Saturday, December 12, 2020

Pack Up Your Troubles (1932)

Laurel and Hardy's second feature is also one of their most shapeless comedies. The Boys are stationed at the front during WWI, where they promise their pal to look after his daughter if anything happens to him. After he's killed in action, the Boys go about trying to locate his estranged parents in New York City and reunite them with the little girl, encountering one mishap after another along the way.

There's more plot than usual here, but it's all so crammed into the 68 minute running time that the finished film feels more like a patchwork of sketches and scenes than a solid feature. Their first feature, Pardon Us, was similarly padded with extended scenes, but that one was at least held together by the prison setting. Here, the Boys go from the battlefields of WWI France to New York City and meet at least a dozen different characters who come and go from the story very quickly. It does allow room for appearances by some great character actors (and L&H regulars), including James Finlayson, Billy Gilbert, Grady Sutton, Charles Middleton, Tom Kennedy, the Boys' old nemesis Rychard Cramer (here playing an abusive stepfather in a genuinely menacing performance), and in a cameo appearance as the vengeful Army cook, director George Marshall. Child actress Jacqui Lyn turns in a delightful performance as the little girl, sharing a particularly funny scene with Laurel, who struggles to stay awake as she recounts the story of the Three Little Bears.

Some of the comedy highlights including an opening scene lifted from the team's 1927 two-reeler, Duck Soup, with the Boys attempting to evade a recruiting officer in the park; the Boys being assigned to KP duty and delivering the kitchen garbage to the dining room of General James Finlayson; interrupting a wedding and mistakenly claiming to have the groom's daughter; and an encounter with the mean orphan asylum agent ("How much would you charge me to haunt a house?" Hardy asks him).

Pack Up Your Troubles isn't one of Laurel and Hardy's strongest features, and the really good comedy scenes are just a bit too few and far between to sustain consistently through the hour-plus running time, but it's still a lot of fun, and is a nice showcase for many of the talented stock company that the team worked with throughout their time at Hal Roach Studios.

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