Way Out West
 

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

Director: James W. Horne
Writers: Jack Jevne, Charles Rogers, Felix Adler, James Parrott

Cast:

  • Stan Laurel
  • Oliver Hardy
     
  • James Finlayson — Mickey Finn
  • Sharon Lynn — Lola Marcel
  • Rosina Lawrence — Mary Roberts
  • Stanley Fields — Sheriff
  •   
  • Avalon Boys Quartet

Hal Roach-MGM, 1936
black & white (later also colorized)

65 minutes April 2005

  
A good deed with a gold-mine deed

Way Out West is one of the very best of Laurel and Hardy feature films.

Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy have been entrusted by a deceased friend to deliver the deed of his gold mine to his now-orphaned daughter, currently the ward of a frontier saloon owner in the American West. A straightforward errand this could be, to almost anyone but Laurel and Hardy. Their comic adventures are superb, from risk-taking and moral resolve all the way down to the soles of their shoes.
  

There's a fine supporting cast, too, in Way Out West.

James Finlayson plays a great role as the larcenous saloon owner who tries to snaffle the gold-mine deed with the help of his wife. Sharon Lynn plays his wife, managing distinct portrayals as saloon singer and as imitation innocent girl.

Rosina Lawrence (the lovely blonde school-teacher in the Our Gang series) is the real innocent, and deserving, heiress to the gold mine. Stanley Fields provides the heavy arm of the law.
  

I want to say a little more on Finlayson, who handles his comic villain duality particularly well in Way Out West, successfully combining broadly funny actions and reactions, with sufficient villainy to be a reasonably threatening bad guy. He's a mainstay in Laurel and Hardy films, the solid rock against which the great duo surge and froth and sometimes prevail:

There is a special place in the heart of every L&H buff for Jimmy Finlayson, fondly known as Fin. He was a comic master who truly found his niche in the film world as Number One Foil to Laurel and Hardy. Stan Laurel himself told John McCabe [Laurel and Hardy biographer], "He could just lift that eyebrow, and I'd break up."

Leonard Maltin
"James Finlayson"
The Laurel and Hardy Book
  

Laurel and Hardy:
comedy, singing, dancing

Way Out West was produced by Stan Laurel and is very nicely put together, a perennial favorite. The Los Angeles chapter of Sons of the Desert, the Laurel and Hardy fan organization, is named for this film; they have a substantial online section on Way Out West.
  

The musical numbers are quite memorable. Laurel and Hardy dancing to "At the Ball, That's All" by J. Leubrie Hill (1913) shows how smooth these pratfall artists can be, utterly relaxed and sure-footed hoofers that could grace any vaudeville stage.

Their rendition of "The Trail of the Lonesome Pine" by Ballard MacDonald and Harry Carroll (1913) helps ensure enduring fame for this song, and lets us hear that their voices also can be smooth. When Stan's voice is battered awry a couple of times, it is Rosina Lawrence that we hear as soprano overlay, and Chill Wills (one of the Avalon Boys) as basso overlay. "The Trail of the Lonesome Pine" must be the best-remembered song in all the Laurel and Hardy films.
  

Paper gold, real values

Interestingly, the gold mine at issue never appears itself, only its paper proxy, the deed. Way Out West's struggle is for the paper of title to gold, not for physical gold in hand or in the ground. But that's okay; for this movie, the value is perfectly equivalent, and the possession and perils of the deed bring on many hilarious efforts and conflicts.
  

Yet underpinning the wonderful Laurel and Hardy blunders and hijinks, the movie is about values and fighting for them.

The prospector and his burro virtually have passed from the stage of American history. But they left something worthwhile for the generations to follow them. They left a tradition of courage, integrity, generosity, stamina and spiritual freedom — which after all is a more lasting legacy than men can dig from the ground with pick and drill and dynamite.

Randall Henderson
"Gold, Men and Burros"
On Desert Trails: Today and Yesterday

  

© 2005 Robert Wilfred Franson


  

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