Stan Laurel (1890-1965) and Oliver Hardy (1892-1957) are a legendary comedy team. Both men had well established separate film careers even before they officially teamed together in 1927. But as a team they became an American national treasure – literally, since their 1929 film Big Business was added to the Library of Congress as a national treasure.
Laurel and Hardy became “well known during the late 1920s through the mid-1940s for their slapstick comedy with Laurel playing the clumsy and childlike friend of the pompous Hardy.” Their comedy style was “highly visual with slapstick used for emphasis.” That highly visual style helped them make a smooth transition from silent films to “talkies” when many other acts stumbled and failed over sound. After officially teaming up in 1927, Laurel and Hardy made 107 films: 32 silent short films, 40 short sound films, and 23 full-length feature films.
I grew up with old Laurel and Hardy films playing constantly on television. Nearly every week there was another comedy with skinny Stan Laurel and big, tall Oliver Hardy getting into trouble. They are such classic comedians. Everything, from their look (Laurel was average height and weight but Hardy was 6’1” and about 280 pounds and they emphasized the physical differences with their hairstyles and clothing styles) to the way they moved (Laurel cut the heels off his shoes to give himself a flat-footed walk) to their popular routines (their “tit for tat” routine is an accident followed by a retaliation then turning into a comically escalating fight) to their catchphrases (the ever popular “Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into” and even Homer Simpson’s “D’oh!” comes from a Stan and Ollie movie) is sheer comedy genius. In later years, the comedy kings even visited with and contributed gags to the younger generations of comedians and filmmakers.
It is almost inconceivable to me that a modern movie fan might not know who Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy are. How can you not know their legendary talent? But, sadly, I know many people have never even heard of Laurel and Hardy. That is why the Public Domain and sites like The Internet Archive are so important. Through the Public Domain, two of Laurel and Hardy’s films are free of charge for anyone to watch. I’ll review their last feature film together, 1951’s Atoll K, in a later article but today I present for you Laurel and Hardy’s 1939 film The Flying Deuces.
The Flying Deuces is a remake of an earlier French film (Les Aviateurs) and also a partial remake of an earlier Laurel and Hardy film (Beau Hunks). In The Flying Deuces, Laurel and Hardy play two bumbling Americans on a tour of Paris. While staying at an inn, Oliver Hardy falls in love with the innkeeper’s daughter, Georgette, and is devastated to learn that she is already married. Heartbroken,
Ollie plans to throw himself and Stan into the River Seine until a passing officer suggests they join the French Foreign Legion so Ollie can forget his lost love. The duo promptly join but have no idea what they are getting themselves into. And the French Foreign Legion have no idea what they just let into their ranks.
The Flying Deuces is a short film, just 69 minutes long. But it is jam-packed with numerous classic slapstick routines: Stan repeatedly bangs his head on a low ceiling, a sneaky shark attacks Ollie’s pants, an absolutely hilarious bungled marching scene, great sight gags involving a humongous amount of laundry, truly classic chase scenes (especially involving a chase with an airplane), and a rollicking accidental plane ride.
The Flying Deuces is also chock full of amusing dialogue including:
- Stan bungles the English language as he tries to comfort a heartbroken Ollie: “Don’t talk to me like that after all the hospital I’ve given you. I tried to give you candy and a nice fat juicy steak. I’ve waited on you with your hands and feet.”
- Ollie is astounded to hear the list of Foreign Legion duties: “If you think you’re gonna get that much work outta me for 3 cents a day, brother, you are crazy!” Commandant: “Is that so?” Ollie: “Ab-so-lute-ly!” Stan: “Yeah and that goes for me, too. ‘Cause we don’t work for less than twenty-five cents a day.”
- Ollie dislikes the commandant: “Now he can put that in his pipe and smoke it.”
- Ollie paraphrases the duo’s classic catchphrase: “Here’s a nice pickle we’re in; shot at sunrise.” Stan: “I hope it’s cloudy tomorrow.”
- Ollie finds an escape tunnel: “We’re making our escape!” Stan: “Well, are we allowed to do that?”
- Stan and Ollie marvel over a pair of airplanes and Stan asks: “I wonder what keeps them up?” Ollie: “I don’t know but I do know what keeps me down!” (He stomps the ground). Stan: “Yes sir, good old terracotta firma for me!”
- And of course the classic catchphrase when Stan sees Ollie again at the very end of the movie, Stan: “Ollie…is it really you?” Ollie: “Of course it’s me. Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into!”
Stan Laurel and Ollie Hardy even include a couple of musical numbers in The Flying Deuces. First, Stan and Ollie do a little impromptu song and soft shoe to the classic song “Shine on Harvest Moon.” And later in the movie, Stan plays a bed frame like a harp to the music of “The World is Waiting on the Sunrise.” Some sources claim that another legendary comedian, Harpo Marx, coached Stan on how to pretend-play the harp and then played the music himself. But other sources claim Stan hated Harpo and never would have permitted that.
Here’s a few behind-the-scenes tidbits:
- Stan Laurel and Hal Roach (of Hal Roach Studios) had had a serious contract dispute shortly before making The Flying Deuces. Stan wanted more artistic freedom.
- Hal Roach Studios loaned Laurel and Hardy to independent producer Boris Morros to make The Flying Deuces.
- The Flying Deuces was Laurel and Hardy’s first starring feature away from Hal Roach Studios.
- Stan Laurel had a hand in the writing and editing (as he did in the Hal Roach films).
- Director A. Edward Sutherland and Stan Laurel did not get along during filming. Sutherland reportedly commented that he “would rather eat a tarantula than work with Laurel again.”
- The sketch of Laurel and Hardy seen in the opening scene was drawn by artist Harry Langdon.
- Oliver Hardy met his future wife, Virginia Lucille Jones, on the set of The Flying Deuces. She was the script supervisor.
- The huge pile of laundry is a little film trickery. It is actually a “large rock which was scattered with clothes to make the pile look much bigger than it actually was.”
- The Flying Deuces is also known as Flying Aces.
- The Flying Deuces and Atoll K are the only 2 Laurel and Hardy films in the Public Domain.
So overall, The Flying Deuces is a hilarious short film from a legendary comedy duo. Slapstick, wild chases, musical numbers, and silly patter between the two classic giants make this film just fly along nonstop. If you have never seen a Laurel and Hardy film before then this is a great film to start with. If you have enjoyed Laurel and Hardy before then you certainly will not be disappointed with The Flying Deuces. And, of course, the piece de resistance to an already wonderful film, is that it can be viewed absolutely FREE in the Public Domain.
Click on this link to watch online or download The Flying Deuces FREE at The Internet Archive.