Over three decades and more than 100 films together, mousy Stan Laurel and outsized Oliver Hardy created the greatest comedy team films have ever known (the Marx Brothers, always competing for the camera’s attention, were more rivals than coworkers). Unlike most of the great silent-era comics, they sailed easily into sound pictures, which offered the advantage of making a thrown pot to the head reverberate alarmingly.
Their sweetly silly 1933 feature “Sons of the Desert,” starts slowly but builds delirious rollercoaster momentum. The boys scheme to hoax their wives that Ollie, suffering from “a nervous shakedown,” needs a restful ocean cruise to Honolulu; in fact they’re going to the Chicago convention of The Sons of the Desert, to ogle saucy hula dancers at the floor show and swig beer. Co-star Charley Chase slips some naughty double-entendres past the Hays Office censors, and Then their little peccadillo fouls up big time. Essentially, this is “The Hangover” and “The Hangover 2” of the FDR era, except that Stan and Ollie are so much sharper in their comic psychology, more virtuosic at falling on their backsides, more creative at milking gags to the last satisfying drop. The climactic scene where the pair try to bluff their way through an interrogation by their wised-up wives is paralyzingly funny because it is so deeply and centrally human.
Save the date on Sunday, June 19, because the art deco Heights Theater will host a rare screening of “Sons of the Desert” at 2 p.m. Also on tap is a pre-show organ concert and the 1931 Charley Chase short subject “Hasty Marriage.”
Both films will be shown as restored 35 mm prints, on loan from the Library of Congress. Admission is $10. The theater is located at 3951 Central Av. NE, Columbia Heights. Call (763) 788-9079 or visit the website at http://www.heightstheater.com/ .