Series: Feature

Director: Gordon Douglas
Producer: Hal Roach
Screenplay: Corey Ford
Photography: Karl Struss, Norbert Brodine
Editor: Bert Jordan
Music: Marvin Hatley
Sound: Warren B. Delaplain, William Randall

Stars: Oliver Hardy, Harry Langdon, Billie Burke, Alice Brady, James Ellison, Jean Parker, June Lang, Step'n Fetchit, Hattie McDaniels, Phillip Hurlic
Company: United Artists
Released: 21 April 1939
Length: 8 reels
Production No.: F-23
Filming dates: November 1938 - January 1939
Rating: 5/10


Zenobia

Available on BLU-RAY & DVD:
     

Mississippi 1870: Mary Tibbitt (Jean Parker), the only daughter of the town's doctor (Oliver Hardy) has just got engaged to Jeff Carter (James Ellison), the son of a very wealthy family. Mary's somewhat unusual mother (Billie Burke) summons the mumbling black servant Zero to run into town and ask for her husband Dr. Tibbitt (Hardy) to return home. When the doctor arrives home he is (eventually) told of the news. Everybody is happy, except Mary, who is concerned that Jeff's mother will not approve. The doctor is clearly offended that his daughter refers to him as "just a country doctor" and implies her family isn't as good as Jeff's. Mary vents her frustration at her father for being in debt to everybody on account of his good nature and then he tells her about his faith in the Declaration of Independence which he has hanging on his wall and how he tries to be a decent man on account of it.
An argument over a missing punchbowl breaks out in the kitchen and Zeke is ordered to run along to retrieve it from the lady who borrowed it. He stops by a circus where Professor McCrackle (Harry Langdon) is trying to sell some remedy to a small crowd. The professor keeps an elephant "Zenobia" who appears to fall sick during the routine. McCrackle calls for a doctor and Zeke runs home to fetch Dr. Tibbitt. Tibbitt arrives to find the professor explaining about how "his patient" is over 100 years old and weighing more than half a ton! Of course, the doctor soon realises the patient is in fact an elephant! After a brief, but reluctant examination of the animal, Dr. Tibbitt instructs Professor McCrackle to keep the animal warm and to not make mention of their meeting!
That evening, Mrs. Carter arrives with her son Jeff and friend Virginia (June Lang) and are (eventually) welcomed into the Tibbitt house. There is some debate and disgust over what food should be served to the guests (pork and chicken being off the menu after Mrs. Carter objects). After some small talk between the host and guests, Dr. Tibbitt arrives home and is immediately drawn into the akward argument that ensues over Mrs. Carter's refusal to allow her son to marry into a family with such a different background. After faking a heart problem, the rude guest is escorted home by Jeff. Mrs. Carter then comes up with a devious scheme to organise a party - with singing and invites Mary and her family along, knowing full well that Mary cannot sing. If that wasn't bad enough, Professor McCrackle turns up at the Tibbitt house and confesses he still has a problem with his "baby".
The doctor once again makes the trip to treat Zenobia and after an examination of the animal (and after being sat upon), the doctor realises that the problem is a knot in the elephant's tail.
That night, Zenobia breaks free of her ankle chains and heads for the Tibbitt residence, where the doctor explains to the boy servant Zeke about the difference between white and black people. Dr. Tibbitt offers the boy a quarter if he can memorise the Declaration of Independence (it's the film's scene-stealer when it comes up later). The Tibbitt's arrive at Mrs. Carter's house along with hundreds of other guests and soon the dancing begins. Jeff arrives late with Virginia, who is determined not to let him near Mary but fortunately Dr. Tibbitt sees what is going on and interjects himself. But Mrs. Carter continues to try and sabotage her son's relationship with Mary by inviting Mary to sing for the guests. Mary nervously pulls off an astounding vocal performance much to the surprise of everybody in attendance. The applause is short-lived however when Zenobia decides to gatecrash the party and send all of the guests screaming for the exit. Professor McCrackle confronts Dr. Tibbitt and after accusing him of stealing his animal he threatens to take legal action.
That night Dr. Hibbitt is locked out of his house by his wife and has to end up sleeping outdoors on the elephant. When he wakes the next morning the doctor tries to flee the creature but it follws him everywhere he goes. Meanwhile, Mrs. Carter and Professor McCrackle hire an attorney and go over their case with him. As the trial of Dr. Hibbitt vs. Zenobia begins the doctor has to be ordered into the courtroom by the judge but of course Zenobia follows him. Throughout the proceedings the Professor is called to give a statement, followed by Mrs. Tibbitt and then Jeff. When Jeff gives his evidence supporting the Professor Mary tells him he ought to stick to his mother and forget all about her, so Jeff decides to have a heart-to-heart with the doctor. Dr. Tibbitt summons the small boy over and in the best scene from the movie, Zeke delivers his Declaration of Independence speech which brings everybody to a standstill.
Having heard the boy's powerful speech Jeff confronts his mother and tells her that he is going to marry Mary whether his mother likes it or not. At that point the court recovenes and Jeff is recalled to the witness stand but fails to appear so it's down to Mrs. Carter to do the damage. Having reflected on her selfishness she withdraws her complaint and the case is dismissed. The wedding can now go ahead and everybody is at the Tibbitt residence with Mrs. Tibbitt and Mrs. Carter having now formed an unlikely alliance. The doctor concludes his business with Zenobia and Professor McCrackle and it is revealed that there is now a mini-Zenobia! Dr. Tibbitt walks his daughter down the aisle for her wedding to Jeff; the Professor leaves happy and it all works out well for everybody in the end.

Favourite bit
Without any shadow of a doubt the scene steeler is Philip Hurlic reciting the Declaration of Independence speech. In a scene which spans almost two whole minutes, you cannot help but offer applause to the performance and feel just a bit overwhelmed over how amazing he delivers it. If the boy recited this from memory it is all the more breathtaking.

Trivia
Copyrighted April 11, 1939.
Also listed for May 1939.
Previewed as "It's Spring Again".
Released in the UK as "Elephants Never Forget".
This film was made during the infamous contract dispute between Stan Laurel and producer Hal Roach.
Interestingly, Jean Parker plays Oliver Hardy's daughter in this movie - she also played Hardy's love interest in the same year, in The Flying Deuces (which was filmed a few months after Zenobia during a contract break between Stan Laurel and Hal Roach). The other connection is A. Edward Sutherland, who directed The Flying Deuces, and also produced Zenobia.
This was May Wallace's last film. She died during filming. It is not known whether all her scripted scenes were completed at the time of her death.
Two of the leading ladies of the film would go on to appear in two of the most famous films ever made later the same year - Billie Burke (as Glinda the Witch of the North in The Wizard Of Oz) and Hattie McDaniel (as Mammy in Gone With The Wind, for which she received an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress).
The story takes place in Carterville, Mississippi, 1870.
Mr. Dover, the gentleman who is the proud father of a baby boy at the beginning of the film, already has six daughters (hence the line from Hardy - "if at first you don't succeed....." I guess that now means Mrs. Dover can have a much-needed rest!!
When Dr. Tibbitt offers his services for free for the proud father, he receives not one word of thanks.
Dr. Tibbitt's ride home from town with Zero on the back of the cart is against a rear-projection.
I think it is quite rude that Jeff continues to badger Dr. Tibbitt about wanting to talk to him, even though Tibbitt repeatedly tells him to wait.
In an obvious attempt to not have his character of Dr. Tibbitt compared with his 'Laurel & Hardy' character, Babe has grown his moustache outwards so that it looks more mature.
During the film, Jean Parker (Mary) calls her father "Doc" four times.
Harry Langdon and Zenobia's first scene in the film comes after 13 minutes.
Zenobia is 104 years old and weights approximately 6,172 lbs, according to Professor McCrackle.
The credit roll in the film lists the family name as TIBBETT, but the hand-written note from Mrs. Carter seen in the film spells the surname Tibbitt. Later during the courtroom scenes a letter from the medical profession states the name as Tibbitt as well. Further proof is found on plaques outside of the residence which also spell the name as "Tibbitt" - so the credit roll must be wrong! Example 1, Example 2 and Example 3.
Listen out for a brief rendition of a song called "I Dreamt I Dwelt In Marble Halls" from Hardy. This was a song originally featured in The Bohemian Girl (1936).
It would appear that both Hardy and Langdon are right-handed. When they are doing their "zone" marking on the elephant, both men use their right hand to mark the spots with their chalk. Also, if you look closely you can see a faint chalk line on the elephant in the exact spot where Langdon marks her, indicating a previous take.
Hardy calls out the three zones that he wishes Langdon to mark on the elephant. When he comes to zone 4 he simply says "we'll deal with that later". Meaning the elephant's arse!
In the scene where the elephants supposedly sits on and squashes Oliver Hardy, there was a real person underneath it (probably not Hardy). Watch as the elephant gets back to her feet, a man can be seen moving underneath. Probably a stunt double. Shortly afterwards the elephant picks up Hardy in her truck, except that isn't Hardy at all. That is definitely a stuntman.
Is it just me or does Harry Langdon look a lot like Jiminy Cricket?
When Hardy is on top of the elephant in the barn, the chalk marks which are on the animal's side have been erased and re-marked yet at no time do we see them being erased.
Zenobia, in case you missed it, is the name of the elephant! She is female.
This film was obviously a sore point for Stan Laurel as it is referenced in the 2018 movie "Stan & Ollie" starring Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly.
This backdrop scene is so obvious when you can see the creases and folds in the painting behind the actors.
During the courtroom scene the Professor claims he and Zenobia have been together since she was 35 years old. But earlier in the film he claims she is 104. So that means they had been together for 70 years? Harry Langdon was 54 years old at the time of filming so I'm not sure how he figured that?

My opinion
I have long had a love/hate thing going on with this film inasmuch that for the most part it's a decent enough film but there's something about Harry Langdon that bugs me. It may be seen by some that he was replacing Stan Laurel as Hardy's co-star and that is maybe why the film doesn't sit right with some fans? Aside from the negatives the film has it does also boast of some good scenes. None moreso than the fabulous reading of the Declaration of Independence by the 11 year-old Philip Hurlic. The black actors (McDaniel, Hurlic and Fetchit) are all loveable and Hardy offers a stoic performance as the good-hearted doctor. Billie Burke is out of place, Jean Parker looks nice and June Lang trundles through the film looking like she has a lemon stuck in her mouth. All in all it's an okay film, certainly worth watching once but there is a definite sparkle missing.

Oliver Hardy
Dr. Henry Tibbitt M.D.
Harry Langdon
Professor J. Thorndyke McCrackle
Billie Burke
Mrs. Bessie Tibbitt
Alice Brady
Mrs. J. Mortimer Carter
James Ellison
Jeff Carter
Jean Parker
Mary Tibbitt
June Lang
Virginia Reynolds
Olin Howland
Attorney M. Aurelius Culpepper
J. Farrell MacDonald
Judge
Stepin Fetchit
Zero
Hattie McDaniel
Dehlia
Philip Hurlic
Zeke
Clem Bevans
Sheriff
Tommy Mack
Joseph A. Miller, the butcher
Robert Dudley
Court clerk
Harry Myers
Party guest
Hobart Cavanaugh
Mr. Dover
Fay Holderness
Townswoman
Sam Lufkin
Townsman/Courtroom spectator
Jack Hill
Courtroom spectator
Jack George
Harpist
William J. O'Brien
Courtroom spectator/Barker
Ham Kinsey
Townsman (he pats Hardy on the back
as he re-enters the court after the trial)
Bob O'Conor
Townsman
Nigel De Brulier
Townsman (at Zeke's recitation)
William Bakewell
Townsman (at Zeke's recitation)
Al Thompson
Townsman (at Zeke's recitation)
Jessie Arnold
Townswoman
Jean Porter
Townswoman
Dorothy Vernon
Townswoman/Courtroom spectator
Jack Egan
Townsman
Marjorie Kane
Townswoman
Johnny Kascier
Townsman on penny-farthing
Loretta Russell
Townswoman/Trial spectator
Paul Power
Party guest
Thomas Pogue
Juryman
Danny Jackson
Boy at party
Hall Johnson Choir
Hall Johnson Choir
Miss Zenobia
Herself
Luke Cosgrave
Townsman
Wade Crosby
Townsman
Joe Cunningham
Townsman
Rankin Daugette
Townsman
Mark Hamilton
Townsman
Bert Howard
Townsman
Sydney Jarvis
Townsman
John C. McCallum
Townsman
Robert McKenzie
Townsman
Edwin Richey
Townsman
Cyril Ring
Townsman
Colonel Robinson
Townsman
Rene Stone
Townsman
Arthur Thalasso
Townsman
William Worthington
Townsman
Helen Brown
Townswoman
Marie Engel
Townswoman
Mary Foy
Townswoman
Edna Hall
Townswoman
Olive Hatch
Townswoman
Mary Kornman
Townswoman
Amy Busby Roy
Townswoman
Kathryn Sheldon
Townswoman
Louise Squire
Townswoman
Toni_Tree
Townswoman
May Wallace
Townswoman
Ralph Brooks
Party guest
Bess Flowers
Party guest
Babe Green
Party guest
Winifred Harris
Party guest
Ralph Brooks
Party guest
Otto Malde
Party guest
Kathleen McCormack
Party guest
Gertrude Messinger
Party guest
Peggy Moran
Party guest
Edmund Mortimer
Party guest
Doris Rankin
Party guest
Suzanne Rhoades
Party guest
Marie Wells
Party guest
Jack Baxley
Barker
Edward Broadley
Servant
Chester Conklin
Farmer
Bud Geary
Courtroom spectator
Walter Lawrence
Barker
Leila McIntyre
Mrs. Langhorn
Edward McWade
Minister
Laura Treadwell
Mrs. Barrett
Raymond Rayhill Powell
Boy
Jim Farley
Juryman
Joseph W. Girard
Juryman
Bob Perry
Juryman
Malcolm Waite
Juryman
Jack Egger
[?]
Wilfred Lucas
[?]

UNIDENTIFIED CAST






CREDITS (click image to enlarge)

POSTERS
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LOBBY CARDS
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STILLS
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STILLS (courtesy Harry Langdon Jr.)
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PUBLICITY STILLS FOR JEAN PARKER (courtesy Richard Finegan)
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FROM THE HERALD
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SCREEN PICTORIAL JUNE 1939
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SHOT ON THE BACK LOT
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RISQUE
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Acknowledgements:
Laurel OR Hardy by Rob Stone (book)
Screen pictorial 1939 (image of Hardy sitting on stool)
Randy Skretvedt (help and information)
David Kawas (Blu-Ray)
Harry Langdon Jr. (2 stills)
Jesse Brisson (identification of Johnny Kascier, Marjorie Kane, Jack Egan, William Bakewell, Al Thompson, Jessie Arnold, Dorothy Vernon)
-(plus educated guess identifications of Arthur Thalasso, Sydney Jarvis, Jean Porter, Leila McIntyre, Laura Treadwell, Luke Cosgrave)
Richard Finegan (stills, lobby card and Herald images; identification and confirmation of Jean Porter)
Jack Tillmany (identification of Paul Power and Loretta Russell)
Ian Tiso (identification of Thomas Pogue and Danny Jackson)

This page was last updated on: 28 November 2021