The most wonderful thing about this film is that it demonstrates the full extent of the commitment of Stan and Ollie to one another.
Ollie’s wife has left him in a huff in protest at Stan’s two year residence in the house. Even as she storms out, breaking vases for melodramatic effect, Ollie has difficulty getting his head around the idea of evicting Stan. The situation is compounded by the fact that Ollie’s Uncle Bernal is about to bestow a handsome settlement on Ollie on the condition that Ollie is indeed happily married. Three minute after the wife’s departure, Uncle Bernal arrives, of course.
Accordingly, Ollie demands that Stan don his wife’s clothing and reassure Moneybags. Stan feels greatly distressed by this desperate stratagem and, needless to say, does not adapt well to the constraints and inconveniences of 1920s women’s fashion.
The second half of the film involves dinner and dancing at “The Pink Pup”, a swanky joint that Uncle Moneybags insists on taking them to. There, Stan suffers harassment at the hands of an irritating drunk, while every variety of chair exchange is employed to ensure people fall over one another and that the same waiter tumbles into the same kind of creamy pie.
Oh, and there’s a jewel thief at work as well, and Stan’s anxieties are confounded by the threat of people being searched, while having stolen jewelry dropped down the back of his dress. Stan and Ollie’s attempts to retrieve and/or shake out the jewels while pretending to dance appear alternately indecent and frenzied and sober Uncle Moneybags is left shaking his head. Eventually, while trying to hide behind curtains in order to retrieve the jewelry which is now long gone, they find themselves exposed on a stage as the main cabaret for the evening, a spectacle of complicated and frantic groping. Uncle Bernal has seen enough, and vows to give his fortune to a pet hospital.
Outside, Ollie reflects on his marital and economic ruin before being covered with soup by the same drunk Ollie had poured soup over earlier. All he has left now is Stan, which makes, if not for a happy ending, then a heroic one.
Although Ollie has far more to lose, financially than Stan – with Ollie’s fortune “on the line” as it were – this is a Stan focused movie, a movie which is more concerned with Stan’s feelings than Ollie’s. Like all good films that depend on male to female cross-dressing, this little film is a test of how well a man can respond to the sort of challenges that women face on a daily basis. Stan makes for a not unattractive woman, but an ungainly one. He manages to combine a degree of simpering and flirting with a complete lack of deference or decorum.
In fact, Stan and Ollie are married to one another in a variety of movies in a variety of ways. Many decades before same-sex marriage was a legal possibility in the USA or Europe, Laurel and Hardy were improvising various forms of wedlock. Now of course, the idea of two men being married to one another was supposed to be funny – even ludicrous – back in the 20s and 30s. But the logic of the “two men being married” joke depended upon its plausibility and the plausible reality of Stan and Ollie’s nuptials was of course based on the fact that these two men cannot live without one another.
Sometimes indeed, they are unclear where one of them starts and the other finishes…
A few reflections on a few other Laurel and Hardy films…