Sons of the Desert is a 1933 American pre-Code comedy film starring Laurel and Hardy. Directed by William A. Seiter, it was released in the United States on December 29, 1933 and is regarded as one of Laurel and Hardy’s best films. In the United Kingdom, the film was originally released under the title Fraternally Yours.
In 2012, the film was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.
The film begins with a group of men in fezes sining Auld Lang Syne. They are the California branch of a secret society: Sons of the Desert.
At a meeting of the Sons of the Desert, a fraternal lodge of which both Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy are members, it has been decided that the organization will be holding its annual convention in Chicago in a week and all members have to take an oath to attend. Stan is reluctant to take the oath, but Oliver goads him into it.
Later, on the way home, Stan explains to Oliver his reluctance to take the oath; he is worried that his wife Betty will not let him go to the convention. Oliver tries to reassure Stan his wife has no choice but to let him go because he took a sacred oath. They live in adjacent houses and when they get home and Stan accidentally brings up the subject of the convention, however, it turns out Oliver’s wife Lottie will not let him go as they had already arranged a mountain trip together (which Oliver had forgotten about). Oliver tries to cover his embarrassment by remarking to Stan that his wife is “only clowning”, only for her to throw a bowl at his head, followed by another one when he attempts to establish his authority as the boss of the house.
Unwilling to go back on the oath that he swore, but also unwilling to provoke further wrath from his wife, Oliver feigns illness to get out of the trip with his wife. Stan arranges for a doctor (actually a veterinarian) to prescribe an ocean voyage to Honolulu, with their wives staying home (Oliver is well aware how much ocean voyages disagree with his wife). Stan and Ollie go to the convention, with their wives none the wiser. They do have a close call, however, while drinking with a fellow conventioneer from Texas named Charley, when as a practical joke he calls his sister in Los Angeles, who turns out to be none other than Mrs. Hardy - fortunately, however, nothing comes of this.
But then fate closes in even more relentlessly; While Stan and Ollie are en route home from Chicago, their supposed ship arriving from Honolulu sinks in a typhoon and the wives head to the shipping company’s offices to find out any news about the survivors. At the same time, Stan and Ollie, blissfully unaware of the shipwreck as yet, return home as though from Honolulu and are confused by the empty houses. While Stan reads the paper, Ollie suddenly catches sight the headline of their supposed ship’s demise and immediately grasps its grisly implications.
Panic-stricken, knowing their wives will know right away they never went to Honolulu, they prepare to go to a hotel to spend the night, only to catch sight of their wives returning home. They end up taking refuge hastily in the attic and, as they can’t escape, decide to camp out there. Meanwhile, the wives go to the cinema to calm their rattled nerves, where they see a newsreel of the convention featuring their husbands acting extremely hammy. Furious at being deceived, they blame one another’s wayward spouses, while Betty, knowing Stan lied for the first time ever to her, is still confident he will atone and confess, more than Oliver will do. That outrages Lottie to the point of proposing a challenge to see whose husband is the truthful one. As for the husbands, their camping in the attic starts out smoothly enough but is interrupted loudly enough as to attract the attention of the wives (prompting Betty, who suspects burglars, to investigate with her shotgun) and they manage to flee out of sight, escaping to the rooftop. When they cannot get back in, Oliver sees this as their opportunity to follow their original plan of going to a hotel to pass the night. Stan, however, wants to go back home and confess to his wife but Oliver threatens, “If you go downstairs and spill the beans, I’ll tell Betty that I caught you smoking a cigarette!”
They are about to make their way to a hotel to spend the night, but are stopped by a policeman who manages to get their home addresses from them thanks to Stan. The wives notice them coming, but while Lottie wants to shoot them the moment they walk through the door, Betty reminds her of their argument that needs to be settled. Upon walking into the house, they tell the wives about the shipwreck. Then, when asked about how the pair of them had managed to get home a day before the rescue ship carrying the survivors was due, their story begins to unravel; they say they jumped ship and “ship-hiked” their way home. Then Lottie looks Oliver in the eye and asks him if his story is the truth. He insists it is; “It’s too farfetched not to be the truth!” Then Betty asks Stan if Oliver’s story is true. After a long, uncomfortable silence (interrupted by some “encouragement” from Oliver: “Go ahead and tell her!” followed by a cigarette smoking gesture), Stan eventually breaks down and tearfully confesses them going to the convention, despite Oliver’s previously mentioned threat. Betty picks up her shotgun while Stan continues whimpering and they leave.
After they have gone, Oliver is left to face his wife’s wrath at being made a fool of twice by him, and after failed attempts to charm her with babyish mannerisms, suggests in what he thinks is a jaunty and winning tone, “How about you and me going to the mountains?” - the last straw. Watched by her bemused husband, she empties the kitchen cupboards, piling up crockery. Meanwhile, in the Laurels’ house, Stan is seen wrapped in a dressing gown on the sofa, sipping wine and eating chocolates, being pampered by Betty, who relays the age old moral to him, “Honesty is the best policy.” Stan agrees happily, as the sounds of hurled pieces of crockery start coming from the Hardys’ house. Lottie is throwing pots, pans and dishes at Ollie. After the maelstrom Stan arrives from next-door, sees Hardy sitting in the wreckage and tells Ollie that his wife said that “honesty is the best “politics”. Stan puffs on a once-forbidden cigarette, and then goes out the door singing “Honolulu Baby”. Ollie vengefully hurls a pot at his head, upending him.
Stan Laurel as Stanley
Oliver Hardy as Oliver
Charley Chase as Charley
Mae Busch as Lottie Hardy
Dorothy Christy as Betty Laurel
Lucien Littlefield as Dr. Horace Meddick, the Veterinarian
Ty Parvis as the sailor in Honolulu Baby song and dance
Charita as the lead Hawaiian hula dancer (Charita Alden)
Plus, an uncredited early film appearance of Robert Cummings as a ship steward