The Bohemian Girl (1936)
“90 Mad-Merry Musical Moments!”
Director: James W. Horne, Charles Rogers
Cast: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Thelma Todd
Synopsis: Stan and Ollie travel with a band of 18th-century Gypsies holding a nobleman’s daughter.
There’s a lot to like about this Laurel & Hardy feature even if it is true that The Bohemian Girl suffers from a few too many minutes of gaily dressed Gypsies warbling opera songs and lounging romantically within the loose circle of charming tinker’s caravans. The film could have done without that, no doubt about it, but that was the formula back in the 1930s, and at least most of the singing is at the start of the film before the boys even make an appearance. And we do have fast-forward today, thank God.
Aside from the obvious fact that there isn’t a bowler hat in sight, we see a different Laurel & Hardy here. As far as I can recall this is the only film in which they aren’t honest people. While, in most of their films they might get involved in scrapes that end with them in trouble with the law, more often than not they were decent men who had fallen on hard times. In The Bohemian Girl they’re accomplished pick-pockets — Stan more so than Ollie as the hilarious ‘eyes are the windows to the soul’ sequence proves — who are constantly on the look-out for ways to fleece honest folk, even filching the clapper from the town crier’s bell. Of course, they’re villains of the lovable rogue variety, but there you have it: were they making the film today, the boys would have a mud-splattered 4x4 parked outside that quaint little caravan and half a dozen stolen Play Stations stashed inside.
The story is older than the cinema itself and served as the plot for countless silent movies dating back to D. W. Griffith’s earliest efforts. Ollie’s cheating wife, the wonderful sharp-faced Laurel & Hardy regular Mae Busch, kidnaps a six-year-old princess after the girl’s father has Busch’s lover flogged for trespassing, then leaves the girl with Ollie and Uncle Stan after fleecing her husband of all his modest riches and fleeing with her lover. The boys bring the little girl up as their own and then have to save her from a flogging of her own after she wanders onto the palace grounds, lured there by her father’s mournful singing.
That’s about it plot-wise. But then we don’t watch Laurel & Hardy films for the plot, do we? What we watch them for is the clever knockabout humour that was unique to these two overgrown kids, and there’s plenty of it here. Best moments include the sequence in which they play a finger game for money in which Stan repeatedly outwits Ollie — this is one of the few films in which Stan not only stands up to Ollie, but frequently gets the better of him — and Stan’s increasingly inebriated attempt to bottle wine, a scene which still has me helpless with laughter no matter how many times I watch it.
The boys are also joined by a few of their regular supporting cast here. In addition to Mae Busch, Thelma Todd plays the Gypsy Queen’s daughter. Although she receives top billing after the boys she is barely glimpsed, most of her scenes having been cut in an attempt to disassociate the film from the sinister circumstances surrounding her apparent suicide. James Finlayson, the boys’ long-time nemesis, puts in a late appearance, and takes part in another comic highlight as Stan and Ollie try to gain entry to the dungeons in which their ‘daughter’ is imprisoned.
For some reason — probably to do with gypsy singing — this film doesn’t appear to have the same place in fans’ hearts as the likes of Way Out West and Blockheads, but the fact is that when it’s funny — and it frequently is — it’s every bit as funny as those acknowledged classics.
(Reviewed 28th July 2009)