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Guest Programmer: John Landis
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Towed in a Hole

Stanley and Oliver - a pair of fish sellers - become more ambitious in their business operation and decide to cut out the middleman and catch the fish themselves. They buy a dilapidated boat from a junkyard and begin the task of making it seaworthy but their troubles are just beginning. From the plugging of holes and a new paint job for the boat to the hoisting of the sails, Stanley and Oliver encounter disaster every step of the way culminating in a final act of unforeseen destruction.

The last of three Laurel and Hardy films by director George Marshall (the other two, both released in 1932, were Their First Mistake and Pack Up Your Troubles), Towed in a Hole (1932) is considered "one of their very best shorts" by movie critic Leonard Maltin and other fans of the comedy team. Film historian William K. Everson wrote, "One of their most diverting milkings of a single gag, Towed in a Hole concerns itself almost exclusively with the hammer and nails, saw and paintbrush, brand of visual humor. The best gags are those of anticipation...It is also a notably subtle film in its use of suggestion and sound to elevate all the gags from the level of mere slapstick."

Sources differ on the origin of Towed in a Hole with one account claiming that the short was based on a story sketch by Stan Laurel called "Live Bait" (one of Stan's off-screen hobbies was fishing); another account by Richard W. Bann on the website www.laurel-and-hardy.com credits George Marshall with the concept. According to a 1974 interview with Marshall, the director recalled "We'd been stuck for four or five days or a week maybe. We hadn't come up with any particular story outline that seemed to progress or have any base to it. So I drove to the studio one morning, and in Culver City I passed one of these little fish wagons, and this fellow was touting his wares with a long horn as he drove down the street. So I thought, 'Well, maybe that could be the answer, with the boys selling the fish.'"

The most famous sequence in Towed in a Hole is probably the climactic destruction of the boat and the duo's car. Marshall recalled, "In the film, they put the sails up and the boat crashed into their car right there. But the routine we had would've been funny: they put up the sails and the boat took off. We had a wild routine with the two of them going through traffic. Babe out in front with the car, and Stan in back with the sailboat, trying to throw out the anchor. He throws it out and it catches a fireplug. We never shot that scene because we had enough footage."

One aspect of the short continues to puzzle some viewers. Why do Stan and Oliver have a fish business so far from the sea? The reason appears to be a simple case of location logistics - Towed in a Hole was filmed at the Arnaz Ranch where producer Hal Roach did a lot of exterior shooting for films that required rural settings and rolling hills. The opening street scenes, however, were shot in Culver City, just a stone's throw away from the MGM studios.

Just two days after the completion of Towed in a Hole, George Marshall was released from his contract with Hal Roach. No reason was given though it was probably one of the studio's many cost-cutting measures. Nevertheless, Marshall went on to a highly successful and prolific career working with some of the greatest comics in the film industry - W.C. Fields (You Can't Cheat an Honest Man, 1939), Bob Hope (The Ghost Breakers, 1940), Jerry Lewis & Dean Martin (My Friend Irma, 1949) and Jackie Gleason (Papa's Delicate Condition, 1963). He also made his mark in the western genre contributing some wonderfully idiosyncratic entries - Destry Rides Again (1939), Red Garters (1954), an oddly stylized musical starring Rosemary Clooney, and "The Railroad" episode from the 1962 epic, How the West Was Won.

Producer: Hal Roach
Director: George Marshall
Screenplay: Charley Rogers (uncredited)
Cinematography: Art Lloyd
Editing: Richard C. Currier
Music: Marvin Hatley, Leroy Shield
Cast: Stanley (Stan Laurel), Oliver Hardy (Oliver), Billy Gilbert (Joe).
BW-21m.