Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Babes in Toyland

(AKA: March of the Wooden Soldiers, 1934)

I have such a fondness for this film. My family was a little late in getting a TV set. It wasn’t until I was in the third grade, which would make me, what? Eight? What I recall about those first glorious days sitting around the boob tube with my friends was that almost all the after-school programming was old cowboy shoot-em-ups and comedies that were in the public domain. There was Hoot Gibson and Ken Maynard and Bob Steele and others. (Also Jungle Jim. I loved Johnny Weismuller as Jungle Jim.) Then there was Our Gang (billed as The Little Rascals), and best of the best, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. These were mostly the talkie two-reelers, but every once in a while one of the feature movies would appear.
This one is not really their best, for an adult audience, but I think it’s tops for young kids. We loved Ollie Dee and Stannie Dum, and the magical sets featuring a huge shoe, and the invasion of the Bogeymen, and most of all, the march of the wooden soldiers at the end. (The only thing we didn’t love was when Tom Tom the tenor and Bo-Peep the soprano sang at each other, all that lovey-dovey mush. That was a good time to make a run to the icebox for a Popsicle.) We saw it over and over. We loved it when Stannie played with his pee-wee. And were too young to think that was worth a giggle.
It was very loosely based on the Victor Herbert operetta. Basically they just used 6 of the 20 or so songs from the massive score, and the Stan and Ollie characters were completely invented.
I’ve learned a few interesting tidbits about it. Henry Brandon, who camped it up so wonderfully as the evil Barnaby, was only 22 years old. And the guy who played Old King Cole was named … wait for it … Kewpie Morgan. Born Horace Allen Morgan in Anna, Texas. The poor guy had to laugh continuously in take after take, and ended up rupturing muscles in his stomach. I’ll bet he wasn’t such a jolly old soul after that. When he called for his bowl it was probably because he had to throw up.