Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Laurel and Hardy's Struggle with Bad Scripts at 20th Century Fox

Laurel and Hardy fans lament the decline that the comedians suffered after signing with 20th Century Fox in 1941. In the next five years, the studio featured the team in six substandard films - Great Guns (1941), A-Haunting We Will Go (1942), Jitterbugs (1943), The Dancing Masters (1943), The Big Noise (1944) and The Bullfighters (1945). 

The writing duties for the films were divided between Lou Breslow and Scott Darling, both of whom had a history of scripting substandard films.  Breslow's best known film is Bedtime for Bonzo (1951). Darling's best known film is a laugh-free horror film, The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942). Laurel and Hardy deserved better.

Randy Skretvedt wrote in "Laurel and Hardy: The Magic Behind the Movies":
. . . [T]he Fox writers perceived Laurel and Hardy as two idiots who get in the way of the real hero - the romantic lead. Our sympathies are supposed to go towards the "normal" characters for having to put up with Stan and Ollie's stupidity - the exact opposite of the philosophy in the Roach films.

It's possible that the comedians would have fared better if they had signed with the more comedy-friendly Paramount Pictures. Paramount had long been a home for the best and brightest comedy writers.  In the late 1930s and early 1940s, their contract writers included Charles Brackett, Ben Hecht, Gene Fowler, Billy Wilder, Preston Sturges, Ken Englund, Frank Butler and Don Hartman. 

We know that Wilder was interested in making a film with Laurel and Hardy. The director made this clear in 1952 when he hired Edwin Blum, the screenwriter of The Canterville Ghost (1944), to write a script for the comedians.  But Hardy became ill and Wilder and Glum moved on the Stalag 17 (1953), which featured a different comedy duo.

Reference source

Randy Skretvedt, Laurel and Hardy: The Magic Behind the Movies (The Ultimate Edition).  Aliso Viejo, CA: Bonaventure Press (June 16, 2016).

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