Today is the anniversary of the release date of the Stan Laurel comedy Mud and Sand (1922), produced by Broncho Billy Anderson.
The film is Laurel’s parody of Valentino’s Blood and Sand, released the same year, but it is very funny whether you’ve seen the original movie or not. Laurel’s best solo films were these types of parodies, where he wasn’t required to do too much genuine acting, just a lot of horsing around for the camera. He was a fun-loving gag man, not a thespian, and he wore the distinction proudly.
Mud and Sand casts Laurel as a Spanish bullfighter named Rhubarb Vaselino. In the first scene we see him standing in line for bullfighting try-outs. Every guy ahead of him comes back from the bullfighting ring on a stretcher. When it’s his turn, he seems to delay. But when he goes in, he throws a bull back over the wall! This happens twice. The third time as he is about to go in, he confidently marks a third victory on the chalkboard. But then HE is tossed back over the wall. He goes back in, and the bull comes out on the stretcher.
He comes home, and his mother chases him with a broom for being a loafer, but she calms down when he gives her half his gold. Then he goes to serenade his girl outside her balcony. A dog howls. He climbs the balcony, proposes to her, then falls off the balcony.
2 years later: Vaselino is now the “Idol of Spain”. He takes a triumphal ride through streets of Madrid, then falls off his rearing horse into mud puddle. He then romances sexy vamp who actually has Egyptian style slaves fanning her with palm fronds (played by his real life common-law wife Mae Laurel). Once he has won her, he is now terrified of her clutches and keeps trying to get out. His wife comes in just as he is embracing the vamp. He protests innocence. The wife leaves. Vaselino vows revenge on the vamp.
The next day: the big bullfight, which anticipates the 1953 Bugs Bunny short Bully for Bugs.
The vamp gets her minions to douse Vaselino’s cloak with ether. But vaselino flaps the cape at the bull, which collapses. Then cavorts a bit in slow motion, finally collapsing. The vamp throws a brick at him and knows him out. Some guys bury him in the sand! The moral: “If you want to live long and be happy — cut out the bull!”
I can’t stop thinking what a great Buster Keaton movie this would have made! Can you not see it? I can practically write the whole thing in my head…the whole scenario is tailor made for the talents of Keaton. But Laurel’s quite good — this is one of his funniest solo comedies.
A couple of interesting facts:
* Charlie Chaplin’s half-brother Wheeler Dryden is in the cast
* Laurel was nearly killed by a bull in the making of the film. The creature was chasing him, and nearly caught up with him. Laurel barely escaped with his life. For a gag, the cameraman joked that they didn’t get the shot and a retake was needed. For once, Laurel was not amused.
To learn more about comedy film history please check out 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
To learn about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.