Pardon Us (1931)

Director: James Parrott

So, back to films with audible dialogue! And back to a box set I started quite some time ago, that being the Essential Laurel & Hardy set from a few years back; all the sound shorts (I gather none of the silents were “essential”) and most of the features (inessential, or rights problems?). I decided to approach it this way: rather than strict chronology, watch the shorts (and the foreign-language versions of same also featured in the box) first and then come back for the features. I also decided against reviewing the shorts cos there’s too many of them, but I resolved to tackle the features when I finally got around to them… so here goes.

Now, L&H’s first feature occupies a slightly odd place in their filmography; by the time it came out, they’d already made feature-length versions of some of their shorts for foreign-language release, and this one wasn’t even meant to be a feature in the first place. Essentially, Pardon Us was a two-reeler—the boys go into the bootleg liquor business and get sent to the big house for their efforts—that got fantastically out of hand; starting in June 1930, the production wound up costing so much that turning it into a feature was deemed the only thing to do with all the footage that had been shot. The net result feels exactly like what it was, i.e. a film that should never quite have been… Mind you, I’m judging the film based upon the original August 1930 preview version on the DVD, which is some 14 minutes longer than the version actually released a full year later, and which has a lot of material cut (some reshot as well) from the release print. Does the shorter version feel quite as disjointed and padded as the longer one does? No idea, and to be honest I can’t be bothered hunting for it (can’t see it on Youtube). That said, although it’s a film of individual bits—the plot really is pretty bare and not terribly driven—those individual bits are often pretty good (though the protracted blackface scene will make many shudder), and whatever its problems Pardon Us does demonstrate how useful the still-newish sound film would be to furthering Stan and Ollie’s career; the silent film just couldn’t give you that singing voice…

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