12 January 2002 | The_Movie_Cat
"We'll do anything that Uncle Sam wants us to do, won't we, Ollie?"
An unashamedly jingoistic Laurel and Hardy movie that sees them try to join the war effort. Watching loveable everymen Stan and Ollie put up signs saying "gone to fight the Japs" troubles me ideologically. Maybe I'm reading into it too much, but seeing such crass propaganda as Ollie saying, "There's a job to be done right here at home" fills me with a sense of dread. And it's weird hearing English Stan talking about "Our Country" and uttering such trite platitudes as "We'll do anything that Uncle Sam wants us to do, won't we, Ollie?"
What's most unsettling is that Stan and Ollie look so old and ill you no longer laugh at their slapstick but fear for their safety. Direction by Edward Sedgwick is quite nice in terms of angles and camera motion, but completely at odds with the material. More to the point, sometimes poor shots and editing made the old Laurel and Hardy films funnier. With more professional standards they seem like an anachronism. The tiredness of the two leads (Stan in particular, who liked to be more involved in the creative level) comes through, and it all has a jaded, rehashed feel. I laughed just four times in the film's 64m duration, and while I cannot imagine any L & H vehicle plumbing the depths of a * movie, this is easily the weakest of their work that I've seen so far.
There's a lifeless atmosphere throughout, and Stan and Ollie's rapport is virtually non-existent for once. Some bits, like Stan sleeping in a gas mask amuses, but the chemistry is almost entirely absent. If they'd made the film half the length yet with the same material it might have meant a pacier, snappier, product. In fact, it took me a while to put my finger on it, but what the picture misses more than anything else is incidental music, something that was synonymous with Laurel and Hardy. Their violent fight with an awkward houseowner including ramming a pipe down his throat and smashing his head into a fusebox does recapture some old glories, but it's too little. Most unsettling scene is the one where Stan can't write his own name. Laurel & Hardy are always dumb, but here it's supposed to be funny that they have learning difficulties? The climactic final pay-off is particularly notable for being nowhere near good enough. The film doesn't so much end, but slump to a halt.
Intriguingly, when Air Raid Wardens was released with Nothing But Trouble on one tape in 1993, the blurb on the back told you the ending. How thoughtful.