Way Out West (1937)
I have been a great fan of Laurel & Hardy for many years, and this feature is widely regarded as their finest effort. I have a few other suggestions for that spot, but it’s certainly a solid choice.
A long time ago I introduced one of my ex-girlfriends to Way Out West (and the comedy duo in general) and she memorably shrugged indifferently and said to me, “I’ve seen Steve Martin do that”, as if somehow Laurel & Hardy had travelled forward in time, watched a bunch of Martin’s movies and then gone back to film their interpretation in black and white. To this day I still don’t know if she was pulling my leg!
Eighty years after Way Out West, and there is still no double act that has the same chemistry or comic timing as the original masters of the art, and that perhaps says as much about Laurel & Hardy as performers as it does about the progress of cinema since they stopped making movies.
From the running gag of Stan using his thumb as a lighter, to the scene where he eats Ollie’s hat after losing a wager, to Ollie’s continual breaking of the fourth wall by looking into the camera in frustration at his partner, Way Out West is a classic of the genre that deserves its place in history.
I know it’s difficult for the current generation to go back and check out these old movies, but I rewatched this one last week, and if you approach it with an open mind, I think you’ll find that it holds up surprisingly well.
But do yourself a favour and watch it in the original black and white form – those colourised versions are (for the most part) cheap and tacky.