December 31, 2020
Sons of the Desert (1933)
Grade: 44/100

Director: William A. Seiter
Stars: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Mae Busch

What it's about. A popular entry in the long-running series of Laurel and Hardy comedies, which began during the silent era and continued until 1950. As always, loud and obese Hardy gives orders to the meek and slender Laurel. Events always seem to turn out badly, and Hardy gets the worst of it.

In Sons of the Desert, Laurel and Hardy live in opposite sides of a duplex in Los Angeles, and are respectively married to Dorothy Christy and Mae Busch. They are members of fraternal lodge. The lodge implores its brothers to attend the annual convention, in distant Chicago. Laurel and Hardy pledge to make the trip. Busch forbids Hardy to go.

Hardy concocts a scheme for Laurel and Hardy to go to the convention anyway. Hardy fakes a sudden illness, and Laurel has an imposter doctor make a house call. The cure for Hardy's malady is a cruise to Hawaii. Because it's a movie, Busch doesn't go with him. Instead, Stan is enlisted. Of course, the duo skip the cruise and head to Chicago.

At the convention, they have a wild time. Because it's a movie, they encounter Busch's prankster brother, Charley Chase, and neither Hardy nor Chase realize they are brothers-in-law. Because it's a movie, the cruise ship sinks, and Christy and Busch fear their husbands have drowned. Because it's a movie, the wives go to the theater and see a newsreel, which just happens to cover the lodge convention with Laurel and Hardy prominent in the footage.

Laurel and Hardy learn of the cruise sinking, and come up with an implausible story to explain their safe return to Los Angeles. The tale gets Hardy into trouble with his irate wife.

How others will see it. Sons of the Desert was a box office hit. It was ignored by the Oscars, but its popularity persists, since in 2012 it was chosen for inclusion by the prestigious National Film Registry.

Today at, the film has 7800 user votes, a respectable total given that the movie was made 87 years ago. The user ratings are surprisingly high, 7.8 among men over 45 and moderately lower, at 7.2, among women under age 45. The user reviews are nearly uniformly positive. Most viewers find the antics of the famous comedy duo to be hilarious.

How I felt about it. Alas, I was not amused. It's hard to say which event is most unlikely: Laurel and Hardy's cruise ship sinking, a phone call to a Los Angeles sister is to Hardy's wife, a lightning strike in the attic while our boy are there, newsreel footage of a minor convention held just days earlier that the wives just happen to see, or Laurel's wife duck hunting in Los Angeles.

How dumb can Laurel be that he doesn't know he's eating wax fruit? Why do the dufus duo have attractive and stylish wives? Why make up elaborate lies when telling the truth would be far more effective?

Early in the movie, Busch is throwing plates at Hardy's head, so hard that they break into pieces. Yet in the next scene he is faking an illness. There would seem no need to do this, since he would have a concussion already. Hardy is the subject of more physical abuse at the film's end, when his wife breaks a pantry's worth of dishes over Hardy's head.

The film's humor comes from two premises. Hardy cannot escape his wife's control of him, and Laurel is easily manipulated into anything. The solution is obvious: Hardy should divorce his wife, and Laurel should divorce Hardy. Hardy can then get into trouble all by his lonesome, while Laurel enjoys his wife's duck dinners, and Busch won't hurt anyone when she throws all her dishes across the room.