James W.Horne’s “Way out West” (1937) features the comedy duo Laurel and Hardy; one of the best known comedians in the world, notably known for their slapstick comedy, and over 100 films they starred in together.
The type of comedy in this film ranges from slapstick, to laughing at another misfortune (morbid humour); droll (eccentric humour), screwball (dealing with a situation in a comedic manner) and repetitive character traits.
Filmed during the time of the great depression, the world was recovering from the tragedy of World War 1, but not knowing World War 2 was fast approaching. During this sad time, the happiness of “Way Out West” let people let people forget just for a little while what was going on around them, and the ambiance and fell-good comedy duo performed masterfully to bring joy.
The story of “Way Out West” follows Laurel and Hardy delivering an important deed to Mary Roberts, left to her by her father which includes a property and rich gold mine, however, the duo are taken advantage of and give the deed to the wrong person – Lola Marcel, posing as Mary, and as Laurel and Hardy discover this, they go on an adventure to get the deed back and give it to the real Mary Roberts, of course with obstacles in the way.
The film is drizzled with comedy gold throughout, some are repetitive but others leave the audience wondering “how did they think of that?”
The comedy begins right from the beginning – as Mickey Finn, a bar owner is about to introduce the dancer Lola to the stage, someone from the crowd shouts “Ah, get a piece of fat and slide off (the stage)”. Finn replied with “Who said that?!” and the man shoots near him, causing Mr. Finn’s hat to fly off his head, and the bar roar with laughter at his misfortune.
The introduction to Laurel and Hardy themselves consists of goody music, and showing the laidback and naivety of Laurel, and seriousness but goofiness of Hardy. As the duo cross the lake with a mule and Hardy laying on a rug being dragged from behind, he becomes stuck in the lake. The late reaction from him as he turns over as if he is in a bed and then wakes a minute later to realise he’s in the water is a hilarious reaction, which is reinforced as Laurel continues to walk away without even releasing he left his friend. As Laurel comes back to his aid and lifts him up from the water, he takes a small rag and tries to dry him off, while Hardy stands in awe of his stupidity. The silence adds to the humour and is an echo of their days in silent films. As a climax to the humour, as they make a move to get out of the water, hardy suddenly falls right under the water.
The repetitive traits are humorous in themselves, for example Laurel takes off his hat and scratches his head when he’s trying to be polite, Hardy fiddles with his tie when nervous, and in this film, Laurel has the ability to set his thumb on fire, which Hardy tries to recreate many times.
Laurel and Hardy are delivering an important document, but make time for a carefree life – for example, when arriving in the town of Brushwood Gulch, the two synchronize and dance to people playing music outside a bar, making for a delightful and light-hearted scene.
Laurel has the deed in his shoe to cover the hole in it, and as he puts his shoe on, his toe sticks out and he bangs it on the floor. Hardy in a way breaks the fourth wall and looks into the camera sarcastically as he looks at what laurel is doing - this is another repetitive trait that includes the audience more to relate to him, and laugh at laurel more. Hardy sees his toe, pulls and it stretches comically, with a funny sound effect. This type of comedy drizzled throughout the film is what personally makes the film funny and humorous every time it is watched.
A long comedic scene begins when laurel tries to help hardy get the locket off his neck – forcing him to take his clothes off, but the locket is dropped on the floor. Although the scene is long, it worked comedically.
During the midpoint, more light-hearted singing occurs, and when the duo sing, suddenly Laurel sings in a deep voice, and then hardy smacks him on the head with a hammer, causes his voice to be as high as a woman’s, and when the song ends, laurel passes out – creating another hysterical delayed reaction. At the same time, the duo realises they’ve given the deed to the wrong Mary Roberts, and begin a mission to get it back. Upon returning to Lola’s room, the duo are more assertive, but comedy still reigns as Mr Finn kicks laurel. Another long but perfectly executed scene occurs as each character tries to get hold of the deed – and a personal favourite scene of the whole movie occurs – as Lola locks Stan and herself in the bedroom, she tries to get the deed from within his shirt, but he is hilariously ticklish and laughs like a maniac and you can’t help but laugh with him. In the end, he says “take it” because he can’t cope with the tickling, but as soon as the sheriff arrives, he laughs even more but abruptly stops, adding to the humour.
The two run as fast as they can out of the town, and Hardy falls down the same lake (much like the scene at the very beginning). Laurel also seems to have the ability to set his thumb on fire as a lighter – an almost superhero trait which adds to humour.
Laurel also stated earlier he would eat Hardy’s hat, which he does, only crying beforehand. As he continues to eat the hat, he looks like he is actually enjoying it, which wouldn’t really happen in real life, but it is hilarious to watch this unfold.
Another scene of comedy gold – the two return to the bar at night in order to steal the deed back, and Oliver slaps Stan over the head with a rope, but Stan acts as if his hand was hit and waves it about as if it is stinging.
Another comical scene is when Oliver has his head stuck on the floor board, and laurel stretches his neck up like its rubber, much like earlier in the film when Oliver grabbed Stan’s toe and stretched it out.
Eventually, Laurel and Hardy are found by Mr Finn and Lola, but they overcome them as Hardy grabs Finns gun, then ties Finn to the chandelier. More chaos erupts as laurel hardy and the mule break the stairs as they go down, Finn falls from the chandelier as Lola tries to help, but ultimately the run away with the deed and the rightful owner.
Although the film is only an hour long, it is packed with comedy gold. The final scene ending with hardy once again falling through the lake.
Fig 1: (Accessed on 30/12/2016) https://sites.lib.byu.edu/sc/wp-content/uploads/sites/34/2008/05/films-way-out-west-poster.jpg
Fig 2: (Accessed on 30/12/2016) https://comedydissertation.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/tango-2.gif
Fig 3: (Accessed on 30/12/2016) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/content/dam/film/Laurel-and-Hardy/wayoutwest3-xlarge.jpg
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Fig 5: (Accessed on 30/12/2016) http://www.lordheath.com/web_images/way_out_west__icon4_.jpg
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