Today is the anniversary of the release date of Laurel and Hardy’s The Music Box (1932), considered by many to be the greatest comedy of all time. It’s a movie about two idiotic working stiffs moving a piano up the longest outdoor staircase in the world.
Its virtues are primarily formal: it is delightfully well-constructed, in pacing and the organization and proliferation of gags. As always in the best Laurel and hardy comedies, it builds and builds. You constantly figure the concept has to be exhausted, but nope. They keep topping themselves. The beauty is how MUCH comedy they milk out of this simple premise, and how it builds and escalates, and continues to keep on giving all the way through. The repeated obstacles, setbacks, and heartbreaks all the way up the hill.
And then when they reach the top, the heartbreaks don’t stop. The customers aren’t home and the door is locked — but that doesn’t stop Laurel and Hardy. They succeed in destroying the house, the piano, and the hope of any future business.
Directed by James Parrott, this movie won an Oscar for best short in 1932 — one of the few times in history an American comedy masterpiece has gotten the kind of recognition it deserves.
For more on silent and slapstick comedy please check out 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. To find out about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.