14/10/2012

The Bohemian Girl (1936)

Stan and Ollie doing opera? It happened. Here the boys take on Irish composer William Michael Balfe's The Bohemian Girl of 1843, which in practical terms gave them an excuse to don traditional Central European folk costumes and pageboy haircuts and look ludicrous, a bright idea they would repeat soon after in Swiss Miss (1938). Balfe's plot lands our favourite saps in 18th century Austria,  where their simple existence as gypsy pickpockets is turned upside down when Ollie's fearsome wife (Mae Busch) kidnaps Arline Arnheim (Darla Hood), the young daughter of a cruel count (William P. Carleton) and then elopes with her raffish lover Devilhoof (Antonio Moreno), leaving the boys quite literally holding the baby.

Regulars Busch and James Finlayson, as the captain of the palace guards, are on splendid form here, she as irate and menacing as she was playing a deranged serial killer in Oliver The Eighth (1934) and he once more demonstrating his mastery of the suspicious squint and aggrieved snort. Thelma Todd also briefly appears in what would be her final role, a part that had to be truncated following her mysterious death from carbon monoxide poisoning. The studio sets and costumes are excellent, the gypsy camp makes for a colourful historic backdrop and there's some memorable business with Stan and Ollie trying to rob people while telling their fortune, a scam masterminded by Stan, unusually. The torture chamber finale, in which Ollie is stretched out on the rack to a phenomenal height and Stan horribly condensed in an iron maiden, is another superb gag. But the real highlight for me is the scene below in which Ollie watches enchanted as the grown-up Arline (Jacqueline Wells) trills the exquisite aria 'I Dreamt I Dwelt In Marble Halls' while Stan greedily devours the entire contents of the breakfast table, completely uninterested.



Competently co-directed by James W. Horne and Charley Rogers, The Bohemian Girl is a charming little piece of work but who knows what Balfe would have made of his grand romantic opera being given the Hal Roach treatment? 

2 comments:

  1. Well, I love Stan and Ollie, and I love this film - the scene you highlight is hilarious; you have the feeling that Stan's behavior might express the feelings of children in the audience, who want to see the comedy and can't be bothered with the songs. The team also made another opera-inspired film for Roach a couple of years earlier, THE DEVIL'S BROTHER (Fra Diavolo), which is also hilarious. There's a scene of Stan and Ollie having to execute each other that sends me over every time.

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  2. Yeah it's a lovely film GOM and I think you've hit the nail on the head with your interpretation of that particular scene. I've never seen The Devil's Brother but will try and get hold of a copy - sounds excellent.

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