So, if you’ve read my lit­tle bio at the bot­tom of the page you will know that I am a huge fan of Laurel and Hardy.  I’ve seen most, if not all, of their films includ­ing the silent shorts and fea­ture films.  I have loved them since I first dis­cov­ered them as a child.  I’ve held off long enough!  Today Reel Classics will look at one of their finest and fun­ni­est fea­ture films — Sons Of The Desert. 

But first, for those of you who may not be quite so famil­iar with Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, let me intro­duce them to you. 

Stan Laurel (June 16, 1890-February 23, 1965) was born in England,  became a mem­ber of the Fred Karno Troupe, and was an under­study to Charlie Chaplin.  In 1912 the troupe left England to tour the United States and Stan decid­ed to remain in the U.S. where he went to work in the movie industry. 

Oliver Hardy (January 18, 1892-August 7, 1957) was born in Georgia and in his teens was oper­at­ing a movie house.  He even­tu­al­ly start­ed work­ing in the movie indus­try in Florida and even­tu­al­ly moved to California. 

Both estab­lished them­selves as actors in the silent movies, pri­or to being paired in the movie The Lucky Dog in 1921.  They offi­cial­ly became a team with the Hal Roach Studios in 1927 in the film Putting Pants on Phillip.  They appeared togeth­er in over a hun­dred films that includ­ed 32 silent shorts, 40 sound shorts, and 23 fea­ture films. 

Sons of the Desert was released in 1933 and is con­sid­ered by many (fans and crit­ics alike) as one of their fun­ni­est and best films.  In addi­tion to Laurel and Hardy, the film stars Charlie Chase, Mae Busch (as Mrs. Lottie Hardy), and Dorothy Christy (as Mrs. Betty Laurel).  Mae Busch played the wife of Oliver Hardy in mul­ti­ple films.  Those famil­iar with the clas­sic come­dies of the silent era will rec­og­nize Charlie Chase as he was a star come­di­an as well.  A long-time mem­ber of the Hal Roach Studios films also made an appear­ance in this film as a wait­er (on the right in the pic­ture) — Charlie Hall.  He too had been a mem­ber of the Fred Karno Troupe.

A scene from Sons of the Desert
A scene from Sons of the Desert

Stan and Ollie are mem­bers of the “Sons of the Desert” lodge and plan to attend a con­ven­tion in Chicago.  However, the wives have dif­fer­ent plans and want them to accom­pa­ny them on a trip to the moun­tains.  Ollie comes up with the idea to fake an ill­ness and has Stan find a doc­tor to go along with the plan.  Stan finds a vet­eri­nar­i­an to come to the house, and he rec­om­mends that Ollie go on a long sea voy­age to Hawaii.  The wives, con­cerned for Ollie’s health, agree to that plan and Ollie wants Stan to accom­pa­ny him.  So, the stage is set for the boys to go off to the con­ven­tion with their wives sus­pect­ing nothing. 

Unfortunately for the boys, a strange turn of events upsets the plan, includ­ing the wives see­ing them in a news­reel from Chicago — and the boat they were alleged­ly on sink­ing in a storm on the sea. How that all works out I will leave to you to find out — but it does so hilar­i­ous­ly (and in typ­i­cal Stan and Ollie fashion). 

In 2012 the film was select­ed for preser­va­tion in the National Film Registry and shows Laurel and Hardy at their best.  The Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB) rates the film at 7.5 out of 10.  Rotten Tomatoes has a crit­ics’ rat­ing of 100% and an audi­ence rat­ing of 86%. 

As one review­er notes, it’s not just the visu­al com­e­dy that sets Laurel and Hardy apart from so many oth­ers, but it’s also their back and forth exchanges.  An exam­ple from the movie regard­ing Stan’s employ­ing a vet­eri­nar­i­an to exam­ine Ollie:

Ollie:  “Why did you get a veterinarian?”

Stan:  “Well, I did­n’t think his reli­gion would make any difference.”

Another exam­ple from when the wives are ask­ing about the trip to Hawaii upon their return:

 Mrs. Hardy:  “Have you any­thing ELSE to say?”
Ollie:  “Why, no.  That’s all there is.  There isn’t any­more.  Is there Stanley?”
Stan:  “No, that’s our sto­ry and we’re stuck with it.  In it.”

A clas­sic line asso­ci­at­ed with Laurel and Hardy is in this movie:  “Well, here’s anoth­er nice mess you’ve got­ten me into.”  The American Film Institute iden­ti­fied that line as one of the top 100 movie quotes.

An inter­est­ing side note is that in 1965 John McCabe, who wrote an excel­lent book on Laurel and Hardy (“Mr. Laurel And Mr. Hardy”), found­ed with Stan Laurel and oth­ers the Sons Of The Desert Society– a group of over 100 chap­ters world wide ded­i­cat­ed to con­tin­u­ing to show and dis­cuss the films of Stan and Ollie.  Each chap­ter is iden­ti­fied as a “tent” and is named after one of the films.  John McCabe describes the pur­pose of the orga­ni­za­tion:  “It is hoped, and seri­ous­ly, that the Sons of the Desert, in the strong desire to per­pet­u­ate the spir­it and genius of Laurel and Hardy, will con­duct activ­i­ties ulti­mate­ly and always devot­ed to the preser­va­tion of their films and the encour­age­ment of their show­ing every­where.” 

In look­ing for options for stream­ing Sons of the Desert I found it avail­able for free on Hoopla.  That stream­ing site is avail­able with a Clark County Library card (check with your local library if you live out­side of Clark County).  If you don’t already have access to Hoopla you can con­tact the library for assis­tance.  Unfortunately, the library does not have a copy of the film on its shelves. (The library does have a copy of the movie Stan & Ollie that depicts their last pub­lic tour togeth­er in the 1950s — an excel­lent film). 

Sons of the Desert is tru­ly a clas­sic film and I hope you can watch and enjoy it as well.

Be watch­ing for the next Reel Classics entry and enjoy the trail­er below.

  • Ron grew up in Southeast Baltimore, spent three and a half years liv­ing in the High Desert in California, and came to Winchester when his VW Beetle broke down here on a cross-coun­try dri­ve to Vermont. He has lived here and worked as a social work­er since 1973. Though he retired in 2013, he remains active as a com­mu­ni­ty vol­un­teer on var­i­ous boards, coali­tions, and com­mit­tees. His pas­sions include the woods and nature, music, books, and clas­sic movies (espe­cial­ly Laurel & Hardy).