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Putting Pants on Phillip

Putting Pants on Phillip (1927)

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teaser Putting Pants on Phillip (1927)

Laurel and Hardy were the alchemists of the comedy world: they could turn anything into comedy gold.

Part of that alchemical formula was the realization that familiarity was a good thing. Tried and true routines were favored, and new innovations were consciously turned into comic rituals, obsessively repeated.

Take for example a recurring gag in Putting Pants on Philip (1927): the swarming crowds that form around Stan as he moves through the city. Every time he escapes Ollie's watchful eye, Hardy knows exactly where to go looking for his troublesome friend because all he has to do is follow the massive impromptu crowds. This is amusing the first time it happens, but by the third it has become something more than just a joke--it has become part of the structural skeleton of the film.

Such attention to structure speaks to the man behind the camera on this endeavor--none other than Clyde Bruckman, Buster Keaton's longtime collaborator and co-director of The General (1926). Things do not happen just casually in Clyde Bruckman's films.

Why do miniature riots keep forming around Stan? Well, that's a dirty joke, of sorts.

Stan plays the Philip of the title, a Scotsman in a kilt. That kilt to American eyes looks like a dress, and Philip's inveterate womanizing means you have a randy guy in drag. He chases women, they flee, and crowds of rubberneckers throng around to get a gander at the guy in a dress.

And he gives them a lot to gawk at. He heads down the city streets obliviously hand-in-hand with Ollie, completing the gender-confusion suggested by his clothing. As he crosses the ventilator grates of the subway, the gusts of wind blow his "skirt" up, Marilyn Monroe-style. But while Marilyn got a career's worth of mileage out of one instance of this inadvertent peep-show, Stan does it repeatedly. Along the way, he loses his underwear, such that the next time he steps over a grate--well, you get the idea.

This leads Ollie to the decision suggested by the title--it is high time to put an end to these shenanigans and get Philip in a proper pair of pants. The act of being measured for trousers is an awkward and intimate procedure that can irk even those familiar with the process and who are participating voluntarily. As far as Philip is concerned, it is a form of rape--and Stan and Ollie's bizarre parody of rape is performed with an awe inspiring comic perfection. Comedy alchemy indeed--anything can become a joke, in the hands of masters like these.

Producer: Hal Roach
Director: Clyde Bruckman
Screenplay: Leo McCarey (story); H.M. Walker
Cinematography: George Stevens
Film Editing: Richard C. Currier
Cast: Stan Laurel (Philip), Oliver Hardy (J. Piedmont Mumblethunder), Charles A. Bachman (Officer), Don Bailey (Extra), Chet Brandenburg (Extra), Ed Brandenburg (Bus conductor), Harvey Clark (Tailor), Dorothy Coburn (Girl chased by Philip), Alfred Fisher (Extra), Jack Hill (Extra).
BW-19m.

by David Kalat

Sources:
Simon Louvish, Stan and Ollie: The Roots of Comedy.
Leonard Maltin, The Great Movie Comedians.
Walter Kerr, The Silent Clowns.

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