Way Out West - Contemporary Film Criticism
THE VILLAGE VOICE: "In WAY OUT WEST ... it is ultimately the rich characterizations of Laurel & Hardy that are the measure of their comedy. To recognize the difference between such destructive comedians as The Three Stooges and L & H is to understand that the essence of good cinema slapstick goes beyond the effectiveness of the gag. In a L & H film even when the gag falls apart, as it occasionally does, the characters maintain our interest by retaining their integrity. When a gag fails in a Stooges comedy, which it usually does, we are left only with three freaks, a trinity of physical grotesques totally lacking in personal appeal."
David Zinman: "For sheer uninterrupted slapstick, with no time-out for subplots or romantic diversion, many consider Laurel & Hardy's best movie WAY OUT WEST."
t....The film moves quickly -- it is short, only 65 minutes -- and keeps the focus of attention on Stan and Ollie. Another bonus: some charming musical interludes, and the boys perform a wonderful soft-shoe dance. WAY OUT WEST is thoroughly enjoyable, vintage Laurel & Hardy, showing the team at their prime. The film's highlight comes when the boys realize they have been duped, and go to retrieve the deed from Finlayson. There follows a mad chase around Fin's room with Stan, Ollie, Sharon Lynne, and Finlayson running around in circles, passing the deed from one to the other. At one point Sharon Lynne holds the deed triumphantly and proclaims 'Ha-ha!' Fin grabs it and sneers 'Ho-ho!' Then Ollie snatches it, yelling 'He-he!' as he runs off with the precious document."
Leslie Halliwell: "WAY OUT WEST is acclaimed by many as the best Laurel & Hardy film ever made. One wouldn't be inclined to argue: it's marvelous....The film does not depend on plot but is simply an hour of connected highspots on a related theme.
"It's a Stan Laurel production, so for once there is no one to blame but him: he controls and devises all the gags. And of course there is no blame, for they all work perfectly. The pacing is impeccably sustained from first shot to last and even allows for an introductory first reel in which the stars do not appear, a reel which, with its rowdy saloon atmosphere, can be fairly compared with DESTRY RIDES AGAIN."
This second DESTRY, with James Stewart and Marlene Dietrich, was made two years later by director George Marshall, a veteran of Hal Roach Studios certain to have seen WAY OUT WEST. One need only compare the honky-tonk sequences to verify the influence. Marshall, Roach, Harold Lloyd and director Frank Borzage broke into the movie business appearing in westerns together at Universal in l9l2.
John McCabe: "WAY OUT WEST. Well, the charm of that hilarious, marvelous film is simply unending. My fondness for it is inevitably clouded by affection for Rosina Lawrence, a matchlessly beautiful actress."
They were wed in l987, as many Laurel & Hardy fans know.
Alex Gordon: "I first saw WAY OUT WEST in London as a boy. My opinion then, as it is today -- WAY OUT WEST is Laurel & Hardy's finest and funniest film. Any screening is a welcome tonic and enormous fun. I certainly recommend WAY OUT WEST for anyone whose physician has prescribed laughter as an antidote."
Bruce Crowther: "The boys were never weary of, nor afraid to use, old jokes. Instead, they regarded them, as did their fans, as old and well-loved possessions to be taken out on occasion and lovingly repolished....There is a marvelously contagious scene when Stan's ticklishness reduces him to hysteria as he is searched by Lola."
Charles Barr: "WAY OUT WEST succeeds in reconciling the old richness of detail with the greater strictness of form evidently desired by Stan. It is full of brilliant scenes, and these are held together by a firm storyline and a consistent 'western' atmosphere.
"The film starts with their journey to Brushwood and ends with their departure: it is continuous in time, apart from one ellipse between day and evening: it centers on their loss and then recapture of the deed. There is just enough plot to give the film unity without getting in the way."
Dick Van Dyke: "My favorite Laurel & Hardy film is WAY OUT WEST. It's a classic example of their relationship, and it has a wonderful song-and-dance number."
Glenn Mitchell: "As William K. Everson has noted, WAY OUT WEST differs from most comic westerns by actually parodying a genre rather than merely using a western setting. Mel Brooks' more recent BLAZING SADDLES attempts the same but is over reliant on self-conscious dialogue references and suffers from a tendency to stray from the target. The success of WAY OUT WEST may owe something to Stan Laurel's early experience in parody; similarly Oliver Hardy's earlier work in silent westerns would have contributed."
Fred Lawrence Guiles: "...Most importantly it was a parody western. It strove to take the most banal of western plots -- the one about the gold-mine deed getting into the hands of the rightful and deserving heir -- and turn it into an insane adventure."
David Robinson: "WAY OUT WEST is not only one of their most perfect films, but ranks with the best screen comedy ever made by anybody."
William K. Everson: "With the possible exception of SONS OF THE DESERT, which was subtler if not funnier, WAY OUT WEST must rank as the best of all the Laurel & Hardy features. Not only is it pure, unadulterated Laurel & Hardy, with no time wasted on subsidiary plotting or romantic or musical "relief," but it is also a first-rate satire of the western genre....The Marx Brothers came closer to genuine satire with their GO WEST (l940), and Laurel & Hardy, though denied the budget the Marx Brothers had and thus limited in their spoofing of spectacular action sequences, succeed perhaps best of all.
"Even though WAY OUT WEST inevitably has certain echoes of previous films, it has no actual repetition of specific earlier gags, and it is so crammed with incident that there is no time for those slowly-developed milkings of single gags which so often alienated non-partisans of Laurel & Hardy."
John Cocchi: "Just about the best of all Laurel & Hardy features. Contains the single best musical number ever performed by Laurel & Hardy."
Chuck McCann: "As a boy, my dad took me to see WAY OUT WEST one evening. I still remember that occasion fondly. WAY OUT WEST is one of the best Laurel & Hardys. It's a complete, full tribute to their skills. It shows everything, all the elements -- the sight gags, the white magic, the finger-lighting, the hat-eating, the pantomime, the loyalty, the singing and dancing, and most importantly the love with which they made this film. That's what comes through so clearly: all the love Stan and Babe invested in their work. And all manifested with such great charm.
"I always laugh so hard at the scene with the deed, the free-for-all where the golddigger tickles Stan. You see it and it's contagious. The laughter is so genuine. I marvel at that. Wow! When you have to create that kind of helpless laughter in front of a camera, just staring back at you, it's one of the hardest things to do in comedy. And it's so easy to miss on. A scene like that, or the ones in BLOTTO and SCRAM and FRA DIAVOLO give audiences a dose of laughter that is infectious. They want it, they need it, and they get it with Stan and Babe.
"The helpless laughter is a device Stan really perfected. We used to talk about it -- how he could perform that, and so many other things, and make them all appear so natural. So effortless. What a gift. Like their spontaneous dance number in WAY OUT WEST. Jim McGeorge and I decided long ago that if we were going to impersonate Stan and Babe and earn the blessing Stan gave us, we needed to master that swing dance. How hard was that? Even as much younger men, we almost had heart attacks! We found out from experience how difficult that number was. Stan told me they worked out the choreography right on the set in just half-an-hour. And then what you saw on screen was filmed in only two takes, I think. What talent and genius to make it look so easy! Pure genius. WAY OUT WEST is the proof."
By far the best recreation of the spirit and genius of Messrs. Laurel & Hardy has always been performed by Chuck McCann (who co-created their international appreciation society SONS OF THE DESERT) and his partner, Jim McGeorge. All others only serve to show how inimitable Laurel & Hardy were, and are. Some years ago Chuck McCann was searching for an appropriate gift for a generous friend who has everything, and positively everything -- Hugh M. Hefner, founder of the PLAYBOY empire. After much deliberation, Mr. McCann presented Mr. Hefner with a mint condition 35mm theatrical screening print of WAY OUT WEST!
-- by Richard W. Bann --