Extra! Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy Star in Sons of the Desert for Hal Roach Studios

December 29, 1933


Section B - Films

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The Plot

IN BRIEF - The boys take an oath at their lodge, pledging that they will attend the annual convention in Chicago. Unfortunately, their wives won't let them go. So Ollie pretends that he's sick, and the cure is a sea voyage...accompanied by his best friend Stan, of course. They sneak off to the convention, returning home to find that the ship they were supposed to be on has been lost in a typhoon...and their wives think they area among the missing.

THE COMPLETE STORY - Stan and Ollie are members of the Sons of the Desert, a fraternal organization spoofing the American Legion, Elks Club, and the like. Upon their late arrival to a meeting, they find that the 87th annual convention of the Sons of the Desert is about to take place in Chicago. The Exalted Ruler demands that their lodge be represented 100% at the convention and makes all members take an oath. Stan resists, because he doesn't know if his wife will let him go. But Ollie reasons with Stan, and explains that his wife will have to let him go...because he took the oath.

Upon returning home, Ollie finds that it is his wife who won't let him go to the convention. She wants him to take her to the mountains instead. On the other hand, Stan is given permission by his wife to go to Chicago. So a plan is concocted, to convince Mrs. Hardy that her husband has suffered a nervous breakdown. Stan calls a veterinarian to make the bogus diagnosis. He says that what Ollie needs is a trip to Honolulu. Because Mrs. Hardy doesn't like the sea, Stan must accompany his friend.

The rouse works, and the Boys are off to Chicago. They march in parades, go to parties, and really live it up. At the convention, they meet a fellow conventioneer from Texas. His name is Charley, and he's a regular "good time Charley." When he finds out that Stan and Ollie are from Los Angeles, Charley decides to call his wife...who also lives in L.A. Ollie is put on the phone to speak to Charley's lovely sister, only to realized that it's his very own wife! He quickly hangs up the phone and narrowly avoids being caught.

Unfortunately, the ship that they told their wives they were sailing on, is caught in a Typhoon. The boys arrive home, moments after their wives rushed off to the shipping line to find out their fate. While waiting for their wives to return, they discover a newspaper and realize what has happened. Stan and Ollie try to leave, just as their wives are returning home. They quickly hide in the attic.

To calm their nerves as they wait to find out their husbands' fate, Mrs. Laurel and Mrs. Hardy go to the movies. To their astonishment, they see their husbands in newsreel footage from the convention in Chicago!

At home, the boys are preparing to spend the night in the attic. After a loud crash, their wives come up to check things out. The boys slip out a hatch onto their roof, into the rain. Stan wants to go downstairs and tell the wives the truth, but Ollie convinces him that that would be a mistake. Instead, Stan suggests that they slip down the drainpipe and check into a hotel for the night. Waiting at the bottom of the drainpipe is a cop, who promptly returns the boys to their wives.

They tell the wives an unbelievable story, which Ollie insists it true. Mrs. Laurel is able to get the real story out of Stan, and rewards him for his honesty. Mrs. Hardy is not as happy with her husband's deceit. She lets him have it, with anything she can throw his way. Ollie learns from Stan that honesty is the best policy.


Behind the Scenes

CULVER CITY, CA - Sons of the Desert was shot in order (with minimal rehearsal), as were most of Laurel and Hardy's films. Filming was completed in just three weeks, during the month of October in 1933. But months of preparation went into the film, starting with Frank Craven's script. Of course, the script was always susceptible to changes made during production.

In the directors chair was William A. Seiter. A friendship between Seiter and Laurel was established prior to the film, and as a fellow golfer, it must not have taken long for Hardy to establish a good relationship with his director. However, this was his first and only time working with Laurel and Hardy...which seems unfortunate, considering both the critical and financial success of this film.

The opening sequence takes place in a legion hall. As extras, the studio employed real members of Hollywood's American Legion Post. When it came time to film the parade sequences (which are shown to the wives as part of the newsreel footage), over 1000 extras were called in. This included American Legion drum and bugle corps and a drill team. Members of the Santa Monica Elks Lodge also appeared in the parade sequence.

Seiter was unsure how to realistically portray the goings on at the convention. He had no experience as a conventioneer, but he knew that much of his audience did...and if the convention scenes did not appear authentic, the film would suffer. So the director called a meeting of everyone who was working on the film and asked for their input. Then, taking it one step farther, Seiter, Laurel, and Hardy actually went to a nearby convention of a real lodge. With this first hand knowledge, they returned to Culver City ready to take their oaths.

But it was not Culver City where the convention was to take place on the big screen. One setting was a street in Chicago, with hundreds of spectators watching a big parade. As previously noted, there were over one thousand extras employed for this parade scene (an industry record, at the time). But where could they film this scene, and accommodate such an enormous cast?

The streets of Los Angeles apparently did not closely resemble those of Chicago in the '30s, and the cost of using another studio's backlot would have been too high. Roach had a "New York Street" on his own backlot, but it was not contemporary. So the decision was made to modernize and expand this set, at a cost of $25,000 (some sources say $15,000). There was only one hitch; it had to be complete in under ten days, to be ready in time to start filming. Four crews worked around the clock to complete more than 500 feet of new facades. They got the job done, and in record time.

Of course, the Sons of the Desert was not a real organization until the 1960s, when John McCabe and friends founded the organization in honor of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. But, during the time of the filming, the cast and crew started their own fraternal lodge of the same name. Stan was the "High Factotum" and Babe was the "Good Knight." William Seiter was elected "Sergeant Without Arms."

Sons of the Desert opened in theaters December 29, 1933. In England, the film was released as Fraternally Yours.

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