by Allan Fish
(USA 1928 21m) DVD1/2
Everybody follow them sailors!
p Hal Roach d James Parrott w Leo McCarey, H.M.Walker ph George Stevens art Richard Currier
Stan Laurel (Ensign Laurel), Oliver Hardy (Ensign Hardy), Edgar Kennedy (family motorist), Charley Rogers (man with damaged fender), Thelma Hill (brunette), Ruby Blaine (blonde), Charlie Hall (cop),
Undoubtedly one of the masterpieces of short silent comedy, for a long time this – and fellow masterpiece Big Business – was overlooked in favour of the team’s more readily available talkie counterparts. Yet in these late silent gems, there was a sense of wilful destruction that the talkies lacked. Yes, The Music Box, Towed in a Hole, et al, did have destruction, that comes with the territory with Stan and Ollie, but it wasn’t deliberate. Both Business and Tars are orchestrated and choreographed master-classes of wilful abuse, vandalism and childish petulance. In Business, an example of a war between door to door Christmas Tree Salesmen and an irritable would-be customer. In Tars, the chaos has a ring of modern truth, echoing as it does a factor of modern day life – ROAD RAGE!
Tars follows the exploits of Stan and Ollie, two sailors on leave two decades before Kelly, Sinatra and Munshin were let loose in the Big Apple. In this case, the city isn’t named, but nor is it prepared. How do you prepare for a human hurricane of destruction as wrought by these two idiots? Returning from a tour of duty in the Pacific rim on the battleship Oregon, the boys hire a care to take themselves into town and have them some fun. Straight away they’re in strife, almost running a pedestrian down on the pavement. Ollie decides to take the wheel with his usual bravado, insisting “the first rule of the road – keep your eyes straight in front of you…”, while at the same time doing just the opposite to tell this to Stan, and in doing so driving straight into a lamppost. Stan’s response, what else but “what’s rule number two?”
Next up, the boys pull into the side and notice two floozies by the side of the road, and they use their usual ‘antithesis of successful dating tactics’ to impress them; Stan merely smiling in trademark stupid fashion, Ollie twirling two fingers sheepishly and grinning coyly like Bashful about to let out a cry of “awww, gosh!” and turn redder than a strawberry. The girls see two suckers when they see them and motion for them to come over. This leads to a confrontation with a gumball machine which you just know can only end in disaster for all concerned. Ollie of course takes charge, firstly getting his finger caught in the slot, before shaking it about like a giant canasta and watching horrified, as if it couldn’t happen, when the gumballs fly everywhere on the pavement. Thinking they’d better scarper, Stan gets into the car with the girls, but Ollie, idiot to the end, tries to pick up the gumballs and stuff them inside his uniform. Not a good idea. This is followed by Stan’s involuntary break dancing on the pavement as he slips and slides on the gumballs.
So we finally come to the piece de resistance, a masterful example of escalating road rage as Stan Ollie and the girls get stuck in a traffic jam. The luckless Edgar Kennedy goes through a hell to perhaps rival even his encounter with Harpo on his lemonade stand in Duck Soup, utter carnage ensues, as one act of petulant vandalism follows another. Stan’s destructive glee is well in evidence, while Ollie is egged on by his floozie with a “are you gonna let that bozo bump into our car?”, like he is going to be able to make him unbump the car. When an unfortunate cop comes on the scene and asks “who started this?”, Stan and Ollie can only point at each other like crying idiots while everyone else bickers behind them. Forced to scarper, the cop calls upon everyone to chase them, only to prove unable to do so himself. Finally, we see the boys vanish into a railway tunnel, followed by a horde of vehicles which then reverse out to avoid an oncoming train. Cut to the other side of the tunnel and the boys’ car emerges, squashed like it’s been through a press. An iconic moment to top a short masterpiece which cannot be explained only witnessed. Follow them sailors, indeed, and have a ball.