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Sunday, 18 September 2011

Jitterbugs (1943)

The comedy team of Laurel and Hardy has entertained generations of children and adults and will probably continue to enchant many generations to come.  Theirs was a simple world of affection and gentleness, strikingly at odds with the brash humour of modern times.  Their antics and mishaps will carry on raising smiles as viewers continue to succumb to their special brand of silliness.  From their early shorts back in the silent days to their classic features of the l930s, they are undoubtedly cinema greats.  It is therefore a little unfortunate that their later movies do not consistently showcase their great talents, lumbering the boys with a miscellany of distracting co-stars. From 1941 when they did a production deal with 20th Century Fox for the fairly pedestrian "Great Guns", six of their last eight Hollywood features were produced under that studio's auspices and it is fairly clear that the aging team had lost much of their incentive for zany comedy.  As for their very last movie "Utopia" made for a French studio in 1951, the less said the better.  Still there is so much of their output for us to cherish.

"Jitterbugs" is one of their last movies to showcase them at their best with memorable bits of shtick and a relatively reasonable supporting cast.  Despite the nominal 'romantic' lead of one Bob Bailey -- a very minor mainly radio actor, there are excellent turns from "The Maltese Falcon's" Lee Patrick as a would-be femme fatale, an early showcase for the then fresh-faced singer Vivian Blaine (who shall forever be the somewhat harder Miss Adelaide of "Guys and Dolls"), and in one of his 326 (!) film roles hissable villain Douglas Fowley.  The boys play a travelling two-man jitterbug band with a Rube Goldberg assortment of instruments, who are roped into fronting for con-man Bailey's 'magic tablet to turn water to gas' during wartime rationing.  They, of course, are far too innocent to work out that he might be a fraud.  When Bailey becomes enamoured of small-town beauty Blaine and discovers that her dear old mum has been conned out of her house by a band of tricksters, he vows to help expose the villains and drags the boys into his scheme.  Ollie is passed off as a wealthy Southern gentleman (a role not unlike his own background) to set up a situation where the baddies will be hoist with their own petard.

So we are treated to a scene of Ollie dancing with and romancing George, ever so beautifully graceful for a large man.  We have the supposedly teetotal Stanley getting more and more sloshed as he hides under the lovers' chaise lounge, catching the seat of his trousers on a dislodged spring when he springs to escape.  We also have one of Stanley's classic turns in drag as he poses as Blaine's 'rich aunt from Boston'. The film is far from Laurel and Hardy's finest, but it has enough memorable moments to make it worthwhile viewing.  There is perhaps one number too many of Miss Blaine's warbling padding out the 70 minutes running time, but one advantage of DVDs is that you can fast-forward through the dross to get back to the misadventures of our sweet mismatched pair. 
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