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Jean Harlow  




MGM/Hal Roach, 1929.  Directed by Lewis Foster.  Camera:  George Stevens.  With Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Jean Harlow, Charles Hall.

Laurel & Hardy make their appearance at a swank New York hotel just as it is all agog over the impending arrival of a European prince.  In the confusion, Stan and Ollie are assumed to be the visiting royalty, and given the red carpet treatment—only for the carpet to be yanked vigorously from under them when the real prince arrives.  Revealed as humble doormen—and not very good ones at that, for the agency sends along an apology with their letter of introduction—the boys set to work with a maximum of good intentions and a minimum of ability.  Before too long they have antagonized most of the hotel's guests, and earned the enmity of local cop and cab driver alike, and reduced the poor prince to a state of almost declaring war.  Taking the hint that their services are no longer required, they leave with as much aplomb and dignity as they arrived.

Double Whoopee is sufficiently different from the general run of Laurel & Hardy comedies that one would like it to be among their best, and while it never does quite live up to its potential, it does manage to remain one of their better silent comedies.  Deliberate repetition is again the foundation of its many gags, the most elaborate of which is a play on princely vanity.  The Prince—a cigar-smoking, monocled satire of the von Stroheim of Foolish Wives—frequently is about to enter an elevator, frequently digresses for a moment to deliver a pompous statement to his audience, and—as frequently—turns to plunge into a now-empty elevator shaft.  Laurel or Hardy having taken the elevator elsewhere in the meantime.  Each fall is followed by Laurel & Hardy stepping briskly from the elevator, serenely unaware of the international havoc they have caused, and marching off to their duties while the outraged prince arises from the depths of the dirty shaft, spluttering with rage, his dignity injured and his spotless white uniform covered with oil and grease.  The gag is repeated with variations several times, gaining from audience foreknowledge of what is to happen, and it also serves as the wrap-up gag when Laurel & Hardy, their bags packed, saunter jauntily from the elevator and out into the night, still unaware that their latest and final descent has once more plunged the prince to a muddy fate!

Other gags are repeated throughout the film, but most of them are unique to this comedy, and only one was ever used again—a long "signing the hotel register" routine in which Hardy goes to extreme lengths to observe the necessary etiquette of having Laurel remove his hat while signing; and Laurel's long, labored study of the register, his positioning of himself to sign, his resenting of Hardy's looking over his shoulder, the spilling of a bottle of ink over the register, and ultimately the signing itself—a very careful "X."  This routine was to be re-used almost verbatim in the talkie Any Old Port, where it became even funnier due to being set in a sleazy flea-bag of a hotel, with roughneck proprietor Walter Long watching the whole rigmarole in impatient wonder.

For the rest, Double Whoopee is typically fast and violent, with the inevitable eye-pokings and a glorious moment wherein a suddenly enraged Laurel, stripped to his underwear and mad at the world, takes on all comers, friend and foe alike, ripping the shirt off one embarrassed hotel guest, then following through by yanking a large plaster-pad off his chest in one painful rip, and solicitously stuffing back into the man's miraculously intact vest some of the chest-hair that became detached in the operation!

Because of the basic set-up—Hardy, a resplendently uniformed doorman a la Emil Jannings in The Last Laugh, overly-ingratiating to guests, trying to instill dignity for their new profession into Laurel, and at the same time keep him in his place as his own subordinate—there is an even wider field than usual for Hardy's pantomime of face and body, and he—and the gloriously lampooned Stroheim—tend to rather dominate Stan on this occasion.  Jean Harlow, looking sexy and attractive as a young lady whose skirt is ripped away accidentally by the mortified Hardy, is actually no more than a comedy prop, despite the "dressing" she gives to her short but memorable sequence.

The Films of Laurel and Hardy
by William K. Everson
The Citadel Press, 1967


Additional photo courtesy of Gary