Thursday, September 04, 2014

The Laurel and Hardy Sound Shorts (1933)

After the classic TOWED IN A HOLE, it's disappointing that the team's next effort should be this forced, gimmicky domestic comedy centered around the concept of the boys playing both themselves and their own wives. It doesn't help any that the voices of Stan and Ollie's "wives" are annoyingly dubbed for no good reason, which only distracts from both the performances and the pacing. The highlight of this otherwise lackluster short is the scene in which Stan goes out for ice-cream and uses up all his money calling home to ask what flavors to get. Maybe my least favorite of the sound shorts they made for Hal Roach.

This is another one of their comedies constructed around milking the potential of a single comic situation; in this case, the piecing together of a giant jigsaw puzzle. The set-up involves Ollie preparing for his wedding to his boss's daughter, which will catapult him into the social stratosphere, when Stan surprises him with a jigsaw puzzle as a wedding present. Before long, the boys get distracted trying to put the puzzle together, and eventually everyone from the butler to the local cop join in, and the wedding is delayed as they search for a missing puzzle piece. It sounds funnier than it is, however, for once the writers establish the situation, it never really quite builds enough momentum as it nears its rather weak and anti-climactic conclusion.

Since their characters were frequently if often inadvertently finding themselves on the wrong side of the law, it was an interesting departure to cast Laurel and Hardy as policemen. There are some very clever moments here, such as officer Laurel coming across a safecracker at work, and - not comprehending the situation - offering to help him open the safe. When Hardy finally intervenes and issues a summons for the charges, the safecracker argues with the boys over which day best suits his busy schedule to appear in court! The second half of the film is an extended slapstick sequence with Stan and Ollie attempting to apprehend the Chief of Police, whom they've mistaken for a burglar trying to break into his own home. Not top-tier Laurel and Hardy, but very funny.

Certainly one of the team's finest shorts. The premise of Laurel and Hardy working at a sawmill is all the set-up they need for one brilliant sequence after another. The opening scene, with the boys happily and casually driving to work, exemplifies the kind of joyful simplicity that marked their best work. This one also contains an exceptional number of really funny and inventive sight gags, from Hardy being caught in the debris disposal system, to the boys' car being sawed in half. Like TOWED IN A HOLE, this one demonstrates the kind of material that Laurel and Hardy excelled at more than anything else.

Almost certainly the strangest film the boys ever made, right up there with OLIVER THE EIGHTH. Laurel and Hardy are chimney sweeps called out to the home of a mad scientist (Lucien Littlefield), who is experimenting with an age-reversal formula. The scenes of Stan and Ollie cleaning the chimney with characteristically disastrous results are perfectly funny and enjoyable; why they felt compelled to add the mad scientist subplot is a bit of a mystery, as it's neither particularly interesting nor particularly funny. The whole film is really quite uneven, moving between straight slapstick and cartoonish, slightly surreal fright comedy with mixed results.

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