Way Out West (1937)

Directed by James W. Horne
Written by Charles Rogers & Felix Adler and James Parrott

The Western comedy is a very small sub-genre, but one which has a number of successful hits (most of which will be covered as part of this marathon. Earlier, we had Buster Keaton’s take on the Western in Go West. While Keaton has been better, he proved with that film that the Wild Wild West could also be very very funny. Such comedies as Blazing Saddles and ¡Three Amigos! were my gateways into the genre, in fact. Growing up I had a definite affinity for comedies (as I think most kids do), and these films were a great way to see into that era of history with a comedic lens, prepping my future experiences and inquisitions into the genre itself. With Way Out West, we see what comedic duo Laurel and Hardy can do in that landscape. This was the first time I had experience the duo, believe it or not, and in the end I think I would be curious to see some of their more noteworthy work, as the comedy mostly fell flat for me this time around.

Tasked with delivering both the good news and bad news to the daughter of a gold mine prospector, whose father has passed away but left the gold mine to his daughter, Stan (Laurel) and Ollie (Hardy) must travel to the Western town where she now resides. Bumbling their way through town, Stan and Ollie find out where Mary Roberts (Rosina Lawrence) is working, a hotel/saloon ran by Mickey Finn (James Finlayson). When Finn finds out why Stan and Ollie are there, he has his star act, Lola (Sharon Lynn) pose as Mary Roberts in order to receive the valuable deed from the helpless duo. But when they find out they have been duped, Stan and Ollie must work overtime to right the wrong and get the deed to the mine to its rightful owner, Mary.

It’s a perfectly zany plot for a Western comedy, especially given the reputation of the two leads comedic prowess. However, I fear that I was not tapped into their brand of comedy, at least for this outing. I was very much looking forward to seeing my first Laurel and Hardy film, to see these comedic masters work in their domain, but many of the jokes and gags simply felt forced and unfunny at times. I think the main problem I had was that often the gags would seem to go on for far too long, filling an otherwise short film with either too few gags, or not enough that were truly funny. This folly is likely more the result of my tastes than anything, and I did laugh on occasion, but it felt too few and far between, as when a gag didn’t work, it felt like it would never end.

There are moments which work, like the small touch of Ollie falling into the hole in the water, or Stan’s infectious laugh while being nearly tickled to death for the deed by Lola. Genuine laughs can be had, but even the tickling scene takes place within the larger framework of an overlong scene where four characters simply transfer the deed between each other in a game of cat and mouse which has little innovation and even fewer laughs (save the tickling). The physical comedy is too hit and miss throughout, and lacking the genius deadpan delivery of Buster Keaton, hardly musters more than a contented chuckle compared to a belly busting laugh.

This experience has not turned me completely off of Laurel and Hardy, as I can see their potential. I think in this instance, their brand of humor does match the setting, but the gags were not always winners, unfortunately. One of the highlights of the film was the music, including the scene with the Avalon Boys, but even that scene goes to show the film’s unevenness, as it feels out of place and added on. Perhaps for my next dive into the world of Laurel and Hardy, I will try some of their well known shorts, as I can certainly see their brand of humor being just right for that format. In Way Out West, I can’t help but feel like their talents are being stretched to fill too many jokes in the same arena that perhaps a smaller dose would be just right for these two.

** 1/2 – Average

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