For those still among the uninitiated, one of the great comedy and musical treasures that the cinema has to offer is the original film adaptation of Babes in Toyland, more commonly known as March of the Wooden Soldiers. Based on a popular stage production with music by Victor Herbert and libretto by Glen MacDonough and Anna Alice Chapin, the 1934 film directed by the team of Gus Meins and Charley Rogers has, with its preoccupation with toys and even an appearance by Santa Claus (Ferdinand Munier), ensconced itself with ease in audiences’ affections and become a Christmas classic of sorts, despite the story being only tangentially Christmas-related. With beautiful songs, imaginative sets and creature creations, and hilarious star turns from Laurel and Hardy, the film is refreshingly innocent and rivals The Wizard of Oz in delightfulness and capacity to produce a smile.
What the back of the DVD case is unlikely to tell modern viewers, however, and what makes Babes in Toyland something of a forbidden treat subtextually, is that the film is positively dripping with anti-Semitism, particularly in its depiction of Toyland’s alien userer Silas Barnaby, played with hissing, insinuating glee by Henry Brandon – born in Berlin as Heinrich von Kleinbach and credited here as Henry Kleinbach.
Barnaby, (barely) a crypto-Jew with a little Leon Trotsky goatee, dresses all in black, sneers and snivels, and creeps with a crooked cane through Toyland to the accompaniment of somber violin cues, sometimes in company with a large-nosed, depraved-looking dwarf lackey (John George) in a yarmulke. Hellbent on miscegenation and financial vulturism, Barnaby would appear to be the only thing preventing the simple and happy folk of Toyland from enjoying an essentially ideal society.
Good-natured but bumbling toymakers Stannie Dum (Laurel) and Ollie Dee (Hardy) cross paths with Barnaby when the villain threatens to callously foreclose on the home of the poor Widow Peep (Florence Roberts) unless she consents to allow her daughter, Bo Peep (Charlotte Henry), to marry the parasitic rascal.
Complicating Barnaby’s plan, however, is pretty Bo Peep’s understandable aversion to his advances and the fact that the handsome Tom Tom (Felix Knight) has already asked for her hand in marriage. Undaunted, Barnaby simply sets about framing Tom Tom for the murder of one of the Three Little Pigs (played by children, one of whom, Edward Earle Marsh, would go on to earn infamy as a director of pornographic films under the name Zebedy Colt).
After “pignapping” Elmer the Pig and hiding him in his cellar, Barnaby produces a string of sausages that, he claims, is proof that Tom Tom did the little fellow in, with the result that the innocent Tom Tom is cast out of Toyland and into the forbidding Bogeyland. Ollie Dee and Stannie Dum exonerate Bo Peep’s beau, however, when they discover that the sausages used as evidence against Tom Tom are not pork, but beef – Barnaby’s Jewish pig meat taboo having given him away.
Determined to have his petty revenge against the people of Toyland, Barnaby comes back with an unsightly invasion force of hirsute, subhuman Bogeymen, who, with their horrible features, nappy hair, and savage subservience, may put some viewers in mind of caricatures of Africans and of Jewish provocateurs’ agitation of American blacks through various radical front groups of the burgeoning civil “rights” movement. Thankfully, after overcoming their initial panic, the folk of Toyland rally themselves and – with no little help from Stannie Dum and Ollie Dee, who activate a phalanx of goosestepping wooden soldiers – manage to expel Barnaby and his Bogeymen, thus securing the political and genetic integrity of Toyland as a contented monarchic ethnostate.
And so Babes in Toyland happily ends – to the extent, at least, that such a story can have any reassuring closure as long as the likes of Barnaby and his Bogeymen are at large in the world.