Sunday, 19 April 2009

No. 104 : Way Out West

If you ask our old friend the man in the street ‘Do you like Laurel and Hardy?’ I’d bet that nine times out of ten you’d hear an answer in the positive. Last week I’d probably be in agreement, with childhood memories of prat falls and humorous kicks up the bum still thought of in rose tinted terms. I’m sure that they were great and talented people but did they make good films? Have you sat through one recently and can you say that it was good? I have and I can’t!

The familiar duo made rafts of short films in the 1920s but only later in their career did they branch into full length films. I say full length, but by today’s standards they wouldn’t qualify as a main feature with ‘Way Out West’ only managing 64 minutes and that is with extra padding. This film is regarded as one of their classics and they were so well known at this point that they didn’t bother with character names and are simply billed as themselves.

The film takes place in the old west and our two heroes have inexplicably been given the task of delivering a deed for a gold mine to a newly orphaned daughter. The lads are soon out witted by the local saloon keeper and the remainder of the film concerns their attempts to recover the deed and get it to the rightful heir. And that’s the whole plot, fleshed out so that it finishes a sentence.

Fans will say that of course the plots are skinny and they are a mere skeleton on which to hang the meat of comedy and circulatory system of laughs upon. Fair enough, but sadly the laughs must have been left in the offal bin of this metaphor. Most of the jokes are of the slapstick variety with Ollie falling into a water hole for example. And then doing it two more times to demonstrate the law of diminishing returns. The rest of the laughs are the looks to camera in which Ollie or the saloon keeper look for our sympathy as another idiotic comment is made.

Despite lasting only and hour the film is padded out with three songs with only ‘On the trail of the lonesome pine’ having any merit. The other two are just yodelling and pretty bad yodelling at that. You also get some really poor match cuts that Buster Keaton would have bettered ten years earlier and some really shocking rear projection work that makes the whole affair looks cheap and if it was shot in an afternoon.

Small pluses include the dreadful acting of James Finlayson the man credited with inventing Homer Simpson’s ‘Do’h’ and a funny sequence where the mule gets hauled into the air - no anti animal cruelty campaigners then! It is of course easy to mock and the success of the film shows that it was made with its paying audience in mind. Simple and repetitive gags for simpler times are fine but they haven’t aged well, and for all its charm, the film seems like a weird oddity that would be better forgotten.

Best Bit : Ass in the air
‘W’ Score : 10/23

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