The pair had first appeared as a comic team in the 1926 Hal Roach short . Most critics of the day believed the team worked best doing shorts, and felt their first feature showed signs of padding. Stan called it "a three-story building on a one-story base." But like Charlie Chaplin, the comedy team of Laurel and Hardy were one of the few to make the transition into the sound age. And despite a continued failure to charm the critics, Laurel and Hardy were beloved by an international legion of fans who called themselves the Sons of the Desert after the fraternal order in their 1933 film of the same name.
In usual fashion, Hardy considers himself the wiser, more competent side of the duo and Laurel is the childlike bumbler, as when he asks the prison photographer who takes his mug shot "If they turn out good, can I have one?"
In the Big House the pair are almost immediately pegged as troublemakers for the rude razzberry Laurel makes every time he addresses the prison warden or guard -- the result of a loose tooth.
The pair are inadvertently caught up in a prison break led by some of the prison's rougher inmates, including their cellmate "The Tiger" (Walter Long).
Once back on the outside, Laurel and Hardy hide out in blackface as cotton pickers on a Southern plantation, resulting in the first of the film's musical numbers. The other cotton pickers (The Etude Ethiopian Chorus) provide some enjoyable tunes with Laurel and Hardy joining in with a song and dance solo. Hardy sings "Lazy Moon" while Laurel performs a charming soft shoe.
But the boys soon end up in stir again when the prison warden's car runs out of gas at the cotton plantation. The pair are at first unrecognizable in their blackface, until Laurel's razzberry tooth gives him away.
Producer Hal Roach decided to make Pardon Us after the successful MGM production The Big House (1930) wrapped, leaving some prison sets standing and some additional footage that Roach decided to put to good use in this prison house spoof. But MGM required Laurel and Hardy make a feature film in exchange for use of the sets, which Roach would not agree to. So Roach ended up constructing new prison sets, at great expense, using photographs of San Quentin and Sing Sing to design the sets. The additional expense also justified bumping the film up from a two-reeler to a six.
In 1930 Pardon Us was previewed under the title The Rap. It ran 70 minutes and included several additional sequences like a prison fire and a scene where the pair, as elderly men, reminisce about their adventures. Both scenes were pulled from the eventual 56-minute release.
Laurel and Hardy often reworked some of their classic gags from their shorts for their features. For Pardon Us they included a scene in the prison dentist's office where Laurel goes to have his loose tooth pulled which appeared in their 1928 silent Leave 'Em Laughing. Laurel and Hardy also had their favorite on-screen foes and worked often with comic actors like James Finlayson, who appears as a prissy, authoritative school teacher in the prison schoolroom. Hal Roach and director James Parrott also appear as prisoners in this feature.
Pardon Us was filmed in several foreign languages with the pair speaking their lines phonetically, including Spanish (De Bote en Bote), French (Sous les verrous), German (Hinter Schloss und Riegel) and Italian (Muraglie). Some of the roles were even recast, with some sources claiming Boris Karloff played the role of "The Tiger" in the French version. The foreign versions often featured scenes deleted from the original English language version, including the fire scene which appeared in the Spanish -language film.
Laurel described their comedy team as "Two minds without a single thought," but still friends through thick and thin. That comic conceit of two naive bumblers went on to serve Ulverston, England native Laurel and his Harlem, Georgia costar Hardy very well. Unlike other screen comedy teams like Abbott and Costello or Martin and Lewis, the pair did not hone their act on the stage but were an entirely filmic pairing. Laurel, who preferred behind-the-scenes work to actually performing was also deeply involved with his Roach production teams on story, gags, production and even film editing.
Director: James Parrott
Producer: Hal Roach
Screenplay: H.M. Walker
Cinematography: Jack Stevens Production Design: Frank Durlauf
Music: Irving Berlin, Bob Cole, Will Marion Cook, J. Rosamond Johnson
Cast: Stan Laurel (Stan Laurel), Oliver Hardy (Oliver Hardy), Walter Long ("The Tiger"), James Finlayson (Schoolteacher), June Marlowe (Warden's daughter), Charlie Hall (Dental Assistant/Deliveryman), Sam Lufkin, S.D. Wilcox, George Miller (Prison guards), Wilfred Lucas (The Warden).
by Felicia Feaster