Swiss Miss (1938), starring Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy
Movie review of Laurel and Hardy’s Swiss Miss, starring Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, with Eric Blore, Walter Woolf King, Grete Natzler
The best word to describe Laurel and Hardy‘s feature film, Swiss Miss, is probably “disappointing.” The basic premise is promising: Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy are mousetrap salesmen, who have decided that their business will prosper if they go to where the most mice are; and the most mice are where the most cheese is found – Switzerland! (Actually, as someone from Wisconsin, they should have come here instead, but it would have been a much shorter film). Once in Switzerland, after nearly demolishing a factory owner’s office, they sell him their total inventory. And they are paid in five thousand “gruel.” They celebrate by having an elaborate meal at their hotel, insulting the chef in the process – “No apple pie? I’ve had better chefs than you discharged for not having apple pie!” Only to find out that their money is worthless, and they are reduced to working in the kitchen to pay off their enormous bill. And for every dish they break, they have to work an extra day.
The chef takes his revenge on his new “workers”, as the romantic subplot is introduced: an arrogant composer is trying to create his newest work apart from his beautiful wife, a famous singer who always gets the headlines. She tracks him down to the chalet, and learning of Stan and Ollie’s situation, she emulates their problem so that she, too, has to stay in the hotel (near her husband) to work off her bill. In the process, Ollie becomes smitten with her, and believes that she reciprocates his feelings. Along the way, there are numerous musical numbers, Laurel and Hardy being tormented by the chef, the husband and wife reconciling, and two very funny scenes.
Another problem is that Stan and Ollie act slightly out of character – early in the film, Oliver Hardy is bombastic and abusive to the head chef; I understand the necessity of setting up the conflict between the boys and the chef, but it’s out of character for him to be petty and abusive – except to Stan, of course. In one of the two funniest scenes of the movie, Stan Laurel tries to trick a Saint Bernard out of its’ cask of brandy by making a “blizzard” out of chicken feathers as he’s plucking a chicken. It’s a very funny scene, but it’s out of character for Stan.
So, what’s so disappointing? Frankly, a number of things. First, there’s a lot of time devoted to the romantic subplot, where Laurel and Hardy aren’t on screen. One of the supporting characters, Eric Blore, is a personal favorite from his roles in various Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movies, but he’s frankly not given much to do. And on top of it, this is supposed to be a Laurel and Hardy film. Walter Wolf King plays his part as the composer well, but the character is frankly irritating – it’s hard to see why his wife wants to spend time with him. The wife, Anna, is pretty, and sings well, and serves as a nice foil for the boys, as well as for the object of Oliver Hardy’s misplaced affections. But the overall feeling is that Laurel and Hardy are guest stars in their own movie.
The other funniest scene is where Stan and Ollie have to move a piano across a rickety rope bridge. While Stan is still inebriated, and Ollie nearly falls through. It’s a funny scene, that gets funnier once a gorilla comes by from the other side of the bridge, and starts interfering. It’s a very funny scene, that ends with the rope bridge breaking, and the piano and gorilla falling. Don’t worry, though, the gorilla survives, to meet the boys again at the end of the movie. In fact, this is the same actor (and gorilla suit) from their previous short film, The Chimp.
The good news is that a little Laurel and Hardy goes a long way – in addition to the two scenes mentioned, there’s the numerous interactions between the boys and their nemesis, the chef – their final fight is absolutely funny, and I love how the boys leave him “tied up”. There are numerous other sweet spots, such as their clowning around during the “bubble organ” scene, Ollie’s falling in love with Anna, and many small slapstick moments.