For the next week, The Savvy Screener will showcase the stories that were most popular with our readers in 2020.
We begin with our fifth most-read story, about the traditional airing of Laurel & Hardy’s March of the Wooden Soldiers. Perhaps the need for comforting nostalgia in difficult times drove interest in this family classic. Or could it be that new generations of viewers are discovering the comic genius of Laurel & Hardy?
WPIX, channel 11 in New York, plans to show the film Christmas Day at 1 pm. If you don’t live in the New York area and March of the Wooden Soldiers is not airing in your local market, you have numerous paid streaming options.
You can also watch the colorized Stan and ‘Babe’ in toyland (Babe was Hardy’s off-screen nickname) — free with ads — on Pluto TV and Tubi. And, if your local library participates, you can stream it free, without commercials, via Hoopla.
In addition to Stan Laurel (Stannie Dum) and Oliver Hardy (Ollie Dee), the cast includes 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. Brandon, who was just 22 when he played Barnaby, went on to appear in a variety of supporting roles in film and television, including Control agent Zukor in this 1965 Get Smart episode:
Laurel and Hardy, of course, were stars for many years, producing 79 silent and sound shorts (The Music Box won an Academy Award in 1932) for Hal Roach Studios, 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.” But Roach continued to make films with Laurel and Hardy until 1940.
(Top image: Laurel & Hardy in ‘March of the Wooden Soldiers.’ Source: Wikimedia)
(The preceding is an updated version of a previously published article.)
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