The Cakeman always Rings Twice: Laurel and Hardy in “Twice Two” (1933)
Stan and Ollie often played with the idea of being a married couple. Twice Two is an intriguing variant on this theme. If Stan and Ollie cannot (in the 1930s) marry one another, then they can marry each other’s sisters.
(Imagine the children born of these unions? Just for a moment.)
At the beginning of this film we are informed that Ollie has somehow qualified as a medical doctor specialising in the brain and that even more improbably Stan is his recognised associate. This bizarre professional trajectory is nowhere referred to in the remainder of this short film. As Stan and Ollie phone their wives/sisters at home, we are reminded of how effectively Laurel and Hardy films succeeded in weaponising the telephone. Stan and Ollie use the telephone not merely to transmit conversations but various liquids as well as strategically focused punitive measures.
The squeaky wives (Fanny and Sandy) are played by Stan and Ollie but voiced by May Wallace and Carol Tevis I’m not sure how successful this idea is. These voices become irritating after a while and we can’t help wondering if Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy weren’t perfectly capable of voicing comedy female versions of themselves. I love seeing Stan and Ollie and I love seeing great comic performers like Mae Busch and Thelma Todd in Laurel and Hardy films, but the vocal interventions of May Wallace and Carol Tevis feel like a half-hearted compromise.
We are treated, meanwhile, to a delicious confection of a gag which involves Mrs Hardy becoming decorated with cake so as to resemble a portrait of Queen Elizabeth I which hangs on the dining room wall.
Stan and Ollie return to their sisters/wives but not before some delightfully timed door comedy involving ripped trousers and a decapitated bouquet of flowers.
Small note – this is one of two films in which Ollie’s moustache is obviously and necessarily fake (the other being Brats) since Sandy of course needs to be played clean shaven.
There is a pleasant sequence, filmed in almost total silence, in which Stan works through every single wrong permutation of hand, butter, bread and napkin while Sandy just stares and stares at him.
The final squabble concerns whether marital loyalty trumps sibling loyalty and very confusing it is too. We are used to Laurel and Hardy marital comedies which involve spousal resentment at Stan and Ollie’s co-dependency, but when the spouses are also Stans and Ollies, there is a dizzying effect.
I’ll be honest. This is not a particular favourite of mine. There are some very slow and familiar passages, such as Stan repeatedly phoning to ask about ice cream flavours, that could easily have been excised. The film hangs on one particular idea – an idea which – once absorbed – is not especially funny in itself.
But you will watch it because, like me, you are a Laurel and Hardy completists – and therefore motivated, like me, by purest love.
I’ve some thoughts about other Laurel and Hardy films.