Appreciation today for the Laurel and Hardy classic Way Out West (1937). This charming genre spoof has Stan and Ollie delivering the deed to a mine to a young girl (Rosina Lawrence), only to be swindled out of it by an unscrupulous saloon keeper played by Jimmy Finlayson, and his cohort the dance hall girl Lola (Sharon Lynn). Also in the cast: Stanley Fields, Rosina Lawrence, Vivian Oakland, James C. Morton, Eddie Borden, Fred Toones, Bill Wolfe, Flora Finch, Bobby Dunn, Dudley Dickerson, and a possible distant relative of mine Fred Cady.
The movie contains one of my favorite moments of cinema, and (as an abject lesson) it has nothing to do whatever with the plot. The boys are passing by the front of the saloon, hear some music (sung by the Avalon Boys, featuring Chill Wills), and just start dancing. Sometimes this little scene makes me laugh; sometimes the beauty of it just shakes me. The moment evolves so organically and naturally, as if it were the most logical thing in the world. Then they go about it with a kind of dignity and majesty, with steps both simple and beautiful, yet ridiculously elaborate for something that is theoretically improvised (in the context of the story). And it is important enough to them that they do every last step, even as the world is going about its business on the street around them. That is how we must do all our dances — as though they were the most important thing in the world, and with a proud little smile.
For more on silent and slapstick comedy, including Laurel and Hardy masterpieces like “Way Out West” please check out my book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube