Today is the anniversary of the release date of Laurel and Hardy’s first talkie, Unaccustomed As We Are (1929).
The boys hit the ground running in this short; it’s among the best “first talkies” ever made. Not only did their voices turn out to be perfect for their characters (much to the delight of audiences), but they use sound cleverly and creatively in the film. (Indeed the bar is set higher than would later be the norm).
The plot: Ollie presumptuously brings Stan home to meet the wife (Mae Busch) so that he can enjoy one of her home cooked dinners, volunteering her services as chef. She is hilariously furious. In one of my favorite little routines in the world, while she is ranting, Ollie puts on a record album to drown her out, and her complaining starts to come out in rhythm to the music so that it starts to sound like hip hop! (This is what I mean by creative used of sound).
Mrs. Hardy storms out and goes home to mother. The boys attempt to cook dinner, causing a gas explosion with the stove. Meanwhile we’ve met the gorgeous neighbor lady Thelma Todd. She comes over to help cook. Her dress catches fire, so it has to come off. Because this is pre-code, we get the side benefit of Thelma Todd in negligee and stockings! Then her husband, policeman Edgar Kennedy comes over. In a panic, the boys hide her in a trunk. Then Mrs. Hardy comes back to make up with Ollie. The cop, hearing a girl inside the apartment, sneaks the trunk to his place as a “favor” to the boys, all the way boasting about all the girls he’s had “on the side”. Thelma jumps out of the trunk and beats him up. Then Edgar comes over and beats up Ollie. And because this is Laurel and Hardy, there are still several additional gags to follow up this obvious finish to the picture.
This movie was later remade as the second part of Blockheads (1938).
For more on comedy film history 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.