Watch PARDON US in the link above
Originally scheduled to be another two reeler, PARDON US, due to simple inspiration, got extended out enough to become Laurel and Hardy's first feature film. The same thing happened with Harold Lloyd's first feature film, A SAILOR MADE MAN, which just goes to show sometimes in life you can't force progression, it just happens naturally, and boy did it happen naturally for Laurel and Hardy. They had the unusual circumstance of making both shorts and features for years until financial circumstances, in other words, the natural, pretty much forced them exclusively into features.
One of these reviews where the guys at Laurel and Hardy Central did an absolutely fantastic job. Very detailed and thoughtful reviews, so check them out. My overall opinion on PARDON US? A good, entertaining film for an accidental first feature. It is not perfect, as there are a few scenes I can either do without or at least find less entertaining than the rest of the film. I'll get to this stuff first then talk of the good.
The less entertaining stuff? Well, the scene where the prisoners are doing a capella crooning songs about their country home in Michigan, or whatever the heck it is, is the biggest time waster in the film, though admittedly interesting as a historical artifact. Compare that kind of fantasy depiction of prison life to what would be shown today. Use your imagination (you see, I'm maturing, the old me would spell it out), when you watch an episode of Oz, you'll say to yourself, "Toto, I don't think we're at Hal Roach anymore." So yeah, even this scene has some use, kind of, sort of.
The ending scene just seems to have been thrown together at the last minute, not having much dramatic build up to it. This lends support to the theory PARDON US is very episodic in nature, and it certainly is compared to a thoughtful, masterful feature like SONS OF THE DESERT. Lots of guys running around, the girl in the burning building (played by June Marlowe!), gag has never been a great comic device to me, too much danger towards an innocent to allow for laughs. A great gag sequence or chase would have been more to my liking.
As for the blackface scene, I'll be brief. At least it makes sense plot wise for Stan and Ollie to wear blackface. They escaped from prison, they need a disguise, bingo. Some modern audiences will be offended by this thing, not to mention all the cotton picking and spiritual singing, but I'll leave that for you to decide, I am not here to preach. Oliver's song is great in this scene as is Stan's stupid little dance, but overall, not quite as comic as other scenes in this film for my taste.
Stan's whistling tooth gag where he has to put a finger of his cheek to prevent the whistle when he finishes a sentence is used for the majority of the film and it's amazing the way it works, actually leading to various confrontations and plot advancements for so long. A simple idea milked brilliantly throughout a feature. Compare this to the headstanding gag in BABY SITTERS JITTERS, a simple idea done to death in a short.
The classroom scene is awesome. A tribute to Our Gang, think SCHOOL'S OUT, they even blatantly play this up by inserting the Our Gang theme music in the beginning of the scene. As wonderful as the questions and answers are, as wonderful as the slingshot stuff is, as bizarrely funny as that stupid song they all have to sing s, it is the reactions of James Finlayson as the teacher that make this scene. He's in full on Homer Simpson mode here, a true pleasure to watch. Extra points to those who tell me the historical significance of this scene as linked to The Three Stooges.
The rest of the film, all good stuff. The dentist skit from LEAVE 'EM LAUGHING that also shows up in I CAN HARDLY WAIT, the brilliant solitary confinement scene, the boys meeting Walter Long in prison, all fine stuff. The solitary confinement scene is Stan and Ollie for a few minutes, locked behind a door and off camera, camera completely still, having a simple conversation. Their voices alone carry this scene, and while they are capable of having a signature stamp through silent pantomime, they show they are also capable of displaying signature characters without their bodies, using only their voices. I really don't feel anything missing here, a really nice little bit.
I can't decide between an 8 or a 9, so I'm giving this an....