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With: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Charley Chase, Mae Busch, Dorothy Christy, Lucien Littlefield
Written by: Frank Craven
Directed by: William A. Seiter
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 68
Date: 12/29/1933

Sons of the Desert (1933)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Two Peas in a Pot

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This brisk, lively, pre-code comedy features martial power plays and actual violence in addition to slapstick violence, but strong chemistry between the legendary funny duo still generates big laughs.

In Sons of the Desert, Stan (Stan Laurel) and Ollie (Oliver Hardy) attend a meeting of their men's club, the "Sons of the Desert." They learn that the group's annual convention is to be held in Chicago, and they must all take a solemn oath, promising that they will attend. Stan worries that his wife (Dorothy Christy) won't let him go, but Ollie assures him that all he has to do is show her who's "boss." Unfortunately, Ollie's wife (Mae Busch) won't let him go, as they had already planned a trip to the mountains.

Ollie decides to fake an illness, and Stan arranges for a fake doctor to prescribe a sea trip to Honolulu, knowing that Ollie's wife gets seasick. They go to Chicago and have a great time, but when they return, they learn that the ship they were supposed to have been on was sunk in a storm. Panicked, the husbands hide in the attic and try to come up with a plan, explaining how they are still alive. But the wives saw footage of their husbands in a newsreel and know the truth already. How will Stan and Ollie get out of this nice mess?

Directed by William A. Seiter, Sons of the Desert gets away with things other comedies of the period cannot, largely because it was made before the Hays Code was implemented, but also because it was a different time. Many of the jokes are about the inequalities of men and women in marriages, with the men pretending to have power, but actually afraid of their wives' wrath. The women characters are not painted with much sympathy — Ollie's wife throws cookware at his head and Stan's wife brandishes a rifle and goes duck hunting — though it's implied that everyone is happily married.

The screenplay focuses on quite a few deceptions and accidents — in one scene, a fellow son of the desert (Charley Chase) prank calls his sister, who turns out to be Ollie's wife — as well as some silly wordplay ("honesty is the best politics," etc.). But the real comedy comes from the subtle, physical pantomime between the two friends. Stan is happy-go-lucky, but teetering on the point of breaking down in tears, while Ollie is like a rotund ballet dancer, a master of the slow-burn when injustice rears its head.

The opening scene in which the pair tardily try to join their lodge meeting is, in particular, full of uncontrollable giggles. Overall, Sons of the Desert does not quite rise to the level of masterpiece, but it is an extremely well-constructed collection of gags by two performers at their peak.

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