Filmsite Movie Review
Sons of the Desert (1933)
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Background

Sons of the Desert (1933) is a classic Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy comedy - the fourth of their full-length feature films, and possibly their funniest (the other contender is Way Out West (1937)). Their slapstick brand of comedy straddled the silent and talkie eras. It was entirely neglected for Academy Awards in its year of eligibility.

The clueless, incompetent pair portrayed bumbling, innocent, derby-hatted fools in a hostile world: the thin, easy-going, but forever-victimized and dim-witted Stan, known for scratching his head with a bewildered look, whimpering, and speaking with a slight British accent; and the fat, wide-babyfaced, tie-fiddling Ollie, continually exasperated with his partner.

This film was released in Britain under an alternative title: Fraternally Yours. The plot of this film, by director William A. Seiter, was a re-make of a similar film they had made earlier, Be Big (1930).

The Story

Stan (Stan Laurel) and Ollie (Oliver Hardy) belong to the oldest order of the Sons of the Desert, an all-male social fraternity (a parody of the Masons or the Shriners). [The comedy team's fan club, formed in the mid-1960s, took 'Sons of the Desert' as their international fan club name.] In the opening sequence, the Exalted Ruler (John Elliott) is solemnly exhorting all the members (at a secret "special meeting" of the fraternal order) to "meet the situation with determination." The two latecomers arrive after the meeting is already underway, annoying the members and disrupting the proceedings as they gingerly (but noisily) wind their way through the seated audience to find their seats downfront. Stan adjusts his chair, moving it closer to Ollie and sharply pinching his hand - Ollie yelps loudly.

After the Exalted Ruler looks at them with a stony glare, he is able to continue his speech: "This Oasis must face the situation with determination. Every man must be accounted for. Every man must do his part. There must be no weaklings in our midst. We must put our very hearts and souls into this great undertaking. There must be no thought of failure. We must stand shoulder to shoulder. We must work. We must sacrifice. The weak must be helped by the strong." Ollie looks at Stan to emphasize the point. The Ruler fervently tells the group that they all ("100 percent") must attend the annual national convention in Chicago the following week. All members are required to rise and take an oath to pledge and commit to attend. Once taken, the solemn oath "has never been broken by any man down through the centuries of time in the history of this fraternal organization." Stan looks a little skeptical, worried and doubtful that he can take the pledge, and he considers sitting down. Ollie pulls Stan to his feet, exhorting him to not falter and back out.

During the oath-taking ceremony while all the members take the position - crossing arms and joining hands, they are presented with the question:

The Ruler: Do you all solemnly swear to be present at our 87th Annual Convention at Chicago?
The Group (thunderously): I do!
Stan: Me too!
The Ruler: Whole-heartedly unanimous!

The members end the meeting by singing their alma mater.

On the way home, Stan tearfully explains his reluctance and fear to take the oath - he predicts that his wife may not let him go to the convention. Ollie reassures him that it will be no problem to convince her, never thinking that his own wife won't give permission for him to go:

Ollie: Of course she'll let you go. Why, she'll have to let you go. You took an oath!
Stan: I know. That's what I'm worrying about. The Exhausted Ruler said that if...you took an oath, that it would have to be broken for...generations and...centuries of...hundreds of years and my wife would let...
Ollie (scornfully): Do you have to ask your wife everything?
Stan: Well, if I didn't ask her, I wouldn't know what she wanted me to do...
Ollie: I never realized that such a deplorable condition existed in your home. Why don't you pattern your life after mine? I go places and do things, and then tell my wife. Every man should be the king in his own castle.

Both boys (and their wives) live next door to each other ("Mr. and Mrs. Stanley Laurel," and "Mr. Oliver Hardy & Wife"). At their two doorsteps, after getting confused about who lives where, Ollie encourages Stan: "Now buck up. Go in and tell her you're going to the convention. Be a man, and I'll see you in the morning." Inside his own house, Ollie is confronted by his formidable wife Mrs. Lottie Chase Hardy (Mae Busch), whom he sweetly calls "Sugar." After learning that Stan's wife Betty is duck-hunting and that he has just locked himself out of his own house, Ollie receives permission from his wife for Stan to come in and wait until she returns.

Stan makes himself right at home - he takes a magazine, sits down, and reaches for an ornamental wax piece of fruit. After helping himself and taking a few bites out of it with gusto - and then scratching his head in his characteristic way without noticing anything unusual, Ollie informs his dumb pal: "Why that's not real fruit! It's imitation. It's made of wax!" Mrs. Hardy points out: "Oh, so that's where it's been going. That's the third apple I've missed this week."

Knowing that his own wife may refuse his trip to the convention, Stan brings up the subject in front of Mrs. Hardy, reminding Ollie to talk to her about it. After Ollie nervously tells his wife about his plans (and Stan ruins Ollie's argument by asking "Jack who?"), she brandishes a sharp knife she is polishing:

Ollie: You see, the Sons of the Desert are giving their annual convention in Chicago next week, and Stan and I are going.
Mrs. Hardy: Oh you are.
Ollie: We thought the trip would do us good. Besides being good for us in a business way, you see, we'll meet new friends, and and and and see a lot of new faces, and the change of climate will be good for us in a good many ways. And besides, 'All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.'
Stan: Jack who?
Mrs. Hardy: Why, I hope you have a nice time, dear.
Ollie: Thank you sugar.
Mrs. Hardy: Ha, ha!
Ollie: What's that for?
Mrs. Hardy: Just this. You're not going!
Ollie: What do you mean, I'm not going?
Mrs. Hardy: Just that. You're NOT going to the convention. You're going to the mountains with me!
Stan: But he can't go to the mountains. You see, he took an oath. And the Exhausted Ruler said that...
Mrs. Hardy: Now listen, dodo, you keep out of this.
Ollie: Wait a minute, sugar. There's no use getting excited. You're making a mountain out of a molehill.
Stan: Certainly life isn't short enough.

To answer his wife's angry tirade, Ollie exchanges rough words with her, confounding himself by insisting:

Now, wait a minute. You listen to this. I want this understood once and for all. I'm not going to the convention. I'm going to the mountains.

Mrs. Hardy ends her harsh, forcible opinions about how she is under-appreciated by threatening: "Convention! You'll go to the convention over my dead body." She breaks a large vase over Ollie's head. Even so, Ollie tries to downplay his wife's rejection to Stan: "Aw, don't pay any attention to her. She's only clowning. She'll snap out of it." A second vase is projected through the air, striking him in the back of the head. With a meek and soft-spoken voice, Stan baits his pal:

Stan: Are you going to stand for that?
Ollie: You're darn right I'm not going to stand for it. I'm the boss in this house. And when I say I'm going to the convention, I'm going...

A third vase hits the same target, crowning the argument once and for all. Mrs. Hardy rushes into the room and snatches the bowl of ornamental fruit away from Stan's vicinity. Know-it-all Stan counsels Ollie: "If you're not careful, she's going to get the upper hand of you. Now mark my words." Stan's wife Betty (Dorothy Christy), who has arrived home from duck-hunting with a rifle in her hand, walks into the room behind them, framed between the two husbands. While her husband is unaware of her presence, she overhears his advice:

You know, I may not be king of my castle, but I certainly wouldn't allow my wife to wear any pants. Hmmm. I'd like to see my old woman throwing things around. It's disgraceful. Never heard of such goings-off, on. You know, if my ball-and-chain ever talked to me, if she even dared to raise her... Do you know what I'd say?...I'd say. Hello, honey. I... (He does a double-take) Well, you think it over. I'll see you in the morning. (Stan meekly rises and dutifully follows after his wife.)

The next day, they devise a plan so they can sneak off to the convention. Ollie fakes illness ("a severe nervous breakdown") to his wife, mostly as a result of his fight with her. Mrs. Hardy pours boiling hot water into an aluminum tub positioned in the living room, where Ollie soaks his nerve-wracked feet. Stan has procured a veterinary horse doctor, "fix"-ing it so that the doctor will prescribe a short ocean cruise to Honolulu, Hawaii as a healthy cure for his case of nerves. Yet the ploy is confusing to Stanley:

Stan: But why do you want to go to Honolulu?
Ollie: Don't you understand that this is only a subterfuge? To throw the wives off the track, so that we can go to the convention.
Stan: Oh, then you're not going to the mountains.
Ollie: Of course not. We're supposed to go to Honolulu, so that the wives will think that we...

The next madcap sequence with the scalding hot water tub is a hilarious, slapstick routine. Mrs. Hardy brings more water for the tub and an aspirin for her ailing husband. Moments later after Stanley is handed the aspirin, he promptly loses it. In his avid search for the pill behind Ollie in the chair, he propels Ollie - bottom-first - into the hot tub. After Stan re-positions the tub behind Mrs. Hardy, she falls backward into it, pinning Stan's head under the water with her weight. Ordered to get rid of the tub, Stan overturns the tub and spills water all over the living room before reaching the kitchen. Mrs. Hardy bumps directly into Stan, and then stumbles over the tub in the middle of the kitchen. In retaliation, she yells: "You wax-eater" and throws the tub at Stan. But she misses, hitting Ollie instead. In a memorable image, Ollie's head sticks out from the jagged bottom of the upside-down tub, fitting over his chubby face like a collar.

Because Ollie feels hot, Stan takes his temperature with an outdoor barometer, reading the results as "wet and windy." When the doctor (Lucien Littlefield) arrives in a wagon with barking dogs, advertising his business: "Dr. Horace Meddick, Veterinary - Animals Best Friend," he appears highly unusual. Oliver asks Stan about his choice of doctor:

Oliver: Why did you get a veterinarian?
Stan: Well, I didn't think his religion would make any difference.

Stan thinks that Ollie is "suffering from a nervous shakedown." The vet suspects that Ollie may have a bad case (or double case) of "Canus Delirous." The doctor administers a large pill in the customary fashion, instructing: "Sit up. Sit up. Open your mouth," while snapping his fingers in front of Ollie's nose, jamming the pill into his mouth, and forcing him to swallow it.

Their ploy works as anticipated - the doctor recommends a trip to Honolulu ("a long ocean voyage, with plenty of tropical air and sun") - "the only cure." Since Mrs. Hardy is sea-sick prone and can't cruise on the ocean, her presence is forbidden. When Ollie suggests that he will "stay home and suffer" if she can't go, Mrs. Hardy insists that he go "just as the doctor says." Ollie looks at Stan and suggests that Stan accompany him: "I've got to have someone take care of me." Stan almost wrecks their scheme by stupidly mentioning he can't accompany Ollie to Honolulu, because he has been given his wife's permission to attend the convention in Chicago: "I can't go to Honolulu...I'm going to the convention." Mrs. Hardy insists that Ollie go anyway:

Ollie (frustrated): That settles it. I'm not going to Honolulu.
Mrs. Hardy: Oh yes, you are. You're going to Honolulu if you have to go alone!
Ollie: Well, if I have to go to Honolulu alone, he's going with me! (He indicates Stan.)


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