April 19, 1937 [Way Out West]

It’s easy to pay Laurel and Hardy only partial attention, if only because for the past ten years they’ve allowed us to watch them shape their act, and the result is a predictability I try hard not to disdain. Then again, “shaped” their act most certainly is, beanpoles and rotundas, flat-out and butterballed—but confounding those distinctions, both of them comfortably thin while confirming our expectations, but also roundly able to surprise us. Stan will eventually cry, Ollie will eventually look our way in a plea for commiseration mingled with justified exasperation; Stan is dangerously ticklish, Ollie, desperately convinced of his superiority—and woe to them when all of these meet, vying for attention as the climax tumbles along.

Way Out West adds one more note, my favorite: the unforced British whimsy Stan invariably brings, Mr. Hardy more than willing to comply and join in, all discussion unnecessary as they return with relief to their silent days, dancing in the Western thoroughfare, the cowboy ensemble yodeling a little something the duo cannot resist, their feet and smiles light and serene, inviting me (more than almost anything I see on the screen) to enter and join them, executing a dainty little pirouette in the back-lot dust. More than pell-mell chases in the saloon, more than encounters with deep streams and bellicose desperadoes—even more than the donkey-and-pulley lesson in slapstick physics (as methodical and ridiculous as it was)—that little dance sums up Laurel and Hardy just as I prefer: together forever, oblivious to the troublesome demands of personal dignity.


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