In 1964, a group of devoted fans formed a fraternity dedicated to the lives and films of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. The latter had passed away in 1957, but the former was still alive and endorsed the organization, even suggesting its members wear a fez and a blazer patch with the motto ”Two minds without a single thought”. The first public meeting was held the following year, right after Laurel’s death. The fraternity named itself ”The Sons of the Desert”, thereby honoring what has become the comedians’ most celebrated feature film.
When we first meet Stanley and Oliver, they are attending a meeting of the fraternal lodge where they are members. There’s an annual convention in Chicago coming up and everyone has to take an oath to attend. Both Stanley and Oliver do it, even though the former is hesitant – after all, their wives have not been consulted. Oliver confidently tells Stanley that he needs to become the man of the house. However, Oliver’s wife (Mae Busch) is not pleased to hear about the convention since the couple have already made plans to vacation in the mountains at that time. Oliver ends up feigning illness and gets a doctor to prescribe an ocean voyage to Honolulu…
The couple’s ultimate classic
The fourth feature film starring Laurel and Hardy (released the same year as The Devil’s Brother) showed how comfortably the duo had moved from silents to sound, a feat few comedians accomplished at the time. While their comedy was very physical, the addition of lines, sound effects and music didn’t ruin Laurel and Hardy’s performances. To be honest, it didn’t necessarily improve them either. Many of their silent colleagues didn’t function as well in the era of sound because their style had been perfected as naturally silent.
Laurel and Hardy worked as well under the new circumstances, in some cases even brought a new level of hilarity; Hardy’s superior attitude and Laurel’s desperate crying whenever he was pushed too hard became even funnier. Still, Chaplin and Keaton created masterpieces in the silent era. As feature-film comedians, Laurel and Hardy never achieved that level of art. Sons of the Desert has become their ultimate classic, in spite of a very simple and old-fashioned story. It’s a very tight little comedy, inspired by their 1928 short We Faw Down, where the biggest joke is how the duo clandestinely attend their lodge’s convention; ultimately, they’re exposed by their wives and suffer the consequences.
The weakest part of the film is Laurel and Hardy meeting a fellow conventioneer, a constantly guffawing Charley Chase, but many other scenes are played to perfection by the duo. I love the routine where they, as neighbors, keep confusing each other’s front doors. Busch and Dorothy Christy as the wives are not merely props for the two stars, but their contributions elevate Laurel and Hardy’s performances, making them a bit more lovable.
The duo finds an excellent balance here between well-timed clumsiness and their trademark mix of stupidity and sweetness. They aim not for art but for laughs, and they always got them. Still, their routines are best enjoyed in (even) shorter films.
Sons of the Desert 1933-U.S. 69 min. B/W. Produced by Hal Roach. Directed by William A. Seiter. Screenplay: Frank Craven, Byron Morgan. Cast: Stan Laurel (Stanley), Oliver Hardy (Oliver), Charley Chase (Charley), Mae Busch, Dorothy Christy, Lucien Littlefield.
Trivia: British title: Fraternally Yours.