With Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, James Finlayson, Rosina Lawrence, Sharon Lynne, Stanley Fields, Vivien Oakland
Directed by James W. Horne
Black and White
Reviewed by JL and JB

Excerpted and edited from Laurel and Hardy Central. Laurel and Hardy film are not rated at The Age of Comedy, nor are they rated at LHC. For our full reviews on Laurel and Hardy movies, please visit LHC at your earliest convenience.

     ...[A] joyous and perfectly constructed comedy. It is also my choice for the greatest of their films, feature or short, sound or silent. For a film that comes rather late in their tenure with Roach, it also serves surprisingly well as an introduction to the team for newcomers, for it is both a great film and a great Laurel & Hardy film. The scenes are tight and superbly constructed, filled with outstanding gags that probably would have worked in the hands of any skilled comedy team. Yet the film also explores and defines L&H's relationship as well as any; it's a highly personal vehicle that transcends the somewhat generic nature of the plot. Wheeler and Woolsey could have made a good film with the script from WAY OUT WEST, but it took Laurel and Hardy to turn it into a masterpiece.

     And yet, even the few scenes without Stan and Ollie are a delight. We don't mind, for instance, that the Boys have a comparatively late entrance in this film. The opening scene in the saloon is populated by some great Old West types, headed by James Finlayson in what is perhaps his greatest role in a Laurel & Hardy film. There was no other player in L&H's stock company who could have infused the role of Mickey Finn with such comic invention and yet remain a credible and formidable adversary for the Boys. He's a slimy snake, but he's also loads of fun. The role also allows us to see what a great comic performer Fin was, both verbally and physically. The cultured tones of his Scottish brogue may seem out of place in a western saloon, but they also lend his character just the right amount of silly pomposity. Notice too how well he adapts his body to the situation, from stately and upright when he's trying to create an impression, to stooped and serpentine when he's plotting his latest scheme. WAY OUT WEST is not only L&H's best film, it's also the best vehicle for their most beloved supporting player. "Doh!"s and pop-eyed double-takes abound....

     The other candidates for Laurel & Hardy's greatest film -- SONS OF THE DESERT and BLOCK-HEADS-- have the sort of minor flaws from which WAY OUT WEST does not suffer.  In my review for SONS OF THE DESERT, I felt obligated to point out certain weaknesses in a widely beloved film that most fans don't approach objectively.  In truth, I rank SONS very highly among L&H's features, but I also feel that maximum advantage was not taken with its potential. BLOCK-HEADS may rank as their funniest feature, but it has some slight structural flaws and a weak ending.  It's also a film smaller in scale than WAY OUT WEST, a film marked by high production values and classy settings.  There is not one moment in WAY OUT WEST that isn't as good as it can possibly be.  It also strikes that happy balance between a film that appeals to serious fans and one that will make any newcomer with a sense of humor an instant convert.  I not only consider it to be Laurel & Hardy's greatest film, I also rank it among the top 10 greatest American comedies of all time.  (Message to the AFI: it's even better than TOOTSIE!) --- JL

     WAY OUT WEST is hands-down Laurel and Hardy's most perfect feature.  You would have to go back to one of the shorts of the mid-thirties, such as Towed in a Hole or Busy Bodies to find a film as flawlessly executed as this.  That WAY OUT WEST is not my favorite is simply a personal quirk.  I prefer Scorsese's MEAN STREETS to TAXI DRIVER, Steinbeck's Sweet Thursday to Cannery Row, and Lisa Kudrow to Jennifer Aniston.  There's no explanation for things like this - there's just quiet contemplation and eventual acceptance.  WAY OUT WEST is my second favorite behind  BLOCK-HEADS.  Tomorrow it may be my favorite....

     WAY OUT WEST is also the most superbly paced Laurel and Hardy feature.  There is never a moment where you wish they would speed things up, or slow things down.  Every gag and routine is played out splendidly, without excess milking, and each little section of the film provides either a neat transition to the next, or a pleasant little rest stop so we can catch our collective breaths.  The plot is deceptively simple, but it provides just the right amount of room for Stan and Ollie to play around.  The first two thirds of the film are solely about The Boys arriving in Brushwood Gulch to deliver the deed to Mary Roberts, and the final third is about them getting it back.  It's the kind of plot they might have used in a two-reeler, and could have proved unwieldy stretched out to feature length (think PARDON US), but this time around, they got it right....

     What WAY OUT WEST is most famous for are the two musical scenes featuring Laurel and Hardy, not counting their final, charming version of Irving Berlin's "Dixie".  I suppose you could them padding, but is it really padding when it helps the pace of the film and gives us insight to the characters?  Beloved as Chico and Harpo are to Marx Brothers fans,  their harp and piano solos always brought their films to a dead halt, something of a no-no for a team known for their lightning quick pace.  But Laurel and Hardy pausing to join in on a song or perform a silly, impromptu dance is just part of who they are.  They are like children, on their way to school but distracted by the musical bell of an ice-cream truck.  They simply cannot help themselves, and we cannot help loving them all the more for it. --- JB

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