Slipping Wives 1927
Filmed 20th October 1926 to 3rd November 1926, Released 3rd April 1927, 2 Reels
Produced Hal Roach,Directed Fred Guiol
Photographed George Stevens, Titles by H.M. Walker
Main Cast: Priscilla Dean, Herbert Rawlinson, Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Albert Conti
Part of Hal Roach’s “unique innovation” concerned contracting the talent of box office stars, whose popularity was declining but still had a certain amount of popular appeal. Above all, these ‘fading stars’ represented and brought with them that all-important element – quality. The film Slipping Wives is a perfect example of Roach’s innovation in action.
As part of the Roach All-Star series, Stann and Babe are the film’s supporting comedy providers, with the leading stars of the picture being Priscilla Dean and Herbert Rawlinson, both formerly big box office names. Roach saw the potential in these celebrities to provide an extra attractive element and gravitas to this latest two-reeler. He believed that employing this strategy would give him an edge over his closest competitor, Mack Sennett.
Slipping Wives is actually quite enjoyable despite not resembling a typical Laurel and Hardy comedy in almost every respect. Stan and Babe are obviously not a team in this film, but at least they appear in scenes together, and when they do, their on-screen chemistry is undoubtedly evident.
To say the boys are not a team is actually downplaying it somewhat, as Babe’s character spends most of the film trying to find ways to kill Stan’s. Hardy plays a butler named Jarvis and is in the employ of an artist (Herbert Rawlinson) who is so focused on his work he is neglecting his wife (Priscilla Dean); as the title card confirms, he only kisses her “on Sundays and holidays”.
Dean recruits the help of a close family friend, The Hon. Winchester Squirtz, played by Albert Conti, and the two form a plan to bring the neglectful husband to his senses and rekindle his romantic flame. Paint delivery man Stan is the accidental hero Ferdinand Flamingo, “Out of nowhere, going nowhere, delivering paint...”. He gets roped into a plot, somewhat against his will, to make romantic advances towards Priscilla Dean in an attempt to make husband Rawlinson jealous.
In Slipping Wives, the boys are cast as adversaries and though they are certainly anything but a team in the conventional sense of the word, there are several moments where they do get to interact, and their magic has the chance to shine through.
Within seconds of butler Ollie answering the front door to deliveryman Stan, they are engaged in a comic tussle on the doorstep - a classic bit of business. Hardy wants Laurel to use the tradesman’s entrance, and Stan is having none of it. They wrestle in and out of the doorway, and Stan’s paint can is knocked out of his hands and spills all over the doorstep. Ultimately, Babe lands face down in the paint. This gag will become a staple of their future team comedies, as does his response; he lifts his paint-covered face and looks slowly and squarely into the camera.
In the next scene, a very reluctant Hardy is instructed to take Stan to his room to get him appropriately dressed for dinner. Stan is to borrow some of the master’s own clothes to be convincing in the upcoming ruse. Hardy is determined that Laurel should take a bath before dressing, but Stan does not share this opinion. There is another hilarious tussle between the two, including a short chase sequence around the bedroom, ending in Babe himself falling into the bathful of water.
Eventually, the dinner party begins, with Priscilla Dean, presenting Stan to her husband and her fellow conspirator Winchester Squirtz as “Mr Lionel Ironsides, the famous writer of fairy stories”. Typically, Stan gets in a muddle and assumes that Squirtz is the husband and spends the evening trying to make the wrong man jealous.
The rest of the picture plays out as a classic bedroom farce of mistaken identities and is reasonably enjoyable stuff.
Of particular interest to Laurel and Hardy fans, the film does contain an interesting bit of trivia, being that this is the first film in which the boys share a bed. His employer has instructed Hardy to keep a very close eye on Laurel throughout the night, so, rather than lose any sleep, he presses his arm over the top of Stan, pinning him down, and falls asleep. Stan, desperate to escape his predicament, now has the problem of finding a way to slide out from underneath the heavy arm and escape.
Although very funny, the character of Jarvis, the butler, bears little resemblance, either appearance or personality-wise, to the Ollie that we know and love. Stan, on the other hand, is actually getting visibly closer to perfecting his recognisable mannerisms. Here we see that glorious wide smile and his naive embarrassment at being told to ‘make love’ to Priscilla Dean. He still displays that frenetic, volatile energy carried through from his solo career, but the ‘Stanley’ character is emerging little by little.
Despite Stan and Babe’s appearances in this picture, Priscilla Dean was strongly promoted by the Roach studio as the star, with her name and likeness adorning all the marketing materials. Even so, it does feel, to all intents and purposes, very much a typical ‘Stan Laurel Comedy’, with everyone else playing supporting roles. Arguably the best scene in the entire film is Stan’s outstanding pantomime performance of the tale of Samson & Delilah in front of his hosts, showcasing his music hall/vaudeville roots.
Overall the picture was received very positively, with particular praise for the straight actors’ contributions. All in all, Slipping Wives is perhaps a step closer to the finished article for Mr Laurel, but sadly Mr Hardy’s character still had some way to go before he became our recognisable friend.