“Saps at Sea”: Laurel and Hardy’s Last Good Comedy

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Today is the anniversary of the release date of Saps at Sea (1940), Laurel and Hardy’s last feature for Hal Roach, and in my view their last good comedy.

The boys work at a horn factory. Hardy gets a nervous breakdown so of course they BOTH have to take time off. “Come, Stanley”. Everything contributes to Ollie’s breakdown. A phone sounds like an air raid siren. Laurel hires someone to play soothing music—a trombone player. Hardy falls out a window. The doctor (the inevitable Jimmy Finlayson) recommends a long sea voyage. They rent a boat but stay on the dock. Then an escaped convict takes the boat out to sea. He scares them with a gun and forces them to cook him breakfast. When they sabotage it he makes them eat it. Then, inspiration: Laurel plays a trombone, and Hardy goes berzerk like he always does, attacks the crook and dispatches him. Then the inevitable topper. Cops come to the rescue and Laurel helpfully shows what happened. He plays the trombone and Hardy attacks the cop — sending them both to the slammer.

 Another note of interest: the film contains Ben Turpin’s last screen appearance.

After this film the team left Roach and struck out on their own, intending to produce their own movies. It didn’t work out that way. Lacking funds, they contracted out to make comedies for Fox and MGM, most of which are relatively dreadful given what had come before. 20/20 hindsight. You don’t what you’ve got ’til its gone!

For more on silent and slapstick comedy, including the films of Laurel and Hardy, please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube

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