Babes in Toyland (1934) – reviewed by George

This version of the 1903 Victor Herbert operetta is the one starring Laurel and Hardy, and features a brief appearance by Santa Claus. Santa (Ferdinand Munier) drops in on the Toymaker (William Burress)  to check up on the progress of his order.
I have a feeling that this is closer to the stage musical than the Disney version, but there are more similarities than differences. Stannic Dum and Ollie Dee (Laurel and Hardy) are boarding with the Widow Peep (Florence Roberts), who is both the mother of Bo-Peep (Charlotte Henry) and the Old Woman in a Shoe. Tom-Tom (Felix Knight), the Piper’s son is her boyfriend, but Silas Barnaby (Henry Kleinbach – later Henry Brandon who played dozens of villains) has his eye on her and wants her for his wife. Bo-Peep looks about 15, wearing bobbysox, which makes Barnaby a child molester, but whatever, he owns the mortgage on the shoe and if that is not enough he has lots of money to buy intimidation. Here he does not steal the sheep or kidnap Tom-Tom, he just forecloses. Bo-Peep feels she must marry him and get the mortgage.
Of course all of these things don’t keep Barnaby from framing Tom-Tom for the murder of one of the Three Little Pigs (not Willie or Jiggs, but Elmer). During the trial, presided over by the King of Toyland, Old King Cole (Kewpie Morgan), Ollie finds Elmer locked in Barnaby’s cellar and Barnaby runs away to hide on the other side of the river with the Bogeymen. Soon he returns with the Bogeymen to terrorize the town, and Stannie and Ollie activate the Mechanical Soldiers to battle them.
The songs are roughly intact: Annette’s solo (sung with four other Annettes so it’s actually a quintet) is only heard, and the Spanish number Ray Bolger sang and danced is now only sung by Felix Knight.  Here “Toyland” is a big number for Mother Goose (Virginia Karns). The disguise number for Tom as a gypsy fortune teller is not in this version at all.
When Barnaby starts persuading Bo-Peep with a little blackmail he says, “Think carefully, child, lest I resort to other means.” But Peep was not born yesterday and replies,”I wouldn’t marry you if you were young, which you can’t be – if you were honest, but you never were – and if you were about to die tomorrow, which is too much to hope for!”
Stannic and Ollie have some good bits. The one that looked the most original (to me) had the guys in bed, sleeping on their backs, and exchanging a feather which kept being breathed up in the air only to land on the other guy’s face and be puffed up in the air again.
This should be in color, but is in black-and-white. Still I liked it, and laughed and sang along and the whole shebang. Directed by Gus Meins and Charles Roberts from a screenplay by Frank Butler and Nick Grinde, the movie also features early career appearances by Marie Wilson as Mary Quite Contrary, Johnny Downs as Little Boy Blue, Ellen Corby as a Townswoman, and Dickie Jones and Scotty Beckett as Schoolboys.

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