July 3, 2014
Flying Deuces, The - US, 1939
Following their 1938 film Block-Heads, both Stan Laurel’s and Oliver Hardy’s contracts with Hal Roach were allowed to expire, and in the interim between that film and the signing of a new contract with Roach, the two hopped over to RKO and made The Flying Deuces, an immensely popular film that saw the comedy team once again joining the French Foreign Legion. This was apparently a common theme in movies, for, according to IMDB, there were around 34 American films that in some way involved the Legion prior to The Flying Deuces. It is somewhat telling that many of these films – both the comedies and the dramas - did not present the Legion in the most flattering of lights. In fact, some of the protagonists in these films seem to suffer more at the hands of their commanders than their enemies. It should come as no shock then that the officers in The Flying Deuces don’t fare much better. After all, a Laurel & Hardy film must have someone for the pair to match wits with, and who better than an overbearing commander hell bent on punishing them for their decidedly unsoldier-like behavior?
The Flying Deuces finds Laurel and Hardy on holiday in France. Their vacation is almost over, and Stan seems more than ready to head back home and resume his job at a fish market. Oliver, however, has other ideas. Having been struck by Cupid’s arrow, he announces his intention to marry a young French hotel employee whom he has become absolutely smitten with. Unfortunately for him, the young lady is already spoken for. So what’s a foreigner in France to do when he finds himself depressed and heartbroken? Why, join the Foreign Legion of course because apparently nothing cures a broken heart like marching for hours at a time, undergoing the rigors of basic training, and hearing “Taps” at the end of each day.
It is often remarked that in a Laurel & Hardy film, much like one starring the Marx Brothers, the individual pieces are often of greater significance than the whole. In other words, the plot serves as a catalyst for creating short snippets of situation comedy, and these moments often have very little to do with what comes afterwards. The Flying Deuces is a bit of an outlier in this regard, for it does indeed have more narrative cohesion than some of their earlier films. Fortunately for viewers, it also contains its fair share of priceless comic moments. There is a effective running gag involving Stan hitting his head on the wall of his room, as well as a very humorous bit in which the two of them are assigned laundry duty and the audience gets to see just how much cleaning this actually entails. Also memorable are Stan Laurel’s frequent verbal blunders. In one unforgettable one, he explains his feelings about flying by saying he prefers to remain on the “good old terra cotta.” Cute. And perhaps only Laurel and Hardy could get away with using the most famous line from Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities in the way that they do.
At just 65 minutes long, The Flying Deuces is remarkably well paced, save for a scene at the end that goes on a little too long. Director A. Edward Sutherland gets good performances from the film’s supporting cast, including Laurel and Hardy staple James Finlayson, as well as Jean Parker as Georgette, the woman who breaks Hardy’s heart, and Reginald Gardner, who plays her overly jealous husband. As for Laurel and Hardy themselves, they are at the top of their game, displaying impeccable comic timing and delivering lines that are hilarious in extremely sophisticated ways. The film is one of their best, and it is not hard to see why it was such a smash hit. (on DVD)