Over the holidays, WPIX-TV, channel 11 in New York, and many other stations around the country will continue a decades-long tradition – the airing of Laurel and Hardy’s March of the Wooden Soldiers.
You can catch the movie on Channel 11 this year on Thanksgiving, November 23, at 9am and 3 pm ET. National over-the-air channel This TV will also show it on Friday, November 24 at 2 pm ET; Monday, December 4 at 8 pm ET; and Saturday, December 23, at 5 am ET. You can watch This TV in New York on WPIX channel 11.3, or find your local station at RabbitEars.
Hal Roach Studios originally released the film in 1934 as Babes in Toyland, based on Victor Herbert‘s 1903 operetta. In addition to Stan Laurel (Stannie Dum) and Oliver Hardy (Ollie Dee), the cast included Charlotte Henry as Bo- Peep, Felix Knight as Tom-Tom and a 21 year-old Henry Brandon as Barnaby, “the meanest man in town.” Charlotte Henry was Alice in 1933’s Alice in Wonderland, and Knight later spent four years with the Metropolitan Opera Company.
Laurel and Hardy, of course, were Roach stars for many years, producing 79 silent and sound shorts (The Music Box won an Academy Award in 1932), as well as numerous features including Sons of the Desert, Way Out West and Blockheads. Hal Roach Studios, a ‘mom-and-pop’ operation which also produced the Our Gang series, aka The Little Rascals, as well as Harold Lloyd comedies, was known affectionately both as Hollywood’s “Laugh-Factory to the World” and the “Lot of Fun.”
Roach allowed Laurel and Hardy, and other performers, considerable freedom to craft movies as they saw fit. Ironically, according to Randy Skretvedt’s book, Laurel and Hardy: The Magic Behind the Movies, Babes in Toyland marked a decided turn for the worse in the relationship between Roach, a former gag writer, and Laurel, the brains behind the Laurel and Hardy films. Roach, who saw blockbuster potential in Babes in Toyland, inserted himself into the script-writing process, leading to friction with Laurel. The final product, which entailed a lot of on-the-set improvising, was considered a Laurel, not a Roach, story. Despite the internal conflict, the film “earned the team the best reviews of their career” and “excellent business in its initial release,” and has won the affection of generations of fans.
Roach, who passed away in 1992 at 100, didn’t remember Babes in Toyland so fondly. In 1981, he said, “The film was a flop. It didn’t even get the cost back…. I knew that after Babes in Toyland, I was through making Laurel and Hardy pictures.” Roach continued to make films with Laurel and Hardy until 1940.
You can stream March of the Wooden Soldiers from a number of sources. You can watch the colorized version with an Amazon Prime subscription; or you can rent it starting at $2.99 from Vudu, Google Play and other streaming outlets.
You can also watch it right here:
(The preceding is an updated version of a previously published article.)
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