Written February-March, 1936. Filmed March-May, 1936. A Stan Laurel Production for Hal Roach Studios. Directed by Harry Lachman. Cinematography by Rudolph Maté. 74 minutes.

Cast: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, James Finlayson, Daphne Pollard, Betty Healy, Alan Hale, Sidney Toler, Iris Adrian, Lona Andre.   

STORY: Stan and Ollie each have an identical twin brother, a fact they keep secret from their wives out of fear that the girls will divorce them if they knew what "lowlife" siblings their husbands had. The twins, Alf and Bert, are sailors who just happen to be in town on leave. Confusion reigns as each set of twins is continually mistaken for the other. The truth is eventually discovered, and the Laurels and Hardys enjoy a happy reunion.


JL: OUR RELATIONS is Laurel & Hardy's best-made feature film.  This is not to say that it's their best or funniest film, but the best directed, best photographed, most tightly scripted, and most satisfying as a dramatic whole.  The problem with this film is that the focus is so much on the storyline, there's little time for any classic L&H routines to develop.  The virtues of this film are such, however, that I now rank it among their best features -- it's certainly their most underrated one anyway.

      I admit that many of the things for which I admire this film are things that usually don't matter in the world of Laurel & Hardy.  Most Roach-era films were, at Stan's directive, photographed with even lighting throughout.  This allowed for a shadow-less set on which the Boys and their fellow players were free to roam off their marks occasionally, without the need for re-setting the lights.  The focus was on the comedy rather than the filmmaking.  But I figure that when you've got a legendary cinematographer like Rudolph Maté on this film, some attention should be given to what he accomplished.  There is a more elegant look to OUR RELATIONS than most any other L&H film, not only because of the classy-looking sets, but also because of Maté's unique lighting design.  Part of the reasoning for Stan's desire for even lighting throughout was so that the Boys' faces would be rendered a blankly as possible, free from lines and shadows (the light pancake makeup they wore was also for this purpose).  Maté achieves this same effect by focusing pin spotlights on their faces, while lighting the rest of the set with more subtle effects than in most L&H films.  This gives the Boys' faces special focus and allows for the film itself to have a highly professional sheen.

     Although the script does not allow for memorable routines at L&H's customary casual pace, it's nevertheless a fine script that has been staged and paced well by director Harry Lachman.  It would appear, for better and for worse, that this is one film in which the storyline took precedence over embellishing the comedy.  Several sources describe deleted scenes from OUR RELATIONS that seem to have had the potential for being memorable, drawn-out routines (most often described is a filmed-but-jettisoned scene in which Stan/Alf tries to give Ollie/Bert a shave while contending with a faulty light bulb).  This suggests that the film is a rare instance of sacrificing laughs for the sake of a better film overall.  We can be thankful that this approach was an unusual one, but we can also be thankful that it worked in this instance.

     It is because of this approach that we tend to remember this film as a whole, rather than as a series of memorable, loosely-connected bits.  Moments that stand out are individual gags (affixing Fin's toupee with a layer of mustard is a personal favorite), rather than scenes or routines within an episodic structure.  Few gags in OUR RELATIONS stand on their own; virtually all of them further the storyline.  The result is a film with fewer "quotable" moments than most L&H films, but also one that is consistently involving and entertaining.  There's never a dull moment, even though some may fault the film for not enough funny ones.

     It is also, of course, the film that presents two versions of Laurel & Hardy, both of which expand on various aspects of their established characters.  Curiously, Stan and Ollie come off as much less interesting than twin brothers Alf and Bert, which may explain why Alf and Bert have more screen time.  Alf and Bert are extensions of the carefree, fun-loving versions of Laurel & Hardy found in such films as Two Tars and Men O' War.  Unfettered by the guilt or conscience of married men Stan and Ollie, Alf and Bert act strictly on impulse and whim -- perfect characters for a comedy version of LORD OF THE FLIES (too bad they didn't do ATOLL K in 1936).  Stan and Ollie are more subdued than usual, perhaps because, for once, they haven't been given shrewish, unsympathetic wives to play off and generate some sparks.  The wives in OUR RELATIONS turn nasty only when they've been understandably led to believe their husbands have been philandering.  As a result, Stan and Ollie are the kinder, gentler set of twins -- although the full extension of the "nice" side of Laurel & Hardy makes us glad for the presence of Alf and Bert, as the Boys are always funnier with a bit of mischief in them.

     I can understand those who feel that OUR RELATIONS is a lesser L&H feature, in that it's a more entertaining film than a funny one.  But repeated viewings have convinced me that the entertainment values are so high, and the film itself so skillfully made, it deserves consideration among their best, even if it rewrites the rules for what makes a great Laurel & Hardy film.

JB: OUR RELATIONS is one of the few non-operetta Laurel and Hardy films based on an outside source rather than on a story conceived by Stan Laurel and the usual gang of Roach writers.   It has its roots in the 1903 short story "The Money Box" by W.W. Jacobs, an author of seafaring yarns who is best known for his deathless (literally!) horror classic "The Monkey's Paw".  The film shows earmarks of trying to fit Laurel and Hardy into a cleverly plotted story not written for them - there is no setpiece that would work outside the story, and a definite underexploitation of the combined talents of the team. Their previous films, BONNIE SCOTLAND and THE BOHEMIAN GIRL, were filled with such self-contained scenes that fully showed off Laurel and Hardy's knack for creating engaging nonsense, but the films themselves were clunky and marred by too much plot carried by too many people who weren't Laurel and Hardy. OUR RELATIONS can actually be seen as a radical change in approach, one that resulted in an entertaining and artistically cohesive film that holds up better today than many of their other features.  Like SONS OF THE DESERT, OUR RELATIONS clearly showed that, given the right story, Laurel and Hardy could carry a feature film all by themselves - or in this case, with a little help from their "twin brothers".  That their next film was WAY OUT WEST, a movie completely dominated by Laurel and Hardy, is probably not a coincidence.

     Part of the film's superior look can be attributed to director Harry Lachman.  A post-impressionist painter who became a set designer and then a director, Lachman longed to work with The Boys, whom he considered superb actors.  Lachman wanted to create a realistic look for the film that would work equally well for a comedy or a drama, but that would not detract from Laurel and Hardy's performances. It was at Lachman's suggestion that Roach brought Rudolph Maté on board.

     Roach also commissioned LeRoy Shield, the former in-house musical director, to write the music for the film.  With his usual enthusiasm, Shield composed a complete continuous musical suite for the film, only to see it cut to ribbons in post-production.  Nevertheless, many of Shield's happy themes for OUR RELATIONS found their way into dozens of other Roach films, including some older shorts (such as Perfect Day) which were rereleased in 1937.

     All in all, OUR RELATIONS was the classiest production Laurel and Hardy had been in since FRA DIAVOLO.  It's a fun film with great supporting performances, especially by Jimmy Finlayson as Bert and Alf's shipmate, and Alan Hale, Sr. as the proprietor of Denken's Beer Garden, where much of the film takes place.  Arthur Houseman also displays his usual chemistry with Stan and Ollie.

     Still, when you have two sets of Laurels and Hardys, you should be able to do more with them then just have them constantly missing each other by mere seconds.  Neither pair does much damage in the film, and part of me wishes that more footage had been devoted to Stan and Ollie (and Bert and Alfie) doing the things that come natural to them - such bumping into doors, knocking things over and falling down.  I enjoy this film immensely, but the only parts that make me laugh out loud are when Stan and Ollie are allowed to be themselves, which happens at the beginning of the film, before the S.S. Periwinkle pulls into port and unleashes Bert Hardy and Alfie Laurel on an unsuspecting world.  I get more solid laughs out of Stan and Ollie reading and discussing the letter informing them of their ne'er-do-well twins than I do from anything else in this film.