1939 saw the release of some of the greatest films in Hollywood history.
The Flying Deuces ain’t one of ’em.
Now, that’s not to say it’s a bad film, because it has amusing scenes and great aerial photography.
However, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
In the late 1930s, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were still working for producer Hal Roach. During a break between films, they made a movie with a lesser-known producer, Borris Morros. (Get this: Rumour has it Morros was an alleged Soviet spy and FBI double agent! Click here for the story.)
The resulting comedy is The Flying Deuces, a film almost as wild as a double agent’s life. In this film, Laurel and Hardy are vacationing in Paris when Hardy meets and falls in love with a beautiful French woman (Jean Parker). When she rejects Hardy’s proposal of marriage, the pair join the ultimate lonely hearts club: the French Foreign Legion.
Laurel and Hardy are their usual charming selves in this film. Laurel is dim-witted but single-minded; Hardy is smart but cursed with bad luck. This is an unfortunate combination for a friendship, as evidenced by their many films. It’s a wonder they manage to stay friends.
It’s also a wonder they manage to stay alive. Because in the Laurel and Hardy universe, systems continually transition from a state of Order to Disorder.
In The Flying Deuces, our first glimpse of the Order → Disorder Paradigm occurs when Hardy is understandably upset that his marriage proposal has been refused. He decides to jump into the Seine with a cement block. Unbeknownst to him, a man-eating shark has escaped from the zoo.
(Note: Since Hardy is planning to End It All anyway, a man-eating shark shouldn’t be of consequence. But we viewers can’t stand the thought of a shark interfering with Hardy’s mournful plans.)
Happily, an officer from the Foreign Legion, played by the fab Reginald Gardiner, arrives on the bank of the Seine just in time, and suggests the pair enlist in the Legion. Order is thus temporarily restored to the L&H Universe.
However, Order quickly collapses into Disorder when the pair, newly arrived at their post in North Africa, are assigned to laundry duty. The laundry is piled as high as a two-storey house, and the clotheslines stretch for miles. The two are unhappy with this volume of work – and the pitifully small compensation – and they decide to quit.
Disorder quickly accelerates. Laurel and Hardy accidentally set the laundry on fire, then, without meaning to, ransack the commandant’s office. They are imprisoned, they escape; they are recaptured, they re-escape.
It’s when they hide in a plane and inadvertently start its engines that we see Disorder run amok, in all its devil-may-care glory. There’s no way Order can be restored now; we just have to hope for the best.
Despite the ever-present Order → Disorder paradigm, Laurel and Hardy are rarely vindictive. As Disorder infects them, they innocently infect others. It’s not deliberate; it’s merely the Way Of All Things in the L&H Universe.
The Flying Deuces may not be Laurel and Hardy’s best film, but it shows us how a seasoned comedy team can elevate the material they’re given. It also reminds us that we can never take an orderly universe for granted.
The Flying Deuces: starring Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Jean Parker. Directed by A. Edward Sutherland. Written by Ralph Spence, Charles Rogers, Alfred Schiller & Harry Langdon. Boris Morros Productions, 1939, B&W, 68 mins.
This post is part of the See You In The Fall Blogathon hosted by Movie Movie Blog Blog. Click HERE to see the schedule.