Starring Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Sharon Lynn, James Finlayson, Rosina Lawrence, Stanley Fields, Vivien Oakland, The Avalon Boys, Chill Wills
Directed by James W. Horne
Expectations: One of my most treasured films as a child. Let’s see how it holds up.
As expected, I still love this movie unconditionally. Growing up we didn’t have cable TV most of the time, so our small VHS collection was always getting played and re-played. Way Out West was one of the first tapes we owned and it quickly became one of the most watched as well, with good reason. Even though it was a colorized version, the power of the duo’s comedy shone through, and later when I knew it was originally black and white I’d turn down the color and watch it as intended. The film was released on April 16, 1937, just recently celebrating its 75th birthday, but not a shred of the humor or the charm has worn off of this gem. Clearly, there’s some nostalgia associated with the movie for me, so your mileage may vary if you’ve never seen it, but for me this is truly one of the best classic comedy films of all time.
Stan and Ollie play a couple of guys entrusted to bring a deed for a gold mine to a resident of Brushwood Gulch. Things go wrong in only ways that Laurel and Hardy can manage, and that’s where Way Out West is best. My favorite scene has always been the chase scene inside of James Finlayson’s bedroom, as Laurel, Hardy, Finlayson and Sharon Lynn all fight and scramble over each other to acquire the deed. It’s hilarious and still managed to have me in stitches even though I’ve seen it a multitude of times. There’s even a small bit of wirework in one small moment that raises the level of incredulity and hysterics to new heights.
As an adult now, I noticed some things that I never saw as a child. Little things like even though this is a sound-era film, and uses the medium to its full advantage, there are tons of purely visual moments where Laurel and Hardy play off each other flawlessly. Their entire intro in the film, which runs a few minutes, is all played silently with the wonderful, Oscar-nominated music by Marvin Hatley punctuating the moments in time. Stan and Ollie both got their starts in silent films, and while they were both at their best during the sound era, it’s great to see them utilize everything at their disposal.
In addition to the expertly done score, there’s also a couple of songs throughout the film that add a distinct layer of charm largely unseen in modern films. How many movies nowadays would have a cute song and dance number as our heroes entered a saloon? Not many—and that’s a good thing—but it is quite nice here and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Did I mention that I love the music in this? Music may have never matched a movie as well as the music here; it’s easily one of my favorite comedy scores of all time!
The supporting performances are also excellent. James Finlayson has always been one of my favorite supporting actors of the period, and his comic timing and wild facial expressions continue to impress me. Not to mention that watching the film now I noticed the uncanny resemblance between Finlayson and Ben Kingsley as George Méliès in Hugo. Seriously, watch for it! Sharon Lynn also turns in a deviously funny performance as Finlayson’s wife, going to whatever lengths are necessary to rip the mine’s deed from the hands of our bungling duo.
There’s not much more I can say. Way Out West is probably the best Laurel and Hardy feature (although I still need to see a handful of them), and if you’ve never seen it you’re truly missing out on one of the best comedies the 1930s has to offer. It’s perfectly shot, perfectly edited, perfectly scripted & perfectly acted. It’s just perfect. I love it.