Why Girls Love Sailors 1927
Filmed January 31st to March 19th 1927, Released July 17th 1927, 2 Reels
Produced Hal Roach, Directed Fred Guiol, Titles H.M. Walker
Main Cast: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Viola Richard, Malcolm Waite, Anita Garvin
The crew of the “Merry Maiden” feared nothing on earth…except the police.
For decades Why Girls Love Sailors was another title on the list of ‘lost’ films. That was until early in the 1970s when a print was discovered in the collection of the Cinémathèque Française. Even then, it wasn’t until the mid-1980s that it eventually became available for wider viewing.
Why Girls Love Sailors is a Stan Laurel comedy, and Stan is clearly the star of the show. Babe Hardy plays a small yet effective supporting role as an unpleasant bully who is First-Mate on board a cargo ship, ‘The Merry Maiden’. The movie’s bad guy is the ship’s surly Captain, played by Malcolm Waite. Waite, a big, strong-set, good-looking actor, was able to impose his presence as a decent screen villain and is notable for other roles in films such as Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush (1925) and also a bit part in Babe Hardy’s solo Roach film, Zenobia (1939).
We meet sweethearts Willie Brisling (Stan) and his fiance Nellie, played by Viola Richard. Born in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, on January 26th, 1904, as Evelyn Viola Richard, this picture was her movie debut. Viola Richard is a familiar face in the early Laurel-Hardy/All-Star comedies, appearing in five silent shorts and later with a small walk-on part in their 1935 classic, Tit For Tat. Although Ms Richard didn’t have an extensive film career, she did appear in fourteen Hal Roach comedies.
Another debuting actor in Why Girls Love Sailors who shares these first scenes, albeit briefly, is one of Stan’s old vaudeville colleagues, Charles Althoff. Sadly for Althoff, he appears to have had the majority of his scenes cut from the film. The role he was contracted to play was that of fiddle playing Grandpa Grisling, and his participation in the finished film is nothing short of fleeting. I suppose that one could argue that a professional fiddler’s value to a silent film is pretty limited. Happily for him, whilst this may have been his first, it would not be his last appearance in moving pictures.
The story begins with Stan flirting with Viola, and there’s a delightful part where his childish embarrassment at kissing his fiancee’s cheek sends him whirling around the room, falling over everything in sight and rolling all over the bed in glee. As mentioned earlier, this is still the Stan Laurel of his solo career, still unsure of his character, still moving around the screen at a fast tempo. There is a sense that his character development is continuing to progress. A few of the ‘Stanley’ mannerisms are on display, including the big trademark smiles and numerous instances of the crying routine.
Unbeknownst to them both, they are being watched by the villainous Captain, who has improper and unlawful plans for Viola. He makes his entrance, and we quickly learn that he and Viola are old flames. The Captain grabs her and decides to take her with him back to his boat, and he drags her away to the dock, where his ship awaits. Stan bravely gives chase, but the kidnapper gets away with his victim and drags Nellie on board and into his cabin.
The main thrust of the plot of Why Girls Love Sailors, which Hal Roach himself wrote, is that Stan must sneak onboard the boat and rescue his beloved. However, to do this, he must get past Babe Hardy’s nasty First Mate character and overcome the majority of the ship’s crew.
By chance, he finds a trunk full of ladies clothes (clearly an essential item for rough and tough sailors back in the day!!), and he quickly hatches a plan. He dresses up as a woman, and using his ‘allure’ (these sailors MUST have been away at sea for a LONG time), he tricks them into following him to a quiet corner of the boat where he smacks them over the head and throws them overboard.
During this sequence, Stan and Babe share their one and only scene. Hardy, who Stan’s drag act has also seduced, does his best to woo him. There’s a nice bit of ‘business’ between the boys during this exchange, and this scene stands out as an absolute joy to watch, with both actors playing their parts brilliantly. Although Babe’s bully is nothing like the ‘Ollie’ character, his performance is superb, and it’s great to get a chance to see him use different aspects of his acting skills opposite Stan.
Stan succeeds in fooling Hardy and quickly skips away. He then uses his womanly ways to attract the attention of the corrupt Captain by coyly waving to him through a porthole, and he gains access to the Captain’s cabin, where his beloved is held against her will.
The film’s culmination includes the surprise appearance of another familiar and much-loved face in the Laurel and Hardy world, Anita Garvin, also making her very first appearance of many with the boys, playing the role of the Captain’s jealous wife. As usual, Garvin plays the role to perfection and comes across as very fearsome indeed. With eleven appearances alongside Laurel and Hardy, Anita Garvin is, without question, a firm favourite amongst the team’s fans and with good reason. In her first film with Laurel and Hardy, she is first accosted by an unwitting Babe Hardy as she climbs aboard the boat.
However, Roughhouse Hardy is no match for Garvin, who quickly puts him in his place by kicking him up his backside and then knocks him out cold with a mean right hook. She quickly locates her husband, the Captain, whom she finds bouncing a very dodgy-looking lady (Stan in drag) up and down on his knee. When she pulls a gun and threatens to shoot them both, Stan quickly whips off his wig and tells her it was all a ruse to make her jealous so that her husband could discover her true feelings for him. All seems forgiven until the Captain mimes to Stan that he will deal with him later and not in a caring way, even though Stan has just saved his bacon.
Stan’s quick thinking then turns the tables again by using Garvin to his advantage. He opens a locked door to reveal Viola Richard locked inside and tells Garvin that there were four other women, but they’d already left. Stan skips happily off with his fiancee, leaving the Captain to his wife’s fury and her loaded blunderbuss! On their way off the boat, the happy couple peep through the porthole and, in a moment of rather dark humour, are visibly pleased to see the Captain is no more. They skip away merrily until the venomous face of a seething Anita Garvin appears at the porthole, followed by the barrel of her gun. Her shot blows the clothes off Stan and Viola, and they both flee in terror as the film fades to black.
Despite Why Girls Love Sailors being a tad disappointing to many fans today when it was released to theatres back in 1927, it was received relatively positively.