Babes in Toyland [1934]

The most lavish feature built around Laurel and Hardy, 1934's March of the Wooden Soldiers is also the most bizarre. Opening unpromisingly with one of several mawkish numbers derived from Victor Herbert's musical Babes in Toyland, the antics of toyshop laborers Stannie Dum and Ollie Dee are worked into a scenario midway between Lewis Carroll and the Brothers Grimm. Nursery-rhyme characters come and go in a surreal fantasy, with the evil Mr. Barnaby threatening to evict Widow Peep from her shoe unless he receives her daughter Bo in marriage. The movie culminates in a full-scale invasion of Toyland by the yeti-ish Bogeymen and their defeat by the 100 six-foot wooden soldiers which Stan and Ollie have built by mistake. Henry Brandon gives a characterful performance, while 1930s child star Charlotte Henry is an appealing heroine. Directors Gus Meins and Charles R. Rogers milk the slapstick to an increasingly unnerving degree. Reputedly Hardy's favorite among the double act's features, March of the Wooden Soldiers emerges now as their most audacious screen appearance. --Richard Whitehouse

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