Today is the anniversary of the release of Air Raid Wardens (1943), one of Laurel and Hardy’s last and worst features. Made for MGM and directed by Eddie Sedgwick, the film is one of those World War 2 era propaganda films that puts didacticism about civil defense above all other virtues. The thing is played like a grim drama, and Laurel and Hardy are a couple of ne-er-do-wells who are treated by local officials and townsfolk as retarded adults. They are allowed to help with civil air defense because the local organizer feels sorry for “the boys”. At one point, in a scene that is supposed to convey pathos, Laurel is directed to cry (but in earnest, not his usual funny crying) because he-has-tried-so-very-hard-and-he-only-wanted-to-help-and-can-he-please-have-just-one-more-chance-and-please-sir-he’ll-try-to-do-better. If we find ourselves more disturbed than moved, it may be because the man is 53 years old. Donald Meek plays a saboteur. In what comes closest to a funny scene, Edgar Kennedy plays a man who refuses to turn his lights off; the boys are obliged to bonk him on the head.
If you’ve followed my writing at all, you know I think Laurel and Hardy are just tops; that’s what make these later films so sad.
For more on comedy film history don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc. For more on show biz history, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.