Harsh Texture

The Flying Deuces

After Ollie fails to woo an innkeeper's daughter, he and Stan join the Foreign Legion to find a new purpose in life

Laurel and Hardy have hundreds of shared screen credits, and such was the level of their quality that almost all are guaranteed to provide entertainment. Alas, being a fan of Laurel and Hardy is a game of slim pickings. Only a fraction of their work are available on DVD and streaming services. TCM will occasionally air some of the better known pictures, and even tack on some of their shorts on occasion. The Flying Deuces is available due to a 2014 restoration project.

The plot finds the duo on a soundstage representing Paris, in the final days of their European vacation. Ollie falls for their inn keeper’s daughter. He’s driven to suicide when he finds out that she’s already married, and if Ollie makes up his mind, that means Stan’s fate is sealed.  They don’t get far into the suicide pact, when a passing stranger (coincidentally the waitress’s husband) suggests they join him in the Foreign Legion. Ollie (and therefor Stan) agrees when he’s promised that the service is a quick means to help a man forget a lost love.

In the Foreign Legion The Flying Deuces opens up its scope, filming in the California desert standing in for Morocco. The open air settings allow for the film’s most expansive sight-gag: as Stan and Ollie tend to Foreign Legion laundry that stretches out for miles into the horizon.  A sisyphean task that has Stan climbing an ever growing mountain of soiled garments…

Foreign Legion works in a Marx dig: Stan discovers a bed frame can double as a harpsichord.  He breaks into a maudlin piece that ends with a typical Harpo flourish, though no care is made to make the instrument or the playing at all plausible.

If there’s one thing that separates Laurel and Hardy from the other comedy teams of the first half of the twentieth century, it’s in the casual darkness of their circumstances. Unlike the Three Stooges who were physically invulnerable, and the Marxes beamed down from another physical plane, Laurel and Hardy were very much mortal. Bones break, falls left bruises, death could even befall main characters. The world of the “Flying Deuces” is a nasty place, with man eating sharks infesting the Seine River, aerial combat, and firing squads summoned to handle insubordination. Even the clueless grace of Laurel and Hardy can only protect them so far in this environment.

Published: April 30, 2017, 2:45 p.m.
Updated: April 30, 2017, 2:45 p.m.