|Released by Hal Roach Studios | Directed by James Parrott
Run time: 70 minutes
Proof That It’s a Pre-Code Film
- There’s a long sequence in the middle of the film where Laurel & Hardy have escaped prison and disguise themselves as African-American sharecroppers with all the facepaint that entails. It’s embarrassing to say the least.
Pardon Us: Serving 7 to 10 Gags
“A comet is a star with a tail on it.”
“Right! Name one.”
“Rin Tin Tin.”
The first feature-length outing for Laurel and Hardy, Pardon Us is weirdly discombobulated: their hi-jinks in the slammer are a mix of fitful and amusing, with most of the emphasis on the ‘fitful’ part. For while the movie is enjoyable, the movie stops and starts its comedic momentum. It has… arrested development.
The plot sees Laurel and Hardy attempt to make it as beer barons, only to have themselves thrown into the hoosegow when Laurel offers a bottle of beer to a police officer. He’s doubly cursed since Laurel has a loose tooth and develops the tick of blowing raspberries after each sentence. This doesn’t sit well with the warden (Wilfred Lucas), though it surprisingly temporarily wins over The Tiger (Long), this prison’s less-pleasant version of Wallace Beery.
The movie is episodic by design, and the duo’s problems escalate with their usual slow-burns: they anger both the warden and the killer in turns, escape, get recaptured, and eventually survive a riot in due time. Hardy glowers, Laurel whimpers.
There’s some element of parody to other prison movies that were all the rage at the time, but nothing overt or even scathing– this film is mostly a wire frame to hang their gags. Some sequences are clearly pasted on, such as a late movie fire, that feel as padded as they are.
Chunks of this filler come from a number of songs– it’s 1931, it’s not surprising they’re there, it’s just disappointing. The songs aren’t bad, but they do stop the comedy in its tracks. One of these numbers also comes while Laurel and Hardy are disguised among sharecroppers in blackface. Somehow that means that we get to see Hardy sing a number. I don’t know why.
There isn’t much to the sharecropper scenes, with the movie leaving it up to the audience whether or not the black people surrounding the duo are fooled by their ridiculous disguises or if they’re just too polite to say anything. There’s also an awkward moment where Laurel sees two black prisoners and jokes, “Amos and Andy!” Both sequences put the movie more firmly in the past than a lot of the duo’s work.
Pardon Us is a middle-of-the-road Laurel and Hardy comedy, one that’s more pleasant than not, even if it is dated. The characters are all paper thin, and Laurel and Hardy do what they do best. For a first outing in feature length, the sporadic amusements are almost forgivable– if you’ll pardon them, I’m sure.
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Trivia & Links
- This film uses the sets left over from MGM’s The Big House. Because of the expense involved with it, the film was expanded from a short to feature length. There are several different versions of the film out there, some having scenes that others don’t– the version I watched on TCM ran 70 minutes, but there are other versions that run 56 and 65 minutes.
- Laurel & Hardy Central has a bunch of great info on the film, including details the multiple prints floating around.
- According to IMDB, there were four foreign language versions of the film: French, German, Italian, and Spanish. Laurel and Hardy performed their lines phonetically in each one; the French version supposedly has the villain, Le Tigre, played by none other than Boris Karloff. (Though I can’t find any proof Karloff was fluent in French. Odd.)
- Mordaunt Hall promises that the film offers, “no little merriment”, but acquiesces:
Although it has some good gags, which are unfailing in eliciting laughter, it seems a pity that the clever acting of this team was not rewarded by a keener and less robust variety of humor.
- Prison Movies is rather down on it, saying that it’s a quality production (and better than the other Laurel & Hardy prison shorts to this point), but concludes:
The film just can’t sustain the funny stuff.