Drawing on story elements from their earlier shorts We Faw Down and Be Big, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy’s fourth feature-length comedy, Sons of the Desert, begins at a secret meeting of the boys’ eponymously titled fraternal lodge. Amid secret handshakes and tarbooshes, the “exhausted ruler” swears attendance at the lodge’s 87th annual convention in Chicago. When the wives forbid them to go, Hardy comes up with a ruse to fool the missus (the magnificent Mae Busch): Stan bribes a veterinarian who diagnoses Ollie with a double case of Canis Delirious. Mrs. Hardy’s seafaring phobia ensures that the fictive “mad dog” malady can only be cured by an equally fabricated stag ocean voyage to Honolulu.
Stan and Ollie sneak off to Chicago to eat, drink and make merry with their lodge brothers (including the brilliantly obnoxious Charley Chase) and hear Ty Parvis croon Marvin Hatley’s endearing “Honolulu Baby.” A maritime disaster and an incriminating newsreel expose the charade, culminating in a last act that is perhaps the funniest of Laurel and Hardy’s career.
Shot in 21 days at a cost of $165,000, Sons of the Desert was one of the top 10 films of the year, grossing over $1 million worldwide upon its original release. Though more than eight decades have passed since its original release, its impeccable comic timing makes Sons of the Desert one of the crowning achievements in Laurel and Hardy’s long career. In 2012 it was named to the National Film Registry, joining Laurel and Hardy’s shorts Big Business (1929) and The Music Box (1932).—Jayson Wall