The Sons of the Desert are holding a meeting, a fraternity who get together regularly for their ceremonies and whatnot, and also the odd convention where they can let their hair down for a weekend. One such convention is planned soon, but for two members, Stan (Stan Laurel) and Ollie (Oliver Hardy), there may be a problem, which explains why Stan looks so upset when their leader is ordering everyone to take the oath of attendance for it. On the way home in the taxi cab, Ollie asks him what the issue was, and Stan replies he doesn’t think his wife Betty (Dorothy Christy) will allow him permission to go, and now he’s fretting he will be the only one to break the promise; his best pal is disgusted with this behaviour.
According to Ollie, he is the King of his castle, which you will be less than surprised to learn is simply not the case, as he is as henpecked as Stan is. Of all the Laurel and Hardy features, rather than their many short subjects, Sons of the Desert was their most typical, and is often held up as the finest of their films to last over an hour in length (though not much over an hour, it had to be said, they kept things succinct in those days). Although some would have it that Way Out West is funnier, and it probably is, that was not to do down their efforts here which demonstrated by that stage they were such seasoned performers of comedy that it was a pleasure to watch such professionals go about their work with such finesse.
If finesse is the right word for their particular brand of buffoonery, especially one which more than anything they did posited their relationship as two overgrown little boys forever in danger of being found out by the adults, which offered an interesting relationship between them and their wives. Generously, the boys and their team made the actresses’ roles count, with Christy a duck hunter often seen toting a shotgun both as a thinly veiled threat to her hubby not to step out of line, and as a representation that she was the one taking the more masculine duties since Stan can barely walk through his own front door without making a hash of it. Mae Busch was the actress most associated with the duo (aside from Thelma Todd, perhaps) and here she was in her element.
Her Lottie presented the actress as someone you wouldn’t wish to get on the wrong side of, with her features all too readily lapsing into a formidable scowl, so the second Ollie tells her there’s a convention he wishes to go to, he may as well buy himself a crash helmet to protect himself from the inevitable flying crockery (it could be the fact many of the participants were too familiar with marital strife that offers this comic business its edge). It may be Stan and Ollie who we most remember, but we shouldn’t dismiss the top flight supporting casts producer Hal Roach assembled around them, and once they get to the event in Chicago one of the silent era’s finest comedians Charley Chase, not as well recalled as the two co-stars these days, and in truth not playing his accustomed persona, was very effective as the boorish prankster Stan and Ollie get lumbered with.
So how did they reach the convention without their wives' permission? It’s simple: they lied. And yet it’s not simple at all, as the message of the movie is honesty is the best policy, and as usual Ollie thinks he’s smarter than Stan so concocts a harebrained scheme where he pretends to be ill, for which a trip to Honolulu to take the air is the only cure (according to the vet they hired to pose as a doctor, that is). But the best laid plans and all that, which leads into the denouement where with crushing inevitability they are found out and pay the price, yet even with this very tangible sense of impending doom, we sympathise with Stan and Ollie because they can’t catch a break in life, though contain a certain foolish optimism that they can. We know that once the story has ended, they will be embroiled in yet another scheme that will drop off into chaos and even their best intentions go astray, which is the reason audiences continue to return to their work, we see their ludicrous qualities and in a funny way, relate.