With Love and Hisses 1927
Filmed 14th March to 30th March 1927, Released 28th August 1927, 2 Reels
Produced Hal Roach, Directed Fred Guiol, Titles H.M. Walker
Main Cast: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, James Finlayson, Anita Garvin, Frank Brownlee
“There were cheers and kisses as the Home Guards left for camp – The married men did the cheering –“
On 16th March 1927, just two days after filming began on With Love and Hisses, a new deal was signed between the Hal Roach Studios and MGM Distributing Corporation, contracting MGM as the sole distributor of all of Roach’s short subjects. Whilst the ink was still drying on the new contract, filming of With Love and Hisses was well underway. Once again, the story was penned by Hal Roach and is a Stan Laurel comedy, with Oliver ‘Babe’ Hardy playing a supporting role as the bruising bully, Top Sergeant Banner. Typical of these early pre-team pictures, the boys are not paired together but rather set against one another. It wouldn’t be long before the studio realised that the two actors were far funnier working together against the world than fighting against each other. In With Love and Hisses, however, Hardy’s main adversary for the film's duration is Stan as Private Cuthbert Hope.
Another welcome and familiar face in the line-up is Jimmy Finlayson. The Scot, who had already been a regular player and quality foil in the Stan Laurel solo series, works his particular brand of magic once again in the role of Captain Bustle. The chemistry between all three actors is evident here as they all bounce off each other marvellously, and it’s easy to see why a Laurel-Hardy-Finlayson trio seemed inevitable.
Stan and Babe’s scenes together are more frequent in this picture compared to their previous outing, Why Girls Love Sailors. Although the characters are far from Stan and Ollie, there are sufficient opportunities for little bits of business and their magic sparkles through, anticipating the greatness that would soon follow.
Cuthbert Hope is arguably closer to the ‘Stanley’ character than had been seen in any of the pre-team films, certainly since Duck Soup. Hope is an innocent, simple fellow, not out to cause any trouble but making plenty as he stumbles through life. In fact, very similar to our Stanley, Cuthbert is the unwitting cause of much of Hardy’s misfortune throughout the film, with the remainder being self-inflicted.
The picture’s opening few minutes are perhaps its best. It gets off to a reasonably solid start at the Santa Fe train station, possibly familiar to Laurel and Hardy fans for its appearance in Berth Marks and even earlier in the Stan Laurel solo short, Hustling For Health.
The Home Guard are gathering at the station, preparing to depart for camp, and there are some nice gags and bits of business here as we are introduced to the characters. Stan immediately gets on the wrong side of Babe by knocking the cigarette out of his hands. Babe begins to berate the witless Laurel but is stopped in his tracks by the arrival of Captain Finlayson. Sporting his trademark whiskers and with two lady escorts on each arm, he trips over Stan’s luggage right in front of Hardy. Finlayson assumes that the suitcase belongs to Babe and his cards are well and truly marked. As Finlayson marches off to board the train, Babe discovers that the suitcase belongs to Stan, which enrages him further.
As they begin to board the train, Stan mistakenly thinks that a couple of ladies are waving to him. He starts to wave back but then realises they are actually trying to get Babe’s attention. He graciously directs Hardy’s attention towards the girls, and in a very cocksure manner, Babe struts over to begin his wooing. Unfortunately for Ollie, the ladies were waving to Captain Finlayson, so he finds himself in hot water again, thanks to Stan.
During Ollie’s wooing attempts, we have a marker of how far away from the familiar ‘Ollie’ character we are in this film. One of Finlayson’s ladies is Anita Garvin, fresh from her role with the boys in Why Girls Love Sailors. Anita rejects Babe by pushing him away by his head, and in a tit-for-tat moment, Babe begins a rather heavy-handed pushing match with Ms Garvin, pushing her by the head. Not what we’re used to from the soft, southern gentleman of the team’s iconic pictures.
With Love and Hisses has some good laugh-out-loud moments throughout, but opinions are divided by the gags on the train that are based around stinky smells. The most prominent of these are Stan’s reactions to the garlic sandwiches and spring onions messily consumed by the guy sitting opposite him in the train’s cramped compartments. Ultimately, Stan resorts to donning his gas mask, the face part of which comically inflates and deflates as he breathes deeply. There’s also a great follow-up gag as Stan ditches a garlic-infused fruit pie out of the train carriage window, and the pie flies straight into the window of the neighbouring compartment and into the sleeping face of Captain Finlayson.
Also worthy of note is the inspection line-up sequence at Camp Klaxon. With Babe Hardy looking on in the background, Finlayson inspects the troops and is not impressed, particularly with Stan. The way that Stan misunderstands Finlayson’s orders is very funny, and he drives the captain to frenzied, double-taking distraction. This theme would be revisited and re-worked in future pictures, such as Beau Hunks, Pack Up Your Troubles, Bonnie Scotland, and The Flying Deuces, but on those occasions, both Stan and Babe would be in the line-up.
The picture's final third is arguably its weakest. The troops are ordered to march in the hot sun, and just two miles from camp, they are exhausted and begin to drop. The soldiers spot a beautiful pool, and they all immediately strip off for a refreshing skinny dip. Stan is about to join them, but Babe orders him to stay and watch over the soldiers' uniforms. However, this more belligerent version of Stan will not follow orders he doesn't like, so he quickly strips off and dives in. In the meantime, a discarded cigarette, flicked carelessly aside, lands in the pile of clothes left behind by the swimming party. The uniforms quickly catch fire and burn down to ashes.
Back at camp, Major General Rohrer, played by Frank Brownlee, arrives for an unannounced inspection. Brownlee would also appear as the memorably bad-tempered Drill Sergeant in Pack Up Your Troubles, barking orders at the incompetent troops. A shocked Captain Finlayson demands the bugler to sound the order for all troops to line up for inspection.
The action cuts back the pool, and the happy swimmers hear the bugle call (from two miles away!?), and in a panic, they all exit the water, only to find the fire has consumed their clothes.
In order to get back to camp and cover their nakedness, they make use of a ridiculously and somewhat unbelievably convenient billboard advertising Cecile B. De Mille's, The Volga Boatman. They cut out holes to poke their faces through, and then between them, they carry the billboard back to camp.
Sadly, the grand finale is a bit of a letdown. First, returning to the stinky smell gags, a skunk starts attacking the troops, making them run in terror away towards camp. They kick over an active bees' nest as they run, and the angry bees swarm around the fleeing soldiers, stinging them from behind.
The soldiers, complete with the modesty-saving billboard and a large cloud of attacking bees, crash into camp and cause absolute mayhem. The final scene shows the soldiers in one last line up, marching away with massively swollen bottoms caused by multiple bee stings.
Despite the lack of a strong plot, and some reliance on puerile humour, the performances of Messrs. Laurel, Hardy and Finlayson are just about enough to carry the film. With Love and Hisses is a far cry from the classic Laurel and Hardy films, but the magic is most definitely there if you look for it, making it undoubtedly worthy of inspection. What it does do is re-enforce to the modern viewer how much we'd rather see the boys united against the world instead of fighting against each other.