 3,500 onlookers and fans from interfering with the production. During their lunch breaks, Laurel and Hardy reportedly signed about 2,000 autographs.

According to some sources, the crate the boys wrestle with on the stairs was empty but the one shown sliding down the staircase on its own really did have a piano in it.

Unlike now, when sound effects and background noise are usually created in post-production, recording engineers went on location to pick up authentic ambient noise.

Billy Gilbert developed an accent for his character in the movie so as to avoid confusion, he claimed, with other Laurel and Hardy foils, such as Edgar Kennedy. The accent was a mix of German, Dutch, Greek and Italian, he said, in order to avoid offending any one group.

Unlike the usual practice on most Laurel and Hardy pictures, The Music Box was not always shot in sequence, largely due to changing cloud conditions that made it necessary to wait for the right sun to match the lighting from one shot to the next.

The piano that Billy Gilbert destroys at the end of the short was made of balsa wood and spare parts from a real piano, in order to break up easily.

Musician Marvin Hatley was just off camera playing the piano to simulate the automatic player piano sounds in the scene where the boys are cleaning up the house and dancing. When Billy Gilbert begins smashing the piano with an axe, Hatley played along off screen, matching the axe hits.

News stories at the time, possibly planted by the publicity department, said Laurel nearly broke his leg when he had to fall through a second-story window carrying the piano crate and Hardy received a severe "burn" on his head in the shot where the piano rolls over him on the stairs.

True to his practice of overseeing most aspects of all their productions, Stan Laurel worked in the cutting room around the clock as The Music Box was being edited.

SONS OF THE DESERT

The filming of Sons of the Desert took place over a period of three weeks in October 1933. Director William Seiter reportedly brought the picture in five days ahead of schedule.

The working title was "Fraternally Yours," and the movie was eventually released in Europe under that name.

Roach said in later years that William Seiter had more control than any of Laurel and Hardy's other directors. He described Seiter as "genial, competent, and the kind of director who had a good sense of building the story while also focusing hard on characterization."

Laurel and Hardy took time off from filming this feature to shoot their sequences in MGM's guest star-laden Jimmy Durante movie Hollywood Party (1934).

According to studio publicity releases, scenes had to be reshot frequently because director and crew would often break up in laughter over the stars' antics. The story went on to assert that Laurel's expression in the scene with Charley Chase was so funny "that it completely upset the equanimity of Hardy, and it was several minutes before the latter was able to regain his composure." According to film historian Richard W. Bann (a specialist on the films produced by Hal Roach Studios), Roach recalled in 1979 how often such things happened on set. "I was never upset that it was costing me money," he said. "I was upset that we couldn't use some of the funniest scenes we saw every day," the ones that were ruined by cast or crew members breaking up.

Among the stories planted by studio publicists was one stating that during production, cast and crew formed their own "Sons of the Desert" fraternal order, electing Laurel "High Factotum" and Hardy "Good Knight." Director Bill Seiter, according to the story, was named "Sergeant Without Arms."

Sons of the Desert's comic take on marital discord mirrored the far more serious and stressful domestic problems that Laurel and Hardy were experiencing at the time. Seiter was also in the process of splitting from his first wife, actress Laura La Plante. Chase also had numerous difficulties at home because of his drinking.

At the time of filming, Hardy was estranged from his wife Myrtle (with whom he reconciled, briefly) and rumored to be seeing Lillian DeBorba, mother of child actress Dorothy DeBorba from Roach's "Our Gang" series. Lillian was drafted into being an extra to fill a seat in the movie theater scene and was seated in front of Mae Busch and Dorothy Christy (who play Hardy's and Laurel's wives).

During the shooting of Sons of the Desert, Laurel was also seeing someone else, Virginia Ruth Rogers, even though his divorce from his first wife was not yet final. Rogers even filled in as a crowd scene extra and also stood closely by during the filming of the rooftop downpour scene. As the soaking wet Laurel finished shooting, she threw a towel around him, rushed him to his dressing room, ran a hot shower, and made him a hot toddy of whiskey, lemon and sugar. She said Laurel began to cry in gratitude, noting how his wife never took any interest in his work or showed her concern for him in that way. Rogers later became his second (and fourth!) wife

In the early 1960s, Stan Laurel told actor Chuck McCann (a Laurel and Hardy devotee and Hardy impersonator), that he found Charley Chase to be an easy-going, delightful person to work with and know, and much quieter than his screen image suggested. Laurel mentioned how during a rehearsal on Sons of the Desert, he reached for what he thought was his glass of water and grabbed Chase's by mistake, finding instead a tumbler full of gin. (Chase was a known alcoholic.)

Comedy star Patsy Kelly was originally cast as Laurel's wife, but producer Hal Roach had loaned her to MGM for Going Hollywood (1933), which was running over schedule when production began on this picture. Dorothy Christy stepped into to play the duck-hunting spouse four days into the shooting.

Among the cast members but never seen on screen was Billy Gilbert, frequent Laurel and Hardy foil, who played the blustering Teutonic professor in The Music Box. Gilbert provided a voiceover in Sons of the Desert.

Two players who would become far better known in the future were extras in Sons of the Desert: Robert Cummings (lost in the steamship crowd) who would make his mark later in such films as Kings Row (1942) and Alfred Hitchcock's Saboteur (1942); and Ellen Corby (at a table in the scene featuring Charley Chase), best known today as Grandma on the television series The Waltons.

According to the pressbook for Sons of the Desert and a Hollywood Reporter news item, extras in the newsreel footage of the convention parade included members of the Glendale post of the American Legion, the Hollywood American Legion, and the Santa Monica Elks Lodge.

The number of extras wasn't the only thing to push up the cost of shooting the parade scene. To modernize the available backlot sets to look more like contemporary Chicago, $25,000 was spent on refurbishing three blocks of the studio's "New York street." Four crews built new buildings and store fronts over the course of nine days. The job went $10,000 over budget after set decorations, asphalt repaving and lighting were added.

The parade newsreel was supplemented with stock footage from the Elks Lodge state convention held in Santa Monica some months before.

In the original script of Sons of the Desert, the parade scene was to have included an extended sequence of the boys causing mayhem as they participate in - and subsequently ruin- a bicycle procession. The scene was not used in the movie.

by Rob Nixon

Behind the Camera - The Music Box/Sons of the Desert

Stan Laurel has been credited with many of the immortal comic bits in the duo's pictures. Often during shooting he would get an inspiration for a bit or gag, which he would jot down on a pad he kept just for that purpose, whether or not it was appropriate for the picture they were filming. Upon returning home, he would further flesh out the idea and store it in a meticulously arranged file cabinet for quick reference at any time. Laurel was known for taking charge on the set whenever he thought a scene wasn't clicking. Shooting would stop while he and the writers broke the scene apart, ad-libbed new bits, and came up with new approaches, often jumping right in after these sessions to film the scene immediately without rehearsal. Laurel once explained that the two always used their own names for the characters in their pictures because "it makes our performance more natural and also lends a certain intimacy to the roles we portray. Further this procedure insures against the confusion of the characters." Because their comedy depended heavily on spontaneity and because it was often necessary to alter their gags and situations, Laurel and Hardy insisted on shooting their films in sequence, rather than the usual (and less costly and time-consuming) practice of shooting all scenes set in one location at the same time. Around the time of the release of Sons of the Desert, Hardy noted that despite the hilarious final result, shooting one of their pictures could be a very arduous task, involving bumps, bruises, lacerations, scratches and the destruction of many costumes. "If anyone thinks that this is fun, they should try working in comedies," he said. In 1964, Laurel weighed in on the subject: "It's just bloody hard work. These people who say making pictures is fun...they kill me!" Publicity materials commented on the trademark "genteel shabbiness" of the clothes the duo wore, the same basic costume in every picture (the exception being the outfits they wore in the occasional period piece). The same publicity claimed that it took a lot of money and expert tailoring to create the ill-fitting, seemingly cheap suits that would stand up under the rough treatment given them in the course of shooting the films. THE MUSIC BOX Principal photography took place in less than two weeks during December 1931. The working titles for the film were, at various times, "Top Heavy," "Words and Music," and "The Up and Up." Although the staircase was a real location, the house at the top was shot in the studio. A special police squad was on duty at the Vendome Street staircase over the course of the four-day location shoot to keep more than 3,500 onlookers and fans from interfering with the production. During their lunch breaks, Laurel and Hardy reportedly signed about 2,000 autographs. According to some sources, the crate the boys wrestle with on the stairs was empty but the one shown sliding down the staircase on its own really did have a piano in it. Unlike now, when sound effects and background noise are usually created in post-production, recording engineers went on location to pick up authentic ambient noise. Billy Gilbert developed an accent for his character in the movie so as to avoid confusion, he claimed, with other Laurel and Hardy foils, such as Edgar Kennedy. The accent was a mix of German, Dutch, Greek and Italian, he said, in order to avoid offending any one group. Unlike the usual practice on most Laurel and Hardy pictures, The Music Box was not always shot in sequence, largely due to changing cloud conditions that made it necessary to wait for the right sun to match the lighting from one shot to the next. The piano that Billy Gilbert destroys at the end of the short was made of balsa wood and spare parts from a real piano, in order to break up easily. Musician Marvin Hatley was just off camera playing the piano to simulate the automatic player piano sounds in the scene where the boys are cleaning up the house and dancing. When Billy Gilbert begins smashing the piano with an axe, Hatley played along off screen, matching the axe hits. News stories at the time, possibly planted by the publicity department, said Laurel nearly broke his leg when he had to fall through a second-story window carrying the piano crate and Hardy received a severe "burn" on his head in the shot where the piano rolls over him on the stairs. True to his practice of overseeing most aspects of all their productions, Stan Laurel worked in the cutting room around the clock as The Music Box was being edited. SONS OF THE DESERT The filming of Sons of the Desert took place over a period of three weeks in October 1933. Director William Seiter reportedly brought the picture in five days ahead of schedule. The working title was "Fraternally Yours," and the movie was eventually released in Europe under that name. Roach said in later years that William Seiter had more control than any of Laurel and Hardy's other directors. He described Seiter as "genial, competent, and the kind of director who had a good sense of building the story while also focusing hard on characterization." Laurel and Hardy took time off from filming this feature to shoot their sequences in MGM's guest star-laden Jimmy Durante movie Hollywood Party (1934). According to studio publicity releases, scenes had to be reshot frequently because director and crew would often break up in laughter over the stars' antics. The story went on to assert that Laurel's expression in the scene with Charley Chase was so funny "that it completely upset the equanimity of Hardy, and it was several minutes before the latter was able to regain his composure." According to film historian Richard W. Bann (a specialist on the films produced by Hal Roach Studios), Roach recalled in 1979 how often such things happened on set. "I was never upset that it was costing me money," he said. "I was upset that we couldn't use some of the funniest scenes we saw every day," the ones that were ruined by cast or crew members breaking up. Among the stories planted by studio publicists was one stating that during production, cast and crew formed their own "Sons of the Desert" fraternal order, electing Laurel "High Factotum" and Hardy "Good Knight." Director Bill Seiter, according to the story, was named "Sergeant Without Arms." Sons of the Desert's comic take on marital discord mirrored the far more serious and stressful domestic problems that Laurel and Hardy were experiencing at the time. Seiter was also in the process of splitting from his first wife, actress Laura La Plante. Chase also had numerous difficulties at home because of his drinking. At the time of filming, Hardy was estranged from his wife Myrtle (with whom he reconciled, briefly) and rumored to be seeing Lillian DeBorba, mother of child actress Dorothy DeBorba from Roach's "Our Gang" series. Lillian was drafted into being an extra to fill a seat in the movie theater scene and was seated in front of Mae Busch and Dorothy Christy (who play Hardy's and Laurel's wives). During the shooting of Sons of the Desert, Laurel was also seeing someone else, Virginia Ruth Rogers, even though his divorce from his first wife was not yet final. Rogers even filled in as a crowd scene extra and also stood closely by during the filming of the rooftop downpour scene. As the soaking wet Laurel finished shooting, she threw a towel around him, rushed him to his dressing room, ran a hot shower, and made him a hot toddy of whiskey, lemon and sugar. She said Laurel began to cry in gratitude, noting how his wife never took any interest in his work or showed her concern for him in that way. Rogers later became his second (and fourth!) wife In the early 1960s, Stan Laurel told actor Chuck McCann (a Laurel and Hardy devotee and Hardy impersonator), that he found Charley Chase to be an easy-going, delightful person to work with and know, and much quieter than his screen image suggested. Laurel mentioned how during a rehearsal on Sons of the Desert, he reached for what he thought was his glass of water and grabbed Chase's by mistake, finding instead a tumbler full of gin. (Chase was a known alcoholic.) Comedy star Patsy Kelly was originally cast as Laurel's wife, but producer Hal Roach had loaned her to MGM for Going Hollywood (1933), which was running over schedule when production began on this picture. Dorothy Christy stepped into to play the duck-hunting spouse four days into the shooting. Among the cast members but never seen on screen was Billy Gilbert, frequent Laurel and Hardy foil, who played the blustering Teutonic professor in The Music Box. Gilbert provided a voiceover in Sons of the Desert. Two players who would become far better known in the future were extras in Sons of the Desert: Robert Cummings (lost in the steamship crowd) who would make his mark later in such films as Kings Row (1942) and Alfred Hitchcock's Saboteur (1942); and Ellen Corby (at a table in the scene featuring Charley Chase), best known today as Grandma on the television series The Waltons. According to the pressbook for Sons of the Desert and a Hollywood Reporter news item, extras in the newsreel footage of the convention parade included members of the Glendale post of the American Legion, the Hollywood American Legion, and the Santa Monica Elks Lodge. The number of extras wasn't the only thing to push up the cost of shooting the parade scene. To modernize the available backlot sets to look more like contemporary Chicago, $25,000 was spent on refurbishing three blocks of the studio's "New York street." Four crews built new buildings and store fronts over the course of nine days. The job went $10,000 over budget after set decorations, asphalt repaving and lighting were added. The parade newsreel was supplemented with stock footage from the Elks Lodge state convention held in Santa Monica some months before. In the original script of Sons of the Desert, the parade scene was to have included an extended sequence of the boys causing mayhem as they participate in - and subsequently ruin- a bicycle procession. The scene was not used in the movie. by Rob Nixon

Sons of the Desert


Synopsis: Laurel and Hardy take a solemn vow at a "Sons of the Desert" lodge meeting to attend the annual convention in Chicago, but they still have to contend with their wives at home. While Stan's wife Betty grants permission, Ollie's wife Lottie categorically forbids him, stating that she had already planned a trip for them to the mountains. Ollie feigns a nervous breakdown to play on his wife's sympathies, and has Stan bribe a doctor to declare that he needs a vacation to Hawaii in order to recover. Stan and Ollie go to the convention in Chicago as originally planned and live it up, unaware that their lie has been betrayed by the sinking of the very ocean liner that was supposed to have brought them home from Hawaii.

Sons of the Desert (1933) is usually regarded today as the finest Laurel and Hardy feature. It certainly has its share of slapstick, including Stan eating a piece of wax fruit, the duo's fumbling with a tub of hot water, and their disastrous attempt to climb down a drainpipe, but these gags are balanced with verbal comedy such as Stan Laurel's malapropisms and more subtle, character-based interplay between the duo and their wives. Insofar as it was a pre-Code feature, Sons of the Desert also has juicy adult comedy such as the male singer's innuendo during his performance of "Honolulu Baby," to say nothing of the unforgettable epithet that Charley Chase uses for Mae Busch while speaking to her over the phone. Elsewhere, the comic team's full range of talent sometimes tended to get buried in operettas and kiddy material.

Principal photography on the film lasted from October 2 to October 23, 1933; the working title was Fraternally Yours. Originally Patsy Kelly was slated for the role of "Betty Laurel," but production delays on another film, Going Hollywood (1933), resulted in her being replaced by Dorothy Christy. Considering how well Christy and Busch play together as the wives, few would complain about the results. Extras in the film included real-life "lodge" members from the American Legion and the Elks. As has often been noted, the basic idea for the story dates back to the 1928 Laurel and Hardy short We Faw Down, in which the boys sneak out for a night of poker, telling their wives that they've been invited out to the theater that evening. When the theater catches on fire and makes newspaper headlines the next day, they're caught in their lie and have to face the music from their wives. Stan's shotgun-toting wife similarly recalls the two-reeler Blotto (1930). However, on the official Laurel and Hardy website Richard Bann argues that another possible influence on the story was Convention City (1933), a notorious (and now lost) pre-Code comedy about lascivious conventioneers which was made at approximately the same time.

Sons of the Desert was the only feature that prolific director William A. Seiter (1890-1964) made with Laurel and Hardy. Film historian William K. Everson has described Seiter as "the ideal director" for Laurel and Hardy since he "makes the most out of every gag, without milking any of them" and relies on "situations and characterizations" to drive the narrative rather than a simple string of gags. Seiter was also known for directing a series of Reginald Denny films for Universal in the 1920s, a few Wheeler and Woolsey films for RKO in the early Thirties, the Fred Astaire vehicles Roberta (1935) and You Were Never Lovelier (1942), as well as films with Shirley Temple, the Marx Brothers and Deanna Durbin.

Australian-born Mae Busch (1891-1946), who plays Hardy's sharp-tongued and dish-throwing wife, got her start in theater before moving into film as one of Mack Sennett's "bathing beauties" in the 1910s. Erich von Stroheim subsequently cast her in The Devil's Passkey (1920, now lost) and Foolish Wives (1922). During the 1920s she signed up with MGM, though she left mid-contract out of frustration with the unimaginative roles she was given; after this she worked instead for smaller companies such as the Hal Roach Studios. Her first appearance with Laurel and Hardy was in the 2-reel short Love 'Em and Weep (1927); other notable films with the comedy duo include the shorts Chickens Come Home (1931) and Oliver the Eighth (1934), as well as the feature The Bohemian Girl (1936). The character actor Dorothy Christy (1906-1977), who plays Betty Laurel, previously appeared in the Will Rogers vehicle So This Is London (1930) and Buster Keaton's Parlor, Bedroom and Bath (1931). However, her most famous--or infamous--role is that of Queen Tika in the sci-fi/Western serial The Phantom Empire (1935). The popular silent comedian Charley Chase also has a memorable role as an insufferable conventioneer from Texas who just happens to be Lottie's long-lost brother.

When Sons of the Desert was released at the end of December 1933, it became one of the top-grossing films of the year. While the reviewer for Variety did not consider the material particularly fresh, he displayed distinct relish in the "pre-Code Hawaiian dance [...] led by a woman who knows it pays to advertise." He also rightly praised Mae Busch and Dorothy Christy's chemistry together as the wives, noting that "there's the real makings here of a real comedy femme team." The reviewer for The New York Times was far more appreciative, noting the enthusiastic audience response and praising the execution of the gags. The esteem with which Sons of the Desert is held today by Laurel and Hardy fans is indicated by the fact that "Sons of the Desert" has become the name of The International Laurel and Hardy Appreciation Society and that the lodge's anthem, albeit with new lyrics, has been adopted by organization as well.

Producer: Hal Roach
Director: William A. Seiter
Story: Frank Craven
Photography: Kenneth Peach
Editor: Bert Jordan
Song "Honolulu Baby": words and music by Marvin Hatley
Principal Cast: Stan Laurel (as himself), Oliver Hardy (as himself), Mae Busch (Lottie Hardy), Dorothy Christy (Betty Laurel), Charley Chase (Charley), Lucien Littlefield (Dr. Horace Meddick), John Elliott (Exalted Exhausted Ruler), Charita (Lead hula dancer).
BW-65m.

by James Steffen

Sons of the Desert

Synopsis: Laurel and Hardy take a solemn vow at a "Sons of the Desert" lodge meeting to attend the annual convention in Chicago, but they still have to contend with their wives at home. While Stan's wife Betty grants permission, Ollie's wife Lottie categorically forbids him, stating that she had already planned a trip for them to the mountains. Ollie feigns a nervous breakdown to play on his wife's sympathies, and has Stan bribe a doctor to declare that he needs a vacation to Hawaii in order to recover. Stan and Ollie go to the convention in Chicago as originally planned and live it up, unaware that their lie has been betrayed by the sinking of the very ocean liner that was supposed to have brought them home from Hawaii. Sons of the Desert (1933) is usually regarded today as the finest Laurel and Hardy feature. It certainly has its share of slapstick, including Stan eating a piece of wax fruit, the duo's fumbling with a tub of hot water, and their disastrous attempt to climb down a drainpipe, but these gags are balanced with verbal comedy such as Stan Laurel's malapropisms and more subtle, character-based interplay between the duo and their wives. Insofar as it was a pre-Code feature, Sons of the Desert also has juicy adult comedy such as the male singer's innuendo during his performance of "Honolulu Baby," to say nothing of the unforgettable epithet that Charley Chase uses for Mae Busch while speaking to her over the phone. Elsewhere, the comic team's full range of talent sometimes tended to get buried in operettas and kiddy material. Principal photography on the film lasted from October 2 to October 23, 1933; the working title was Fraternally Yours. Originally Patsy Kelly was slated for the role of "Betty Laurel," but production delays on another film, Going Hollywood (1933), resulted in her being replaced by Dorothy Christy. Considering how well Christy and Busch play together as the wives, few would complain about the results. Extras in the film included real-life "lodge" members from the American Legion and the Elks. As has often been noted, the basic idea for the story dates back to the 1928 Laurel and Hardy short We Faw Down, in which the boys sneak out for a night of poker, telling their wives that they've been invited out to the theater that evening. When the theater catches on fire and makes newspaper headlines the next day, they're caught in their lie and have to face the music from their wives. Stan's shotgun-toting wife similarly recalls the two-reeler Blotto (1930). However, on the official Laurel and Hardy website Richard Bann argues that another possible influence on the story was Convention City (1933), a notorious (and now lost) pre-Code comedy about lascivious conventioneers which was made at approximately the same time. Sons of the Desert was the only feature that prolific director William A. Seiter (1890-1964) made with Laurel and Hardy. Film historian William K. Everson has described Seiter as "the ideal director" for Laurel and Hardy since he "makes the most out of every gag, without milking any of them" and relies on "situations and characterizations" to drive the narrative rather than a simple string of gags. Seiter was also known for directing a series of Reginald Denny films for Universal in the 1920s, a few Wheeler and Woolsey films for RKO in the early Thirties, the Fred Astaire vehicles Roberta (1935) and You Were Never Lovelier (1942), as well as films with Shirley Temple, the Marx Brothers and Deanna Durbin. Australian-born Mae Busch (1891-1946), who plays Hardy's sharp-tongued and dish-throwing wife, got her start in theater before moving into film as one of Mack Sennett's "bathing beauties" in the 1910s. Erich von Stroheim subsequently cast her in The Devil's Passkey (1920, now lost) and Foolish Wives (1922). During the 1920s she signed up with MGM, though she left mid-contract out of frustration with the unimaginative roles she was given; after this she worked instead for smaller companies such as the Hal Roach Studios. Her first appearance with Laurel and Hardy was in the 2-reel short Love 'Em and Weep (1927); other notable films with the comedy duo include the shorts Chickens Come Home (1931) and Oliver the Eighth (1934), as well as the feature The Bohemian Girl (1936). The character actor Dorothy Christy (1906-1977), who plays Betty Laurel, previously appeared in the Will Rogers vehicle So This Is London (1930) and Buster Keaton's Parlor, Bedroom and Bath (1931). However, her most famous--or infamous--role is that of Queen Tika in the sci-fi/Western serial The Phantom Empire (1935). The popular silent comedian Charley Chase also has a memorable role as an insufferable conventioneer from Texas who just happens to be Lottie's long-lost brother. When Sons of the Desert was released at the end of December 1933, it became one of the top-grossing films of the year. While the reviewer for Variety did not consider the material particularly fresh, he displayed distinct relish in the "pre-Code Hawaiian dance [...] led by a woman who knows it pays to advertise." He also rightly praised Mae Busch and Dorothy Christy's chemistry together as the wives, noting that "there's the real makings here of a real comedy femme team." The reviewer for The New York Times was far more appreciative, noting the enthusiastic audience response and praising the execution of the gags. The esteem with which Sons of the Desert is held today by Laurel and Hardy fans is indicated by the fact that "Sons of the Desert" has become the name of The International Laurel and Hardy Appreciation Society and that the lodge's anthem, albeit with new lyrics, has been adopted by organization as well. Producer: Hal Roach Director: William A. Seiter Story: Frank Craven Photography: Kenneth Peach Editor: Bert Jordan Song "Honolulu Baby": words and music by Marvin Hatley Principal Cast: Stan Laurel (as himself), Oliver Hardy (as himself), Mae Busch (Lottie Hardy), Dorothy Christy (Betty Laurel), Charley Chase (Charley), Lucien Littlefield (Dr. Horace Meddick), John Elliott (Exalted Exhausted Ruler), Charita (Lead hula dancer). BW-65m. by James Steffen

The Critics' Corner - The Music Box/Sons of the Desert - The Critics Corner: THE MUSIC BOX and SONS OF THE DESERT


AWARDS & HONORS

In a 2005 poll, Laurel and Hardy were voted the seventh greatest comedy act ever by fellow comedians and comedy insiders. They were the highest-ranked double act on the list.

In 1996, Laurel and Hardy were rated number 45 in Entertainment Weekly's list of the 100 greatest movie stars of all time.

Stan Laurel was given an honorary Academy Award in 1961 and a Life Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild in 1964.

The Music Box won the first-ever Academy Award for Best Comedy Short Subject. It was given a certificate instead of the Oscar® statuette (which were not yet given to shorts), and Roach later privately presented it to Stan Laurel, insisting the actor was the one who really deserved the award.

In 1997, The Music Box was chosen by the National Film Preservation Board to be one of the movies preserved in the Library of Congress National Film Registry.

Sons of the Desert was one of the top ten moneymakers of 1934.

REVIEWS & PRAISE "I love them and I love all their films. I don't have an out-and-out favorite, but I particularly like The Music Box.... I prefer their short films, and I love to see Stan cry." - Paul McCartney, in Bowler Dessert, a Scottish Laurel and Hardy fanzine

"Laurel and Hardy...supplying an unusual number of laughs for all and sundry....an exceptionally amusing comedy...worth the extra length." – Motion Picture Herald, March 12, 1932, on The Music Box

"Any pair of clowns can make haw-haws out of roughhouse; this pair have reached distinction by reason of a comic quality within themselves." – Variety, November 22, 1932, on The Music Box

"The Music Box is a marvel of pacing; it shows how Laurel & Hardy built to a veritable crescendo of laughter through artful repetition and an unhurried tempo that for all its steadiness was never slow. ... One of the funniest three reels ever filmed." – critic and film historian Leonard Maltin

"A thoroughly fresh and delightful comedy, quite certainly the best and the subtlest of all their features." – William K. Everson, The Films of Laurel and Hardy (Citadel, 2000), on Sons of the Desert

"The film's premise tickles me. ... The idea is delicious and so well done, I can fully understand why it's their most popular film and probably their best." – Playboy magazine publisher Hugh Hefner on Sons of the Desert

"[Sons of the Desert] is as good as any of the Laurel & Hardy comedies, with the exception, of course, of The Devil's Brother [1933]. At times it goes pretty slapstick, but it's new slapstick and not at all hard to take." – Hollywood Reporter, November 10, 1933

"William Seiter has handled the team well, has managed to keep them in hand where they might have gone overboard on mugging. Mae Busch and Dorothy Christy as the wives give good support, particularly Miss Busch who can take it with the best of the male comics." – Daily Variety, November 10, 1933, on Sons of the Desert

"A miniature sandstorm of mirth...continuous merriment and hilarity." – Box Office, January 20, 1934, on Sons of the Desert

"If the thought occurs that Laurel & Hardy in a feature-length movie may be too much of a good thing, dismiss it. The boys prove again that they can provide laughs in six reels just as readily and easily as in two." – Los Angeles Examiner, January 20, 1934, on Sons of the Desert

"Let it be said that this new picture, Sons of the Desert, is just about the funniest they have ever done. The audience at Loew's Orpheum yesterday howled, roared and all but toppled into the aisles." – Boston Globe

"A Quixote and Panza in a nightmare world, where even the act of opening a door is filled with hideous perils, they fumble and stumble in the heartiest manner." – New York Times on Sons of the Desert

Compiled by Rob Nixon

The Critics' Corner - The Music Box/Sons of the Desert - The Critics Corner: THE MUSIC BOX and SONS OF THE DESERT

AWARDS & HONORS In a 2005 poll, Laurel and Hardy were voted the seventh greatest comedy act ever by fellow comedians and comedy insiders. They were the highest-ranked double act on the list. In 1996, Laurel and Hardy were rated number 45 in Entertainment Weekly's list of the 100 greatest movie stars of all time. Stan Laurel was given an honorary Academy Award in 1961 and a Life Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild in 1964. The Music Box won the first-ever Academy Award for Best Comedy Short Subject. It was given a certificate instead of the Oscar® statuette (which were not yet given to shorts), and Roach later privately presented it to Stan Laurel, insisting the actor was the one who really deserved the award. In 1997, The Music Box was chosen by the National Film Preservation Board to be one of the movies preserved in the Library of Congress National Film Registry. Sons of the Desert was one of the top ten moneymakers of 1934. REVIEWS & PRAISE "I love them and I love all their films. I don't have an out-and-out favorite, but I particularly like The Music Box.... I prefer their short films, and I love to see Stan cry." - Paul McCartney, in Bowler Dessert, a Scottish Laurel and Hardy fanzine "Laurel and Hardy...supplying an unusual number of laughs for all and sundry....an exceptionally amusing comedy...worth the extra length." – Motion Picture Herald, March 12, 1932, on The Music Box "Any pair of clowns can make haw-haws out of roughhouse; this pair have reached distinction by reason of a comic quality within themselves." – Variety, November 22, 1932, on The Music Box "The Music Box is a marvel of pacing; it shows how Laurel & Hardy built to a veritable crescendo of laughter through artful repetition and an unhurried tempo that for all its steadiness was never slow. ... One of the funniest three reels ever filmed." – critic and film historian Leonard Maltin "A thoroughly fresh and delightful comedy, quite certainly the best and the subtlest of all their features." – William K. Everson, The Films of Laurel and Hardy (Citadel, 2000), on Sons of the Desert "The film's premise tickles me. ... The idea is delicious and so well done, I can fully understand why it's their most popular film and probably their best." – Playboy magazine publisher Hugh Hefner on Sons of the Desert "[Sons of the Desert] is as good as any of the Laurel & Hardy comedies, with the exception, of course, of The Devil's Brother [1933]. At times it goes pretty slapstick, but it's new slapstick and not at all hard to take." – Hollywood Reporter, November 10, 1933 "William Seiter has handled the team well, has managed to keep them in hand where they might have gone overboard on mugging. Mae Busch and Dorothy Christy as the wives give good support, particularly Miss Busch who can take it with the best of the male comics." – Daily Variety, November 10, 1933, on Sons of the Desert "A miniature sandstorm of mirth...continuous merriment and hilarity." – Box Office, January 20, 1934, on Sons of the Desert "If the thought occurs that Laurel & Hardy in a feature-length movie may be too much of a good thing, dismiss it. The boys prove again that they can provide laughs in six reels just as readily and easily as in two." – Los Angeles Examiner, January 20, 1934, on Sons of the Desert "Let it be said that this new picture, Sons of the Desert, is just about the funniest they have ever done. The audience at Loew's Orpheum yesterday howled, roared and all but toppled into the aisles." – Boston Globe "A Quixote and Panza in a nightmare world, where even the act of opening a door is filled with hideous perils, they fumble and stumble in the heartiest manner." – New York Times on Sons of the Desert Compiled by Rob Nixon

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

The Variety review commented on the similarity between this film and We Faw Down, a 1928 two reel Hal Roach short starring Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. According to the film's pressbook and a Hollywood Reporter news item, extras in the picture included members of the drill team of the Glendale post of the American Legion, the Hollywood American Legion and the Santa Monica branch of the Elks Lodge. Film Daily news items noted that Laurel and Hardy took time off from Sons of the Desert in order to film their sequences in M-G-M's Hollywood Party and that Glenn Tryon was to assist Frank Craven with writing the story of this picture. Although Tryon is also listed by modern sources as working on the script, his contribution to the completed film has not been confirmed.
       Modern sources add the following information about the production: the film's working title was Fraternally Yours; Patsy Kelly was originally cast in the role of "Betty Laurel"; and the vocalist on "Honolulu Baby" was Ty Parvis. Also according to modern sources, Frank Terry wrote additional dialogue for the film as well as the Sons of the Desert's anthem. The same anthem is used by the international Laurel and Hardy fan club, which takes its name from this picture. The current Sons of the Desert club was founded in the 1960s by Orson Bean, Al Kilgore, John McCabe, Chuck McCann and John Municino, with the approval of Laurel.
       Modern sources include the following actors in the cast: John Elliot (Exalted exhausted ruler); Charley Young, John Merton, William Gillespie, Charles McAvoy, Robert Burns, Al Thompson, Eddie Baker, Jimmy Aubrey, Chet Brandenburg and Don Brodie (Sons of the Desert coterie); Philo McCullough (Assistant exhausted ruler); Harry Bernard (Bartender, also a police officer); Charlie Hall, Ernie Alexander and Sam Lufkin (Waiters); Baldwin Cooke (Man who introduces steamship official, also an extra at the Sons's convention); Stanley Blystone and Max Wagner (Brawny speakeasy managers); Pat Harmon (Doorman); Robert Cummings (Extra during steamship radiogram scene); and Billy Gilbert (Voice-over as Mr. Rutledge, steamship official). Modern sources also list the following actors whose parts were cut from the final release print, and whose roles are unknown: Nena Quartaro, Lillian Moore and Brooks Benedict.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1933

Released in United States 1982

Released in United States 1982 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition ("Marathon of Mirth": Comedy Marathon) March 16 - April 1, 1982.)

Released in United States 1933