Today a tribute to the Laurel and Hardy holiday classic Babes in Toyland a.k.a March of the Wooden Soldiers (1934). I first became aware of this film when they began to show it on cable television in the 1980s. It rapidly became my favorite holiday movie, for it is every bit as bizarre and dark as it is charming and festive.
For some reason Hal Roach liked to experiment with starring Laurel and Hardy in operas and operettas (he’d previously done the same with The Bohemian Girl and Fra Diavolo). Here of course, the team adapted the popular 1903 show by Victor Herbert. Much is changed from the stage version however. The film is set in a land populated by all the characters from nursery rhymes and other children’s literature (Stan and Ollie are versions of Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee, two toymakers who live in the Old Woman’s Shoe).
The thing is very stage bound — they seem to have built two sets (the storybook village, and the hellish land of the bogeymen) on a couple of sound stages and shot the whole thing in a heartbeat. Much more enjoyable than the conventional plot about young lovers and a rapacious landlord/suitor are the film’s memorable details: a live monkey in a costume inexplicably dressed as Mickey Mouse;
three midgets as the Three Little Pigs (one of them played by Little Angie);
the army of hairy little bogeymen;
the melodrama villain Barnaby (Henry Brandon), made up to look like the Crooked Man from the nursery rhyme;
and the relentlessly marching wooden soldiers who save the day in the end, through Stan and Ollie’s quick thinking.
In addition to Laurel and Hardy, and Brandon (Barnaby), the cast includes Florence Roberts (Widow Peep), Charlotte Henry (Bo Peep), Felix Knight (Tom-Tom), Virginia Karns (Mother Goose), Billy Bletcher (Chief of Police), Jean Darling (Curly Locks), Johnny Downs (Little Boy Blue), Kewpie Morgan (Old King Cole), Charley Rogers (Simple Simon), Tiny Sandford (The Dunker), Bobby Burns, Ellen Corby, Charlie Hall, and Alice Lake, et al.
The whole thing is both sweet and unsettling and I can never get enough of it.
For more on silent and slapstick comedy, including the films of Laurel and Hardy like “March of the Wooden Soldiers”, please see my book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube