Some Laurel and Hardy movies deal with marital exposure/catastrophe and others deal with economic disaster. Their Purple Moment does both. Stan and Ollie are both wedded to demanding partners who insist on receiving every cent of the paycheck. They have each attempted to keep something back to fund the occasional boy’s night out. Stan seems to have secreted his savings more inventively, in the jacket of what looks like a two-dimensional portrait in the hallway. However, Stan’s wife has spotted this little hideaway and sneakily manages to replace dollars with low value store coupons.
Stan and Ollie claim to be wandering off to the local bowling alley but instead wind up at a fancy club where they serve enormous steaks and have dancing midgets, lead by Harry Earles, who features prominently in Sailors Beware (1927).
Approaching the club, however, they meet two young women whose dates have run off and left them with a bill they are unable to discharge. One of them is the very wonderful and beautiful Anita Garvin who appears in so many early Laurel and Hardy films. There is much fluttering of eyes and fiddling with ties and sheepish grins before Ollie chivalrously insists on not only paying for their existing bill at the club but also to escort them back into the club for the remainder of the evening. Shy and flirty Stan and Ollie are a joy to behold. I think I could just watch them like this for twenty minutes. It is Stanley’s money Ollie is pledging of course, which doesn’t seem to matter. There is also a taxi driver to be considered who is simply asked to “wait”. Of course, if they had attempted to pay off the two women immediately, then the lack of funds would have been exposed and we’d have no movie. What makes this two-reeler so deliciously painful is an ever swelling tab of impossible expenses casually accruing. Meanwhile, both of their extra-marital dates for the evening talk of the revenge they’d deal out to any other men who tried to sneak out without paying for their pleasures. The town gossip meanwhile, first cousin to the town gossip from With Love and Hisses (1927), has already informed their wives, who are on their way. Everything builds towards a multifaceted crescendo of a crisis.
Everyone who loves Laurel and Hardy loves the time and trouble devoted to slow and patient shots of Oliver Hardy’s face as he absorbs the full extent of his pain and suffering. Their Purple Moment is striking in that Stanley receives the same sort of treatment. When Stanley realises that his wallet is stuffed with coupons rather than banknotes, we spend a delightfully long and precious amount of time just looking at him as he absorbs the full implications of this situation.
In sort, this is a fine drama of anticipation. When the wives do arrive, the best that can be contrived to conclude the film is yet another pie fight. Perhaps so many things are coming to a head that it’s hard to do justice to the sense of impending disaster.
So, the best thing here is Stan’s face, and the sheer slowness of horrible cognition that it exposes.
I’ve a few thoughts on some other early Laurel and Hardy silents: