Alibi (1929) Roland West

“Alibi” is a early American film sound film that attempted to do more with the new invention of sound than just let its actors speak. Directed by Roland West the film opens with the credits in total silence. My first thought was what is wrong? However when the film proper starts we are introduced to an innovative use of sound that must have thrilled audiences back in those early days of 1929. We are in a prison and the camera is focused on prisoner marching, their feet seemingly pounding on the pavement.  The camera cuts to a prison guard beating his nightstick on the cement wall behind him in a rhythmic beat. More prisoners exit their cells marching, the shoes loudly proclaiming each step taken.  We cut to the warden’s office where Chick Williams (Chester Morris) is about to be released from jail. Here is the second piece of what makes this film interesting, the art direction. The warden’s office is bathed in sunshine coming from a window situated high up. The large room is stark, empty except for a desk. From there we cut to nightclub. West camera is amazingly mobile moving fluidly down and through the wide halls of the art deco styled club.

It is an amazingly stylistic opening, sophisticated beyond most films of the period. Unfortunately from this point on the film begins to go downhill. The script is creaky and  the acting by some cast members verges on laughable. One character’s performance,  a young Regis Toomey is unbelievably bad. His death scene is a dragged out affair as he says goodbye to everyone that you find yourself begging  for him to just croak and end our misery as well as his own.

As a result, “Alibi” is a film that turns out be both impressive and a disappointment. Impressive in it use of sound, with art direction by none other than William Cameron Menzies, and disappointing that the film is so outdated in its narrative and  acting, which is very much in the style of the silent’s, that is exaggerated to compensate for the lack of sound. However, with sound it just appears like everyone is over acting. Chester Morris who would go on to star in many films including about a dozen Boston Blackie B films stars, along with Mae Marsh, was nominated for an Oscar for his role.    

There is a decent rooftop chase toward the end of the film that is done well. Rooftop chase scenes were actually a  common motif in West films (See The Bat and The Bat Whisper) as was character leading double lives such a Morris’ character before he is exposed for the criminal he is.

,”Alibi” is a must watch for the impressive opening fifteen minutes or so, the visual aspects are stunning with their debt to German Expressionism, and in truth the film is not so long (about 83 mins.) that watching the rest is too much of a challenge.


Tit for Tat (1935) Charley Rogers

    The comedy of Laurel & Hardy was at its best in the series of shorts they made before branching out in feature length films. Most of their features could not sustain the humor or the structure. Yes, there were exceptions like “Way Out West” and “Sons of the Desert”, however overall the shorts possess their best work. The 1935 “Tit for Tat” is one of Stan and Ollie’s best. It reflects their unique style of anarchistic comedy, which generally begins as a simple problem that escalates into a choreographed sequence of immature behavior compounded by deliberate malice and still more immature behavior, a tit for tat battle of the nitwits that ends in total destruction. That’s just what happens in this film, the only one of their works that references a previous film, in this case the 1934, “Them Thar Hills.” 

    Stan and Ollie open up an electric store right next to Charley Hall’s grocery store. Hall and his wife (Mae Busch) had a earlier run in with the boys in the previously mention 1934 short where an inebriated Stan and Ollie innocently get Mrs. Hall drunk to the disapproval of  Mr. Hall, leading to a tit for tat retaliation between the irate husband and the boys.

    With their new store ready to open, Stan and Ollie go next door to introduce themselves to their neighbor. To everyone’s displeasure, all remember each other. Mr. Hall plainly tells the boys he wants nothing to do with them. Back at their store, Ollie has climbed a ladder to screw in some light bulbs into their new outdoor sign. Stanley, mentally resistant to all around him, presses the up button on the outside elevator that Ollie happens to have his ladder on. As the ladder rises up, so does Ollie until he is forced to grab on to a window ledge that leads to the first story apartment of Mr. and Mrs. Hall next door. Ollie’s only recourse is to ask Mrs. Hall if he could come in through the window, which she graciously agrees too. Downstairs in the grocery store Mr. Hall watches as Ollie and Mrs. Hall come downstairs from his apartment. Unaware of how and why Ollie was upstairs, Mr. Hall accuses him of fooling around with his wife and tells him never to come back.

    Back in his own store Ollie is perturbed by Mr. Hall’s indecent accusation and goes back to the grocery store demanding an apology from Mr. Hall for accusing him of fooling around with his wife. Mr. Hall kicks the boys out of his store telling them not to return. Soon the retaliations begin; Stan and Ollie pour honey into Mr. Hall’s cash register. Mr. Hall goes to their store and destroys a group wrist watches putting them into a blender. The back and forth battle continues culminating with some hilarious creative uses of a crate of eggs and a bucket of lard.  

    While the tit for tat reprisals between the two store owners occupies all there attention, there is a running gag with a man who keeps entering Stan and Ollie’s store and walking out with an electrical appliance. They continuously see him leaving their store with another package under his arm and a greeting of “how do you do.” He does this again and again until the man finally backs up a truck and cleans out the entire store.

    While Laurel and Hardy humor may seem so simple, and they made it look so easy, the plots of their films are always well structured, the humor, building up to the next level of the joke flowing smoothly from the previous. Their characters were well defined, Stanley not very bright and Ollie only arguably a shade brighter bumble their way through every difficulty with bewilderment and frustration. “Tit for Tat” was well received by the public and by critics as well. The film was honored with a nomination for an Academy Award in the live short subject category.  They had previously won an Oscar for their three reel short, “The Music Box.”