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Hef's Movie Notes: Sons of the Desert
  • June 15, 2012 : 11:06
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Tonight: Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in the hilarious Sons of the Desert.

Based on the comedy team’s silent two-reeler We Fall Down, the story involves Laurel and Hardy’s trip to a convention of the Sons of the Desert in Chicago. 

Hal Roach, who first put the pair together in 1926, produced the film; Frank Craven, who also co-wrote the screenplay and appeared as the narrator in Our Town, wrote the script in summer 1933. William Seiter, a former Keystone Kop, directed the film. He also directed Astaire–Rogers in Roberta and the Marx Brothers in Room Service.

The original working title was Fraternally Yours. And it was released in Britain with that title. 

The film was shot in October. The first preview was November 10. And it went into national release right after Christmas, on December 27, 1933.

Unlike most feature films, scenes in Sons of the Desert were shot in chronological order, permitting more spontaneous improvisation. (Almost all Roach films were shot that way.)

Dorothy Christie played Laurel’s domineering, gun-toting wife in a role originally planned for Patsy Kelly. 

Patsy was unavailable because she was on loan to MGM for the Bing Crosby musical Going Hollywood, which was running over budget.

Sons of the Desert was intended, in part, as a parody of the famous “lost” (because it was suppressed), risqué pre-Code Warner Bros. film titled Convention City, made with Dick Powell and Joan Blondell earlier that same year.

The film proved to be one of Laurel and Hardy’s most successful endeavors—both critically and commercially.

It was one of the top 10 grossing films of 1934, according to both the Motion Picture Herald and Film Daily.

Hardy was married to his second of three wives when this feature was made. Laurel divorced his first wife (not counting his common-law wife, who later sued him for palimony) during production.

In all, Laurel married four women in eight marriages. He once told UPI, “You know what my hobby was, and I married them all.”

Knowing Laurel’s marital history helps us truly appreciate Sons of the Desert.

In 1958, John McCabie, chairman of the Theatre Arts Department at NYU, conceived the idea of a society intended to promote the spirit and genius of Laurel and Hardy. It was also intended as a satire of other fraternal organizations.  

So this now-international organization took its name from the Laurel and Hardy film about fraternal organizations, Sons of the Desert.

Laurel gave the organization his official approval before he died in 1965. He said the society should have “a half-assed dignity about it.” And he suggested a motto—to be displayed along with a pair of derbies—that read: “Two minds without a single thought.” 

This became the official motto of the society written, appropriately enough, in Latin.

Laurel had originally suggested the group call itself Boobs in the Woods, another famous Laurel and Hardy film, but by the 1960s, “boobs” had acquired a new and different meaning than Laurel had intended.

Because tonight’s feature is a short one, we’re going to begin with a silent two-reeler: Harold Lloyd in Get Out and Get Under. And then Laurel and Hardy in Sons of the Desert.

read more: entertainment, movies, movie reviews, hef's movie notes, hugh hefner

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