Monday, December 16, 2013

Babes In Toyland is a 1934 film starring Laurel and Hardy. It is only very loosely based on Victor Herbert's 1903 operetta; the screenplay is by Frank Butler and Nick Grinde. The film was directed by Charles Rogers and Gus Meins.

Stannie Dumm and Ollie Dee assist Toyland's Toymaker, but have screwed up a Christmas order: Instead of 600 one-foot-tall toy soliders, they have constructed 100 six-foot-tall toy soliders. They're fired. Meanwhile, the villanous Barnaby (played by 20-something Henry Brandon) is trying to force Mother Peep's daughter, Bo (Charlotte Henry), to marry him by threatening to forclose on the Old Shoe in which they live (shades of the mortage crisis!). But Bo is in love with Tom-Tom the Piper's Son (Felix Knight). Stan and Ollie try two schemes to stop Barnaby, but Barnaby frames Tom-Tom for the supposed death of one of the Three Little Pigs. Tom-Tom is sentenced to live in Bogeyland, but is rescued by Stan, Ollie, and Bo Peep. Barnaby then unleashes the Bogeymen on Toyland. Only the army of toy soliders can save the day.

The original film is in black-and-white, but this is one film where I prefer the colorized version. (The best colorized versions look like two-strip Technicolor, and retain an antique flavor.) Producer Hal Roach fought tooth and nail with Stan Laurel over the screenplay to this film, and Laurel's worsening alcoholism and Babe Hardy's marital problems caused problems on the set as well. But it turned out well, I think.

A little Laurel and Hardy goes a long way. Their Oscar-winning 1932 short The Music Box (one of the funniest films ever made, IMHO) is an example. Just about when you get sick of the constant antics, it's over. Now, there isn't a lot of Laurel and Hardy in this film, and some critics argue that the non-L&H elements slow the picture down. I think it's actually well-balanced. Most of the non-L&H sequences draw on Herbert's operetta, so critics who don't like the film are essentially attacking Herbert's play. That's odd, because critics uniformly say the operetta is pretty good.

The film doesn't pull punches: The Bogeymen are genuinely frightening, and some of the sets and the costuming are so surreal as to be scary. (Watch for that monkey in the Mickey Mouse suit: Creepy!) But like any good Christmas story, there's that element of spirtualism and ghostliness, and it cuts the treacle in this film down to a tolerable level. The finale contains some really outstanding stop-motion in the finale, too.

It's the best of the Babes In Toyland movies, and a superb holiday film worth watching any time of the year.













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