Like all of their films after they left Hal Roach, it is quite terrible. Despite the fact that Laurel had some script and directorial input, and portions of the film are reworkings of their earlier Do Detectives Think? (1927)and Going Bye-Bye (1934),the overall product was disappointing. For Laurel and Hardy it was the last straw; after The Bullfighters, the boys bought their way out of their contract with Fox, despite the large financial loss. A few years later they would make their actual swan song, an independent French-Italian production called Utopia or Atoll K, which would make their awful Fox and MGM films seem like masterpieces.
In The Bullfighters the boys are private detectives who go to Mexico City seeking one “Larceny Nell”. Laurel happens to resemble a top bullfighter. Of course the actual bullfighter can’t show up to a fight one day, and Laurel has to masquerade as him. Though that premise sounds promising, it isn’t well followed up on. There are some very tired, lame bits…a one-up-man-ship scene with splashing water on a conventioneer in a hotel lobby. Trouble getting a cab (a gag that has nothing to do with their characters). And then an almost identical tit-for-that bit involving the girl they are seeking, and eggs, a routine they had done earlier with Lupe Velez in Hollywood party. (This girl simply walks out of the plot at some point. They forget about her entirely).
The film has one memorable gag, and it fact, it’s so good and so strange that I have always remembered it. (I think The Bullfighters may have been the first L&H movie I ever saw, on TV when I was a kid). A bullfighting promoter, whom L&H had erroneously sent to jail several years in the past, vows that if every crosses their paths, he will “skin them alive”. He says it several times through the movie. In the end, the crook catches up with them. Fade to L&H – as walking, talking skeletons.
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 etcTo 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.