Today marks the anniversary of the release date of Laurel and Hardy classic silent short From Soup to Nuts (1928).
The film was directed by Edgar Kennedy, a terrific comedian in his own right who dabbled in directing on a couple of occasions. From Soup to Nuts is perhaps the first occasion when Laurel and Hardy were officially a team, where they function as the characters we recognize. (For over a decade they each had played countless other characters in films both together and separately).
The “plot” is beyond simple, and it was used many times subsequently both by L & H (notably in 1940’s A Chump at Oxford) and by other teams such as The Three Stooges. The boys are hired as servants to work a fancy dinner party. (Their nouveau riche employers are Tiny Sandford and Anita Garvin. The chef is Otto Fries). Then STUFF happens. Hardy keeps slipping on the same banana peel that keeps getting tossed to a different spot. Crockery is broken. Cakes fall on heads. Pants split open at the back. When Laurel is told to bring the salad out undressed he comes back in his underwear.
I learned an interesting aspect of the dynamics of silent cinema from watching this film. Because there is no soundscape to remind us about what’s offscreen, the shot we are looking at exists in isolation. What we see is the only reality. There is no “offscreen” to be aware of. Thus Hardy can flounder on the floor with his face in a large cake for an unrealistically long period of time without us even wondering or thinking about what is going on at the dinner table at the same time. The dinner table, for all intents and purposes, doesn’t exist in that moment.
For more on comedy film history see my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc For more on show biz history, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.