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March of the Wooden Soldiers(1934)
Ollie Dee and Stanley Dum try to borrow money from their employer, the toymaker, to pay off the mortgage on Mother Peep's shoe and keep it and Little Bo Peep from the clutches of the evil Barnaby. When that fails, they trick Barnaby into marrying Stanley Dum instead of Bo Peep. Enraged, Barnaby unleashes the bogeymen from their caverns to destroy Toyland.
For more about March of the Wooden Soldiers and the March of the Wooden Soldiers Blu-ray release, see March of the Wooden Soldiers Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on January 3, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Charlotte Henry, Felix Knight, Henry Brandon, Virginia Karns
Directors: Gus Meins, Charley Rogers
» See full cast & crew
March of the Wooden Soldiers Blu-ray Review
Stan and Ollie in an operetta?
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, January 3, 2012
L. Frank Baum was one of the first authors to realize (and capitalize on) the knowledge that his works could be adapted for the stage, raking in huge ancillary money even when sales of the original novels might be fading. In fact, Baum soon realized that there was a symbiotic relationship between staged productions and book sales, and a touring production of an Oz spectacular might have immediate, and beneficial, results for book sales in the cities where the stage version appeared. There probably wasn't any similar consideration taken into account with Babes in Toyland, a huge stage success that followed in the wake of the stage version of The Wizard of Oz, seeing as how Babes was based on the works of one Mother Goose, who evidently wasn't around in person (or goose- hood) to rake in the royalties. Babes in Toyland was one of the greatest operetta successes in composer Victor Herbert's long and storied career, one which helped to create the idea of "seasonal" entertainment, with its Christmas- centric theme and visions of fanciful characters and living toys which were certain to delight children of all ages. Herbert wasn't the very model of a major entrepreneur in terms of shepherding the cash that poured into his accounts with the success of Babes in Toyland and his other iconic works, and his Estate wasn't especially flush when he died in 1924. His heir, daughter, Ella Herbert Bartlett, found herself in the position of selling rights to various properties in order to lard the coffers once again, and that is how Hal Roach and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer came to film its patently odd 1934 "adaptation" of Babes in Toyland starring Laurel and Hardy. There had actually been an abortive earlier attempt to bring the property to the movies (featuring the comic duo of Wheeler and Woolsey), but it was the star power of Stan and Ollie that probably helped push the project firmly into greenlit status, though that also spelled the death (at least in large part) of the original Herbert (and librettist Glen MacDonough) conception. In fact, the Laurel and Hardy film was so despised by Ella Herbert Bartlett that the only way she agreed to option further Herbert properties to MGM is if they promised they'd be nothing like the Laurel and Hardy Babes in Toyland (also known under its alternate title March of the Wooden Soldiers).
Despite this version having next to nothing to do with Herbert's original, and despite the additional fact that it only contains a handful or so of Herbert's charming (though admittedly lengthy) score, March of the Wooden Soldiers (I'll default to this title for convenience sake) does offer a certain amount of charm and entertainment value. The villain from the original operetta, Silas Barnaby (Henry Brandon), is ported over from the Herbert operetta, but here he has his eyes set on Little Bo Peep (Charlotte Henry), who isn't all that little (if you catch my drift). Stan and Ollie are on hand as fanciful semi-versions of Tweedledum and Tweedledee (this film is nothing if not eclectic in its appropriation of various characters from various sources), who are attempting throughout the film to rescue The Old Woman Who Lives in a Shoe (Florence Roberts), who is also Bo Peep's mother, from defaulting on her mortgage, which is owned, Snidely Whiplash-style, by Silas (of course). The film is an odd series of adventures that includes everything from The Three Pigs (in some of the most inadvertently frightening makeup ever) to a Mickey Mouse type character (played by a monkey in a mouse suit and, no, I'm not making that up). If the film rarely makes a whole lot of sense, and is only very tangentially related to the original Herbert conception of Toyland, it is so outré at times that it can't help but be enjoyable in a goofily quasi-camp way, if nothing else.
March of the Wooden Soldiers, despite running only 77 minutes or so (some online databases have a 79 minute running time for the supposedly unedited version, though this print doesn't betray any signs of egregious cuts), might be felt by some to have overstayed its welcome, once Bo Peep seems to be (no pun intended) out of the woods, and then another whole second calamity strikes her, her boyfriend Tom Tom the Piper's Son (Felix Night), and Mother Peep. This actually sets the plot careening toward its lunatic finale, which finds Stan cross-dressed, and an army of mutant toy soldiers running amok. It's quite redolent of some of the older Roach comedies, and even harkens back to the really lunatic days of the Mack Sennett comedies, as a series of sight gags unspools, one after the other.
The film is a rather impressively designed outing, especially for the relatively primitive days of 1934. Both costumes and sets are fanciful, and the special effects, while perhaps laughable by today's standards, are suitably whimsical and help to create the otherworldly ambience that is necessary for children of all ages to invest themselves in the supposed reality of Toyland. Stan and Ollie are actually quite wonderful in what amount to at least somewhat unusual roles for both of them. While we still have Stan's seemingly eternal ineptitude and Ollie's equally eternal bluster on nonstop display here, the two manage to integrate rather surprisingly well into a fantasy world filled with make believe characters. Stan and Ollie are kind of make believe characters themselves when you get right down to it, and they seem perfectly at home in the wacky world of Toyland. Chances are most audience members will, too.
March of the Wooden Soldiers Blu-ray, Video Quality
Legend Films has made its name with its colorizing technique, and this AVC encoded 1080p Blu-ray (in 1.34:1) from Legend offers both the original black and white and colorized versions of the film. (Note that odd numbered screencaps are from the black and white version, and even numbered ones from the colorized version. While I attempted intentionally not to replicate actual frames, so that you could get a wider array of screencaps to base your judgments on, I did attempt to limit my choices to the same scenes for reference sake). Legend typically does very good to excellent work in restoring older films, and they have sourced this March of the Wooden Soldiers from what appears to be a very good condition 35mm print in what I'm assuming is the full running time (if any scholar out there can provide documentary evidence of the difference between the claimed 79 running minute time and this feature's 77 minute-plus running time, let me know and I can update the review). While there are still flecks and scratches to be seen, the print has been cleaned rather well, and while there's little doubt that noise reduction has been applied, it hasn't risen to smeary, waxy levels. While the image is never crystal clear or eye-poppingly sharp and well detailed, it's definitely well above average for a public domain title sourced from a print. What may bother some videophiles are some issues with contrast, with a lot of the film being overly milky white, as well as recurrent registration and flickering issues. Overall, though, the transfer is remarkably spry considering the age and public domain provenance of the film. It's to Legend's credit that their colorizing process doesn't slather on slabs of impossible hues, and is in fact really rather subdued as far as these efforts usually go. Purists of course are going to want to stick with the original black and white version, but the colorized version isn't as horrible as it might have been, and I tend to be someone who really doesn't like these colorized versions at all.
March of the Wooden Soldiers Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The film's original mono soundtrack is offered in a standard Dolby Digital 2.0 mix that certainly suffices, but which still shows some of the ravages of time. The overall mix is quite boxy, as is so prevalent in these still early days talkies, and there's abundant hiss audible throughout the film. The musical numbers have fairly narrow highs and lows, though midrange frequencies have weathered the decades rather better than might be expected, which also means that the bulk of the dialogue sounds rather good, all things considered. There's no outright damage to report here, other than the expected occasional pops and cracks that come with age. This is certainly not going to set any audiophile hearts on fire, and a lossless LPCM mono track probably would have been preferable (despite the fact it would have introduced a whole new layer of hiss), but this Dolby track gets the job done in a minimally acceptable way.
March of the Wooden Soldiers Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
March of the Wooden Soldiers Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
This may not be Victor Herbert's Babes in Toyland, but March of the Wooden Soldiers is a surprisingly enjoyable film that finds Stan and Ollie in rather peculiar circumstances and getting along swimmingly, thank you very much. The fleeting appearance of Santa Claus and the background of toys gives this film a seasonal allure, but it's entertaining enough to haul out around the year. Legend has done an admirable job in cleaning up the print without being overly aggressive with DNR (though there is most definitely some noise reduction applied here), and the supplemental material here is outstanding, especially for lovers of kitsch. Recommended.
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