Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked (or Forgotten) Films: MARCH OF THE WOODEN SOLDIERS (1934) starring Laurel and Hardy

What can I say? Not forgotten by me. But just in case you might have overlooked it...

MARCH OF THE WOODEN SOLDIERS (aka Babes in Toyland) is my favorite Christmas movie (next to A CHRISTMAS CAROL).

Tuesday is Overlooked (or Forgotten) Films day around here. This is the weekly meme hosted by Todd Mason at his blog, SWEET FREEDOM. Don't forget to go take a look and check out what other films, other bloggers are talking about today.


Christmas just wouldn't be the same without Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy helping to save Toyland and vanquishing the vile boogeymen forever. Laurel and Hardy (or Fat and Skinny as a friend of mine called them growing up) are one of my favorite comedy combos of the past. Most especially their work in this wonderful movie.

One of my favorite things about Oliver Hardy is the way he has of always looking at the camera - his expression a kind of shared exasperation. As if he and the viewer are in this together. LOVE it.

Ever since WPIX, Channel 11 in NYC began showing the movie around the Holidays many, MANY years ago, my family and I have been hooked on this strangely endearing Hal Roach production based loosely on the operetta by Victor Herbert.

Needless to say, I prefer the purity of black and white even if the 'colorized' version is the one more readily available for purchase. To that I say: Blech!

Here's the plot:

All is not sweetness and light in the kingdom of Toyland. Stanley Dum and Ollie Dee (Laurel and Hardy) have lovingly promised their landlady, Mother Peep (Florence Roberts)  to come up with the final mortgage payment on her shoe (There was an old lady who lived in a shoe...Get it?) so that the evil owner of the house, the icky Barnaby (Henry Brandon aka Henry Kleinbach) won't foreclose and kick the family out on the street.

But wait, creepy Barnaby has a hideous compromise: If Bo Peep (Mother Peep's daughter played by the oh-so-cute Charlotte Henry) will marry Barnaby, then he'll magnanimously tear up the mortgage as a wedding present.

Bo Peep is terrified of a fate worse than death: marriage to Barnaby. (Hey, I'd be terrified too.) Besides she has her eye on Tom, Tom the Piper's Son (Felix Knight) the handsome tenor of the piece. Bo Peep runs to her mom for comfort and Mother Peep assures her that everything will be okay since Stannie and Ollie are going to borrow the money from their boss, the toy-maker.

Icky colorized version, but only photo I could find of Peep and her Ma.

But, the grumpy toymaker (William Burress) is in a very bad mood indeed, he has no time to listen to Ollie's request, Santa is dropping by to see how his order of toys is coming along. Christmas is just around the corner.

Ollie and Stanley and their snarly toymaker boss.

When Stanley reveals that he misunderstood Santa's order for 600 one foot tall wooden soldiers as 100 wooden soldiers 6 feet tall, both he and Ollie are instantly fired. Though Santa finds the whole thing hilarious.

In the meantime, Bo-Peep has lost her sheep (again) and she and her beau Tom, sing a nice duet. He announces their plans to wed and the citizens of Toyland gather round to congratulate them and join in the chorus as the little band of sheep return to the fold.

Peep and her beau, the handsome Tom, Tom the Piper's Son.

When Stanley and Ollie must break the news to Mother Peep that they've been unable to get the necessary loan and in fact, they've been fired, the worst appears about to happen.

The rest of the story is all about how Stanley and Ollie try to foil the evil machinations of Barnaby played with wonderful, over-the-top facial expressions and hand gestures (left over from silent movies) by Henry Kleinbach who later went on to make dozens of movies as Henry Brandon. He is almost unrecognizable here in what I think was one of his first films. He practically steals the picture with his ham-bone interpretation of a laughably nasty dude.

(We like to mimic his hand gestures as the story goes along and, of course, we join in the singing of the songs and hum along with the soundtrack. Well, at least, I do.)

One of the side plots involves Stanley substituting for Bo-Peep as the bride in a farcical wedding scene which culminates in Ollie telling Stannie that since he's now married to Barnaby he must stay in his house. "But I don't love him...!" cries Stanley.

Eventually, Barnaby resorts to framing Tom the Piper's son for pig-napping. He has one of his henchmen kidnap...uh, pig-nap, one of the Three Little Pigs. He then leaves behind a link of sausages and some straw in Tom's house.

Tom is tried, found guilty and banished to Bogeyland across the alligator infested moat.

When Stanley and Ollie reveal (by taking a couple of bites of the evidence) that the sausage is beef and not pork, the King realizes that Tom is innocent and he orders Barnaby held for trial. But Barnaby is too swift for the King's men and he escapes through an underground passage (at the bottom of a well) on his property. The secret passage leads to Bogeyland.

Hot on his trail are Stanley and Ollie.

Turns out that Barnaby is the leader of the Bogeymen. Who knew?

Incensed, Barnaby leads the bogeymen in an all out attack on Toyland. Oh the horror of it!

But that's when Stanley's original mistake pays off. His six foot tall soldiers save the day and in the end, evil is vanquished - Barnaby and his bogeymen are sent packing - some to be eaten by alligators in the moat surrounding Toyland - hey, nobody said it wasn't a cruel world.

No matter how old I get, I still manage to fall under the spell of this movie each and every year.

We're still not quite sure how this little mouse creature works. I think it's a monkey in disguise.

To learn about Laurel and Hardy, please use this link.

...and here's the original trailer for MARCH OF THE WOODEN SOLDIERS.


  1. How did I ever miss this one?! It isn't part of my formidable collection of L&H, a big favourite with the family. We rate L&H above Buster Keaton, Charles Chaplin, and Marx Brothers. L&H were the best on-screen comic duo ever. What works in their favour is their innocence in everything that they say and do.

  2. I used to watch the Laurel & Hardy shorts on Saturday morning with my grandpa, but I've never seen this. I'll have to check it out!

  3. Then you're in for a real treat, Prashant. This is a keeper!

    Hope you can find it 'un-colorized'. :)

  4. Lauren: Don't miss this!! You will thank me. :)

  5. I haven't seen it in years, but I used to watch Babes in Toyland all the time when I was little. Our VHS copy (taped from TV I'm sure) wore out and I haven't seen it since. I'll need to keep an eye out for it playing on TV

  6. Totally remember this being on WPIX!

    Good holiday movie :)

  7. What an utterly charming, perfect Christmas movie, and I've never seen it! I love Laurel and Hardy, and always passed this one over because I didn't think I'd like it -- just one of those silly pop judgments. You make me want to see it, and I hope I get the chance to.

    You put into words what I've always loved about Hardy: "One of my favorite things about Oliver Hardy is the way he always looks at the camera - his expression a kind of shared exasperation. As if he and the viewer are in this together." Love it!

  8. Red: Definitely time to watch it again. :)

  9. iluvcinema: Ah, the good old days of Million Dollar Movie and the like. :)

    This is a movie that very much makes me feel like a kid again.

  10. Becky!! How awful for you that you've never seen this!! You must do something about it AND quickly! :)

    Such a wonderful movie. Don't miss it this time around.

  11. I love this movie. And I much prefer it to the Disney remake called BABES IN TOYLAND with Annette Funicello as Peep and Tommy Steele as Tom Tom. This is just good fun and often just plain weird. The Bogeymen living in what amounts to a sewer, for example. Love it!

  12. Oops - it's Tommy SANDS not Steele. Sands is American and Steele is British. They're the same age and I confuse them all the time because they were the same kind of singers.

  13. Knew what you meant. :) I could never bring myself to watch that all the way through. Awful.

    As for the bogeyman - remember the obvious zippers on the backs of their costumes? That's part of the charm for me. Ha!

  14. "Good night, Ollie."
    "Good night, Stanley. Oooh!"

  15. HA!

    How about this one:

    Ollie indicating the sausage exhibit: "Why this is neither pork or chicken." (OR words to that effect.) "I smell a rat."

    And Stanley sniffs the sausage. SO FUNNY!!!

  16. I haven't seen this one since I was a kid. Delightful.

  17. I watch it every year. It's kind of a ritual for me. Like I said, makes me feel like a kid again. :)

  18. I've never heard of this movie! Thanks for putting me on to it - I'll be looking for a copy ...

  19. No kidding? Oh, you must find it, Mark. I know you'll get a kick out of it. :)

  20. I've loved this movie from the time I first saw it on television over fifty years ago.

    The movie was originally released under the title "Babes in Toyland." Not sure if the "March of the Wooden Soldiers" title originated as a re-release or began when Walt Disney bought the rights to the Babes title for his dreadful remake.

    The movie is apparently in the public domain and DVDs are easy to find.

    Hal Roach hated this movie and for the rest of his life (and he lived to pass the century mark) insisted the film lost money. There is some dispute about that as the critics loved it and the holiday box office was quite good.

    I've watched the L&H films repeatedly through the years and more and more I appreciate Oliver Hardy. Laurel was the primary creative force involved in every aspect of the films. But Hardy developed his own character and, like you, I love his resigned look at the camera.

  21. Watched this with my boys when thy were little and loved it! Haven't thought of it in years. Thanks for showcasing it.

  22. Richard: Thanks for dropping by. We are in complete agreement when it comes to this delightful film.

    I much prefer the title MARCH OF THE WOODEN SOLDIERS so I don't miss the other one at all. Disney can have it. And boy did they botch it up.

    Hal Roach is uncredited as producer according to imdb, so he really must have hated the thing.
    Wikipedia says that he and Laurel quarreled over the script, etc.

    Well, the results are what counts and thanks to Laurel and Hardy, the film is a classic.

  23. You're welcome, Peggy. I'm so glad I brought it to your family's attention again. Time for a re-watch! :)

  24. I too prefer the title "March of the Wooden Soldiers." Roach did his own treatment or "book" after buying the operetta. The outline I've read wasn't bad but Laurel didn't like it and he and the writers came up with the plot line used. Roach gave in after extensive arguing.

    Roach felt it was too dark and would be off putting to kids. He especially hated the Bogeymen ("goons in from the forest to destroy Toyland"). Despite Roach's fears the movie received rave reviews including the NY Times "Every youngster ought to find a ticket for Babes in Toyland in his Christmas stocking."

    Roach grew more and more resentful of Laurel and parted company with the team in 1940. Although teaming L&H was his studio's crowning achievement, Roach never recognized that. Yet there was something about the Roach studio that gave Laurel and Hardy the freedom to create magic in so many films. Their later films made at the rigid 20th Century studio are dreary by comparison.

    Bless all their memories as their films have given so many great joy.

    And I've enjoyed my visit and will return again!

  25. Richard: It sounds to me as if Roach's ego got in the way of his good creative sense. And refusing to recognize the genius of what had been created (not only in this film but in the pairing of Laurel and Hardy) for the rest of his life sounds a bit like overkill to me. But, to each his own.

    I'm thankful we have the film to enjoy over and over again to our hearts' content. :)


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