The Disorderly Universe of Laurel and Hardy

Stan Laurel (left) and Oliver Hardy are in another fine mess. Image: Wikipedia
Stan Laurel (left) and Oliver Hardy have gotten into another fine mess. Image: Wikipedia

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.

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Laurel and Hardy on the lam. Image: The Telegraph

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.




  1. Wow, especially interesting with the footnote about the Soviet spy! Now my inner semiotician wants to comb through the film for under the radar propaganda.

    This is one of l&h I have not seen, but they are fun, I will have to check it out! Can’t have physical comedy, without them, great choice!


  2. This is one of my favorite L&H movies (and as far as it not being one of 1939’s best, I’d watch this over GONE WITH THE WIND any old day). And no, “Shine On, Harvest Moon” was never a single, but it should have been. In any case, you did the movie justice. Thanks so much for contributing to my blogathon!


  3. It’s great watching a movie this old knowing CGI was not an option, so whatever you’re seeing on the screen, actually existed in the real world.
    Like the scene where Stan is hanging out the soldier’s washing and the camera pans over a football field sized patch of desert, covered in rows and rows of long johns. Maybe it’s me but it sells the joke so much better when Stan has to walk to the end of the line in the blazing desert sun. If I saw that joke today it just wouldn’t be the same!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post, it was a fun read. I need to watch more 30’s comedy, most of what I’ve seen is either Chaplin or Abbot and Costello.


  5. Excellent! I am a comedy geek and sucker for pretty much anything L&H did, as well as their Hal Roach Studio compadres and contemporaries Charley Chase and Our Gang. All incorporate plenty of sweetness, warmth and nuance – and in the case of Chase, utter absurdity – into their slapstick. For more, read Leonard Maltin’s books The Great Movie Shorts (Selected Short Subjects), Our Gang and The Great Movie Comedians.


  6. I have the feeling that this song will be stuck in my head for a long time…
    I knew there was a Laurel and Hardy film about going to the foreign legion, but I couldn’t name it. I have a big flaw in full-lenght films of the duo!
    Thanks for the kind comment!


  7. I am not a big fan of slapstick style humor, but I probably need to at least watch one of their movies and give them a chance. I like what you said about them not being vindictive, but that whoever was around them just fell in to trouble with them. Now, I can sit and watch Gilligan’s Island and enjoy it, but I think that is because I watched it when I was teenager. There is something about the things we watched (and listened to) when we were young that leave a soft spot in our hearts . I will give L&H a go next time I see them on. Thanks, Ruth!


    • I agree with what you said re: having a soft spot for things we watched when we were young. I first started watching L&H when I was a teenager, and I was fascinated by them. (A local TV station aired their short silent films every Sunday morning at 6:00 am.) As a result, they can do no wrong in my eyes. 🙂


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