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Duke & Ollie
on 15 October 2014
For collectors of offbeat films, or simply for lovers of lesser known Wayne movies, this is something of a peach.
It stars John Wayne and Oliver Hardy. Wait! Who? You heard me. What's more, they have quite a double-act going, with Ollie proving he wasn't only the funniest comedian in the world (in my humble opinion) but was more than capable of turning in a totally credible semi-straight performance, as he does here.
It's set in Alabama in 1812, has a fairly labyrinthine plot, some pretty sensuous romantic interludes, and boasts a female lead much derided in her day, Czech skating star Vera Ralston, who in fact acquits herself well enough, seeming to enjoy her scenes with Wayne, who was still, at a young-looking 42, a beautiful man, as well as becoming one of the movies' most natural actors.
I can't outline the plot, since I'm not entirely sure of it! It involves French refugees who were loyal to Napoleon, criminal land-grabbers, and a troop of Kentucky riflemen of whom the Duke and Ollie are two foremost members.
Ralston is Florette, daughter of the French General, while the enjoyably merry Marie Windsor has a featured role - and a fine old time - as a duplicitous femme fatale, western style.
George Waggner (responsible for The Wolf Man) wrote and directed, the latter rather well, and Bruce Surtees excels behind the camera. The final scenes of battle are beautifully shot and genuinely exciting.
Duke is at his most charming, and Ollie - well, I love the man, and to see him and Wayne so obviously enjoying playing together is a joy in itself. At the end, when Ollie (in a nod to his day-job with Stan) delicately picks a speck of dust from Duke's hat, I nearly stood up in my chair and cheered!
Not a great film by a long way, but unlike anything else I've ever seen, for both good and not so good reasons.
An odd, slightly mad yarn, well worth a watch.