Laurel and Hardy fans may sic Barnaby and the Bogeymen on me for this, but recent viewings have convinced me that SONS OF THE DESERT fails to live up to its reputation. It's a fine film, to be sure, and perhaps even ranks as a minor classic of the early 1930s. But it has been praised for so many years as L&H's greatest feature, I figure it's time for someone to come forward and say "It isn't."
There are more weak stretches and fewer inspired moments in SONS than in either of the features I'd rank higher, WAY OUT WEST and BLOCK-HEADS. It's also a less well-constructed film than the more polished and better directed FRA DIAVOLO and OUR RELATIONS. Fortunately, there are enough hilarious moments in SONS to qualify it as one of the Boys' best efforts, but I have to dock it a few quality points for not fulfilling the potential of the script or the premise... .
Yet, despite my grousing, I still love this film. It's tightly-plotted, has loads of classic moments, great supporting performances by all concerned (especially Charlie Chase), and delves deeper into Stan and Ollie's relationship than any film that came before. But I feel that a reevaluation of SONS is long overdue. I often get the impression that people regard this as their best film because the more prominent Laurel & Hardy authors (beginning with Barr and Everson in the 1960s) say so. I enjoy the film for what it is, but long for what it could have been. Imagine SONS OF THE DESERT performed with the pace and energy of BLOCK-HEADS and you'll see what I mean. --- JL
... William A. Seiter certainly was a journeyman director, but what I admire about him for this film at least is how he stands back and lets The Boys do what some of the things they do best - get befuddled by doors, engage in long rambling conversations, and scheme their way into ever-deepening trouble with the wives. Sure, he may not dazzle us with his camera placement, but that is not what he was there to do. He was given a story that was little more than an expanded version of the standard Laurel and Hardy domestic short (We Faw Down, Their Purple Moment) and he captured the feel of their best shorts despite having never worked with The Boys previously. Seiter is content to let the camera linger on Stan as he struggles to swallow a wax apple, while at the same time uses some of Stan and Ollie's best reaction shots to break up scenes, including the greatest such shot of all from Ollie when Stan breaks down and spills the beans at the end of the film. SONS OF THE DESERT is not a thing patched together like PARDON US, A CHUMP AT OXFORD or SAPS AT SEA. It is a cohesive Laurel and Hardy tale that takes it times in the telling but never lags. In fact, SONS OF THE DESERT proved that, given the right story, Laurel and Hardy were eminently capable of carrying a feature by themselves, without love interests, costumes or production numbers... .
I suppose I could wonder what SONS OF THE DESERT would have been like at a BLOCK-HEADS pace, but that would be like wondering what the WITH THE BEATLES album would be like if it had backwards guitar solos and tape loops. The later Laurel and Hardy films featured mentally denser versions of the Boys and faster-paced storytelling. The Laurel and Hardy of 1933 had not evolved to that yet, so SONS OF THE DESERT is told in the relaxed style of Blotto and PARDON US. If you want slam-bang Laurel and Hardy, you've got WAY OUT WEST and BLOCK-HEADS. If you want vintage short-era Laurel and Hardy, SONS OF THE DESERT fits the bill beautifully. - JB