Wednesday, January 30, 2013

BABES IN TOYLAND (1934)



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *comedy*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *sociological*


Subsequent to writing my review of the 1961 BABES IN TOYLAND, I did a little reading on earlier versions of the Victor Herbert operetta.  Neither the 1934 nor the 1961 film versions follow any version of the stage-play very closely, but the Disney film resembles the operetta in one sizeable respect.  The 1903 stage version of BABES concerns the protagonists journeying from a vague "Mother Gooseland"-- where many of the nursery-rhyme characters live-- to the titular "Toyland," and the 1961 BABES keeps this distinction.

In contrast, in 1934's version Toyland is the same as the village of Mother Goose-ites, and the Toymaker is a leading citizen there. Rather than being a would-be Santa Claus himself, the Toymaker's factory turns out orders for the "jolly old elf" himself.  From the summaries I've read, this MGM film was the first time the property became dominantly associated with Christmas themes, though Santa only appears briefly, to take issue with a botched order.

The sources of that mistake are the central characters of the film, who have been inserted in order to play up the headliner comedians: Stannie Dunn (Stan Laurel) and Ollie Dee (Oliver Hardy).  There can be little doubt that the operetta is heavily rewritten to spotlight these comedians. The MGM producers throw in a sizeable amount of operetta-music, most of which hailed from the stage-play-- though these tunes didn't impress me much more than those chosen for the 1961 remake.

Stannie and Ollie are fired by the Toymaker for their error, but as in many of their previous features, they end up lending assistance to others even less fortunate.  Because the duo rooms at the home of the Old Woman Who Lives in the Shoe, they bear witness to the attempts of evil banker Barnaby to force the Old Woman's daughter, Little Bo Peep, to marry him and forsake her true love Tom Tom the Piper's Son.  In contrast to both the stage-play and the Disney version, Barnaby is in no way motivated by anyone's inheritance: apparently he wants to marry Bo Peep out of plain old lust.

Stannie and Ollie try to help by stealing the Old Woman's mortgage from Barnaby's house.  They fail and Barnaby threatens to have them put in prison.  To save the well meaning dopes, Bo Peep vows to marry the villain.  The "boys" later redeem themselves by hoaxing Barnaby into marrying the wrong party after he's surrendered the mortgage.

Barnaby retaliates with a scheme to imprison Tom Tom, and he succeeds temporarily, causing the hero to be exiled to a fiend-haunted cavern.  Bo Peep follows him.  The boys manage to expose the villain's perfidy, and he too flees to the cavern.  Tom and Tom and Barnaby fight, but Barnaby trumps the good guys.  For absolutely no reason, Barnaby is suddenly able to enlist the aid of the cavern's monster-men inhabitants, "the Boogeymen," and the villain leads them in an assault on Toyland.  The invading army is turned, however, thanks to the fortunate folly of Stannie and Ollie, in which they constructed a brigade of oversized toy soldiers.  Barnaby and his allies are routed, the cooing lovebirds are reunited, and the film ends with the usual slapstick embarassment of Oliver Hardy's character.

Neither the story nor the Laurel-and-Hardy team-- far from my favorite comedians-- make TOYLAND much of a viewing experience for me. 

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