>> Sunday, March 2, 2008
USA/B&W-20m./Dir: Ray McCarey/Wr: H.M. Walker/Cast: Stan Laurel (Stanley), Oliver Hardy (Ollie), Arthur Housman (Drunk), Vivien Oakland (Mrs. Beaumont), Richard Cramer (Judge Beaumont)
Many Laurel and Hardy films featured liquored laughs, but Stan and Ollie weren’t always the ones doing the drinking. Often the boys were bedeviled by an inebriate played by the dean of drunk character actors, Arthur Housman. The lanky, mustachioed Housman made his living portraying comic drunks, and although he was rarely given more than a few lines of slurred dialogue or some staggering background action, he became the most recognizable movie souse in the 1930’s. Throughout the decade, Housman’s “drunk” character showed up in dozens of films, but he is best remembered for a handful of pictures in which he shared screen time with Laurel and Hardy. Scram! was his first teaming with the duo; and it also turned out to be the best showcase for his legendary “drunk” act.
The comedy commences in a courtroom, where Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy find themselves facing the ill-tempered Judge Beaumont (Richard Cramer) on a vagrancy charge. Rather than placing the boys in a nice warm cell, the judge gives them one hour to get out of town. Stan and Ollie take to the road, slogging through the pouring rain, when they stop to help a drunk (Houseman) who has dropped his car key down a sewer grating. After multiple slapstick attempts to retrieve the key, involving all three participants falling into the hole beneath the grating, the dapper inebriate offers to put the boys up for the night in his stately home. Unfortunately, in his bleary-eyed state, the souse takes the boys to the wrong house. The drunk takes it on the lam when he realizes his mistake, but he leaves behind Stan, Ollie, and a pitcher of booze. Of course, when the mistress of the house faints at the sight of the intruders, the boys give her what they think is a glass of water. She immediately gets giggly gassed on the drunk’s liquor, and Stan and Ollie find themselves with another inebriate to deal with.
I wouldn’t rank Scram! as one of the best Laurel and Hardy comedies. However, the physical slapstick between the boys and Arthur Housman is absolutely hilarious. It’s a shame that Housman was so often relegated to the background in other movies of the time, because Scram! proves that he was capable of stealing scenes from the best comedy talents in the business.
Drinks Consumed--Unnamed clear liquor (likely gin)
Intoxicating Effects--Slurred speech, staggering, stumbling, hiccups, harmonizing, drunk driving, passing out, and the giggles
Potent Quotables--MRS. BEAUMONT: What on earth was that, Hawkins?
HAWKINS, THE BUTLER: Just a drunken man, Madame, that thought this was his house.
MRS. BEAUMONT: Oh! It’s a good thing my husband wasn’t home. He’d have killed him. You know how he detests drunken people.
Video Availability--You can find the short on DVD in the United Kingdom, Germany, and Holland, but it has not been officially released in the U.S. However, Hollywood's Attic provides a collector's copy in Laurel and Hardy Classic Shorts (Volume 8).
Similarly Sauced Cinema--Arthur Housman also provided comic support to Laurel and Hardy in The Live Ghost (1934), The Fixer Uppers (1935), Our Relations (1936), and briefly in The Flying Deuces (1939).
Laurel and Hardy: The Magic Behind the Movies