- Pardon Us
Theatrical poster for the 1944 re-release
Directed by James Parrott Produced by Stan Laurel
Written by H.M. Walker Starring Stan Laurel
Music by Leroy Shield Cinematography Jack Stevens Editing by Richard C. Currier Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Release date(s) August 15, 1931 Running time 56 min.
65 min. (extended version)
Country United States Language English
It is prohibition, and beer barons Laurel and Hardy are sent to prison for concocting their own home brew. They are put in a cell with "Tiger" Long, the roughest, toughest and meanest of all inmates. Stan has a loose tooth that causes him to emit a razzberry at the end of every sentence; the inmate interprets this as a coolly defiant attitude and is impressed — nobody else ever stood up to him like that. He and Stan and Ollie become fast friends. After a prison break, the boys escape to a cotton plantation, where they hide out undetected, in blackface. When they attempt to repair the warden's car, they are discovered and are sent back to prison. They inadvertently break up a prison riot and the grateful warden issues them a pardon.
Opening title card
H.M. Walker wrote the opening title card to this film, which states, "Mr. Hardy is a man of wonderful ideas — So is Mr. Laurel — As long as he doesn't try to think."
After the release of MGM's hit The Big House with Chester Morris and Wallace Beery, producer Hal Roach decided to feature his top comedy team in a two-reeler spoofing the current prison drama. Roach also felt that since his product was currently being released through MGM, there would be no problem borrowing the sets to The Big House from them to keep costs down. Studio head Louis B. Mayer agreed to the proposition on the proviso that Laurel and Hardy would make a film for his studio in the near future. Infuriated, Roach turned down the offer, hiring set designer Frank Durloff to build an exact replica of the prison sets used in The Big House.
The film began production as The Rap in June 1930. To Roach's dismay, shooting went way over schedule with enough footage already in the can to make two prison pictures. As a result the producer decided to release The Rap as Laurel and Hardy's first starring feature.
Previewed in August 1930, the film ran 70 minutes, and was subject to lukewarm reviews in which critics stated that the movie needed a bit of tightening. Stan Laurel decided to withdraw the film from general distribution and work on the picture by adding new scenes and deleting unnecessary ones. A musical score was then added, and eventually, after much trial and error, Pardon Us (its release title) was premiered on August 15, 1931, a year after its first preview.
As a comedy feature-length offering, running a little under an hour, it is not considered one of Laurel and Hardy's best. Its structure has been criticized as that of a string of short subjects thrown together to make one episodic feature. The pacing is deliberate, allowing some time out for Oliver Hardy to sing a rendition of "Lazy Moon" while Stan accompanies him with an eccentric soft shoe dance.
The cast includes a number of silent film veterans, including Walter Long. As a foil to the child-like antics of L&H, his snarling portrayal of "The Tiger" is decidedly tongue in cheek. Long would be put to similar use in some later L&H ventures such as Any Old Port!, Going Bye-Bye!, and The Live Ghost.
The warden, played by D.W. Griffith regular Wilfred Lucas, meets Stan and Ollie upon their arrival at the prison. "My, my... And still they come..." he intones with a saintly air, until he mistakes Stan's loose tooth razzberry for the real thing, thus changing his demeanor violently.
June Marlowe, who portrays the warden's daughter has only a very brief appearance despite her receiving billing immediately after the boys. Apparently most of her role ended up on the cutting room floor. In the original script, she was to appear at the climax of the picture trapped inside the prison during the final jail-break attempt scene. An elaborate sequence was filmed but not used, in which the convicts set the prison on fire as part of their escape plan and the warden's daughter was seen screaming from her second floor bedroom surrounded by flames and menaced by the lecherous "Tiger". Laurel and Hardy were then to enter for a grand slapstick finale involving a fire hose and a ladder. This scene wasn't made available until a 2004 DVD issue (see below).
Stan Laurel did not find this sequence satisfactory, and re-filmed the much simpler ending involving the boys holding the convicts at bay with a machine gun. In the released version, June Marlowe does not appear in this sequence at all. However, she does appear in the Spanish version of Pardon Us, which was entitled De Bote en Bote ("From Cell to Cell"). This version still exists, allowing us to view the alternate ending to the film in which the boys in gray beards are reminiscing.
The plantation scenes with the boys in black face were key to the movie's plot. Although no Negro actor had a significant camera role, the Etude Ethiopian Chorus, directed by Freita Shaw and managed by her partner Mattie Duckett, can be heard singing "Swing Along", "Hand Me Down The Silver Trumpet Gabriel", and other numbers during the plantation scene.
It was released in the UK under an alternate title, Jailbirds.
Cast (in credits order)
- Stan Laurel as Stan
- Oliver Hardy as Ollie
- June Marlowe as Warden's Daughter
- Wilfred Lucas as Warden
- James Finlayson as Schoolteacher
- Walter Long as The Tiger
- Tiny Sandford as Prison Guard
Foreign language versions
Besides the Spanish version De Bote en Bote mentioned earlier, an Italian version was filmed, entitled Muraglie ("Walls"). A German version was also filmed, entitled Hinter Schloss und Riegel ("Behind Lock and Bar"). The French version was entitled Sous Les Verrous ("Under the Locks"). Unfortunately, the French and Italian versions no longer exist, but some extracts from the German version were discovered in 1999 and are available on DVD.
Each foreign language version was shot simultaneously with the English version, with the actors actually speaking the language. This was accomplished by employing actors who were fluent in their respective languages for smaller roles, with the major parts reserved for the American actors. These films were cunningly conceived, with language coaches reciting the lines and the mono-lingual performers writing their lines down phonetically on cue cards. These cue cards were just out of camera range, and it was not uncommon to see an actor glance off to the side for their next cue in the days before dubbing, but it proved to be too expensive and time consuming. Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were so popular, they proved to be irreplaceable. So Pardon Us, along with such shorts such as Blotto, Chickens Come Home, and Below Zero had a French and Spanish version. Laurel and Hardy spoke their lines phonetically, and many supporting roles were recast, including Boris Karloff playing "The Tiger" in the French version, before he became famous in Frankenstein premiered in theaters on November 21, 1931.
Three prints of different length are in circulation today. The 56-minute version is the common one, and the one which most viewers have seen over the years. In the mid-1980s, the 3M company issued a series of L&H films on laserdisc and used a long-lost preview print of Pardon Us for this series. It ran nine minutes longer than all previous prints, and contained additional footage with the warden, another scene with The Boys in solitary confinement (although this is really a duplication of an earlier scene with different dubbed lines from The Boys in their cells), and second performance of "Hand Me Down My Silver Trumpet Gabriel" in re-edited cotton field footage. Though this longer version has not been issued on home video (the 3M series was discontinued in the late 80's), it has been shown several times on the cable network AMC. The 64-minute version also aired on TCM's April Fools' Day salute to Laurel and Hardy. Finally, in 2004, Universal Studios issued a DVD which includes a restored black-and-white version with added scenes taken from preview copies (including the fire scene where the boys rescue the warden's daughter) as well as a shorter computor-colour version.
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