Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were two of the screen’s most beloved comics. Their Hal Roach comedy shorts contain some of the screen’s funniest moments, capitalizing on their unique comic personas. But by the 1940’s, Stan and Ollie had separated from Roach, and were plying their trade in features at 20th Century Fox. No longer in control of their material, the roles they played could’ve been filled by any pair of comic actors. That’s what makes later L&H efforts like JITTERBUGS so depressing.
Stan and Ollie are two itinerant musicians (“The Original Zoot Suit Band”) conned into aiding con artist Chester Wright into hawking “instant gas pills”. The scam gets uncovered in the small town of Midville, where Chester accidentally steals pretty young Susan’s purse. Since he’s smitten with her, he returns it, and discovers Susan is being swindled by some gangland goons. The con plays a con on these cons, aided by Stan and Ollie. Stan dresses in drag as Susan’s aunt, and after some complications, the gangsters are rounded up, Chester and Susan get together, and everything’s hunky dory.
It’s strange to see Laurel & Hardy in this 40’s milieu, acting like 40’s hepcats, surrounded by energetic jitterbuggers. Like I said before, the parts could’ve been played here by any pair of comic actors. The uniqueness of what made Laurel & Hardy so special is nowhere to be found. The boys look older, but definitely not wiser here. The gags they participate in are stale as old bread, but the duo’s natural funniness does manage to shine through in glimpses. Vivian Blaine (Susan) had a fine singing voice, wasted here with some forgettable ditties. She had more success on the Broadway stage, creating the role of Adelaide in GUYS & DOLLS, which she also played in the film version.
Bob Bailey (Chester) never made a big splash in films, either. He was a radio star known for the series YOURS TRULY, JOHNNY DOLLAR. The cast is loaded with Familiar Faces: Douglas Fowley, Noel Madison, Lee Patrick, Robert Emmett Keane, Anthony Caruso, and Francis Ford. Director Malcom St. Clair had a long, undistinguished film career; his best known credit is probably THE CANARY MURDER CASE, an early talkie with William Powell as suave sleuth Philo Vance, featuring Jean Arthur and Louise Brooks.
Screenwriter Scott Darling has 196 credits listed on the IMDb! He wrote the ongoing silent serial THE HAZZARDS OF HELEN, all 119 chapters totaling over 23 hours. That alone would get him in the record books, but Darling didn’t stop there. He’s responsible for a ton of B-movies, some of them quite good: CHARLIE CHAN AT THE OPERA, MYSTERY OF MR. WONG, GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN, SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE SECRET WEAPON , WEIRD WOMAN, COBRA WOMAN, THE SPIDER WOMAN, DOCKS OF NEW ORLEANS, KIDNAPPED, BLUE GRASS OF KENTUCKY, and his last, DESERT PURSUIT. In October of 1951, the prolific writer was going through a painful divorce. His car was found parked on a beach, his wallet in the ocean surf. Scott Darling’s body was later found in the Pacific Ocean, a suicide.
JITTERBUGS is not among Scott Darling’s, or Laurel & Hardy’s, best work. It’s sad to see the two great comedians wasted in an inconsequential movie like this. Any of their silent movies or 30’s comedies will bring you much more joy than sitting through JITTERBUGS. Don’t waste your time on this one; go find a copy of SONS OF THE DESERT instead.