The Talkie Comedy Shorts of Laurel and Hardy

This post is the sequel to our earlier one about Laurel and Hardy’s silent comedies. It covers all of the team’s talkie shorts for Hal Roach from 1929 through 1935, excluding their features, which already have their own individual posts on this blog, as well as their cameos in other people’s films and all-star comedies, as well as their foreign language versions of their American comedies. Like you, I’ll bet, I’m very much looking to Stan and Ollie‘s American release later this month! And for more info on the comedy team of Laurel and Hardy, check out the Laurel and Hardy section of Travalanche, with close to 50 articles on the team. Herewith, their talkie shorts, chronologically:

1929

Unaccustomed As We Are

The boys hit the ground running in their first talkie 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. This movie was later remade as the second part of Blockheads (1938).

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.

Berth Marks

Trouble on a train. That’s really all it is. Laurel and Hardy play two vaudevillians on their way to a gig in “Pottsville” with a cello. Events conspire to make them almost miss the train: they can’t find each other, the train announcer is hilariously difficult to understand, and then they trip and have to gather up all of their dropped sheet music. The bulk of the movie is spent with the pair of them trying to climb into their berth and get comfortable. By the time they do, their stop is announced and they have to scramble back out, still in their long johns. Naturally, when they take an inventory at the Pottsville depot they realize they’ve left the cello on the departiing train. As a funny subplot, they’ve set off a chain reaction of epidemic jacket-ripping on the train; in a way, it feels like they’ve gotten a certain amount of inadvertent revenge against the world.

Men O’War

Stan and Ollie are a couple of sailors on shore leave walking in a park with a lake. Some lost gloves create the opportunity for them to start up a conversation with a pair of cute girls and they go on a date to the soda fountain. Jimmy Finlayson is the soda jerk. Hardy has no money, and learns that Laurel only has 15 cents, just enough only for three sodas. Hardy’s plan (and it’s not a very clever or nice one), is for Laurel to pretend that he doesn’t want a drink. But each time Ollie asks, Stanley forgets and orders a soda too. This happens a couple of times. When the drinks finally arrive Laurel drinks all of Hardy’s soda. Then it turns out the tab is 30 cents anyway. Hardy leaves Laurel to deal with the predicament. Disaster seems to loom when Laurel puts one of the nickels in the slot machine, but he wins. They pay their tab, buy the girls several gifts, and then take them out on the lake for a rowboat ride — with predictable mishigas there as well.

Perfect Day

The Boys, their wives , and an uncle-in-law with gout are about to embark on a picnic but never get any further than the street outside their house. They drop all the sandwiches, they break the thermos, they get a flat tire, they get into an altercation with their neighbor, they develop engine trouble. They finally get going and it’s raining and their car falls into a giant hole full of water like the one in the Charley Chase comedy All Wet. Both films were directed by James Parrott so no surprise.

They Go Boom

Laurel and Hardy are staying at a hotel. Hardy has a cold and sneezing. One sneeze makes a shade roll up. Another makes a painting fall down on top of them (as always, the pair sleep in the same bed, like children). Laurel goes to nail the painting back up, and punctures a water pipe. Hardy gets doused. More slop business with a tub of hot water. Their landlord (Charlie Hall) comes in complains about noise, then departs after a shoving match.  Now that bed is soaked with water, the boys pump up an air mattress, then go to bed not realizing pump is still going. When they wake up the bed has expanded all the way to the ceiling. Then the bed explodes!

The Hoose-Gow

Laurel and Hardy are unloaded with a huge number of other guys at the gates of a prison. They protest that they had only been “watching the raid”, i.e. a raid at a speakeasy, when they got scooped up and erroneously arrested, but that doesn’t wash with the guard. Into the hoose-gow they go. Later come many conflicts with the warden, the governor, and a prison inspector that all anticipate the team’s first feature Pardon Us.

1930

Night Owls

Edgar Kennedy plays a cop who’s in trouble with chief because he hasn’t caught a neighborhood burglar. He strikes a deal with Laurel and Hardy — he won’t arrest them for vagrancy if they’ll agree to burgle the chief’s house and get caught by him (he’ll free them later he assures them). In the end, Kennedy gets caught red-handed and the boys escape.

Blotto

Laurel is anxious to sneak out for a night on the town with Hardy, but his gorgeous wife (Anita Garvin) is keeping a watchful eye. She overhears a plan between the two of them to steal a bottle of his wife’s liquor (this is still prohibition) so they can whoop it up. Out of sheer spite she dumps out the liquor and replaces it with a concoction of cold tea and spices. The guys go to the nightclub and make a spectacle of themselves. Then they drink the bottle and get wasted even though it contains no liquor. The wife shows up later with a shot gun and begins blasting. This is the first movie to use the familiar “Dance of the Cuckoos” as Laurel and Hardy’s theme song.

Brats

Hilarious, insane! This is the one where Laurel and Hardy play their own kids, using split screen effects and oversized sets. The Laurel and Hardy “fathers” sit playing checkers. The Laurel and Hardy “boys” are playing with blocks but keeping making a disturbance. The fathers send them to bed. Then the action really gets cooking. Baby Ollie stands on opened bureau drawers, falls through. Father Ollie falls on roller skates. Downstairs the fathers are trying to play pool. Finally, Baby Ollie falls in a bathtu and a mess of water comes through the ceiling downstairs on top of the pool table. The fathers storm upstairs. The kids pretend to sleep. Ollie sings to them. One asks for glass of water. A door is opened: the entire bathroom having been filled to the top with water, gushes out.

Below Zero

The pair are a couple of street musicians in the dead of winter, Laurel on harmonium, and Hardy on a bass fiddle. They have one number: “In the Good Old Summertime”. People hate them: throw snowballs at them, pay them not to play. One woman breaks the bass over Hardy’s head and throws Laurel’s harmonium into the street where it is run over by a truck. Fortunately just in the nick of time they find a wallet full of money. A crook is just about to rob them of it, when a cop comes and chases him away. In gratitude, they take him to a restaurant and the three eat an enormous meal. When they go to pay the cop notices that it his wallet. He pays for his own food then leaves the other two to be beaten to a pulp by waiters. Then they are tossed into the street. Laurel is put into a barrel of ice water. He drinks the entire contents, emerging as a big ball of ice.

Hog Wild

Perfectly written, performed shot and edited. Essentially three set pieces. In the first Ollie makes an ass out of himself because he can’t find his hat (it’s on his head). The second, the meat of the picture, concerns his attempts to install a radio antenna on the roof, with Stanley as his assistant – a symphony of slapstick. You’d think this sort of thing would strike you as worn and clichéd, but instead it’s exquisite. It’s like a piece of music. And then: the piece de resistance. Ollie’s had his ladder resting on the back of Stan’s car so that it’ll reach the roof. Stan accidentally lets the break out and the car goes rolling through town at breakneck speed with Ollie precariously at the top of it, moaning in terror. The cherry on top is the car getting  crushed like an accordion between two trolleys.

The Laurel and Hardy Murder Case

Not the team’s best and I don’t think it’s just because this movie was remade a thousand times by the likes of the Three Stooges, Abbott and Costello and the Bowery Boys so we’ve seen it a zillion times. The gags aren’t really unique or clever compared with most of their other Roach work. The pair play a couple of idlers sitting on a dock. Laurel is fishing; Hardy is trying to nap, but that can’t possibly last long with Laurel fishing next to him. Then Hardy spots an item in the newspaper; the heir to Ebeneezer Laurel is being sought: he may inherit a fortune. The boys race to the mansion and from here it becomes a parody of all the Old Dark House type plays and movies, such as The Bat, The Cat and the Canary, and, well, The Old Dark House. A detective suspects murder, so he is forcing all of the Laurels to stay in the house until he gets to the bottom of it. There is of course a thunderstorm. Stan and Ollie have to stay in the room where the old man was murdered, and there we get the meat of the film….essentially repetitious variations on silly scares. A spook at the foot of the bed turns out to be a painting. A bat somehow gets covered in a sheet and flies around the room so it looks like a ghost. A couple of Ollie’s howls of fright are funny, but in general, compared with their usual level of work, it feels labored and unimaginative. But the twist at the end almost redeems it.

1931

Another Fine Mess

A long short — nearly a feature. Laurel and Hardy escape from cops and jump into a mansion just as people are showing up to rent it for 6 months (the owner is going on an extended trip.) Hardy masquerades and the maid. In the end they get caught, and escape on a tandem bicycle covered in a bearskin. It is based on their earlier silent film Duck Soup, which is in turn based on the 1908 play Home from the Honeymoon, written by Laurel’s father Stanley Jefferson. 

Laughing Gravy

It’s brutally cold outside: snowing, icicles. Laurel and Hardy are in bed. Laurel is snoring, which wakes their dog, which starts barking. The landlord comes in and throws the dog out of the apartment. Hardy sneaks down to get the dog but is locked out. Laurel tries to to lift him up to window on tied together sheets. Ollie falls in an icy barrel of water. Laurel comes down, lets him up. The landlord comes back. They put dog up the chimney. When the landlord goes, Laurel climbs onto roof to get the dog. Hardy tries to help and get stuck in the chimney. Finally they get back in the house, all covered in soot,and give the dog and themselves a sloppy, sudsy bath. The landlord kicks them all out. Just as they are leaving, a cop comes and quarantines the house for two months. “Laughing Gravy” is the name of the dog!

Be Big

Hilarious! Laurel and Hardy and their wives are preparing to go down to Atlantic City for the weekend when Hardy gets a call from a lodge brother saying he is to be the guest of honor at a wild party. Hardy pretends to be sick and sends the wives ahead on the trip without them. The guys get ready to go to the party. The bulk of the movie is spent with the two of them trying to get Laurel’s boots off of Hardy’s feet. Meanwhile the wives have missed their trains and are heading home. When they get home and catch the boys, they haven’t even gone anywhere yet! That doesn’t stop them from trying to hide in the Murphy bed. The wives shoot it with rifles and the boys tumble backwards through the brick wall outside the house!

Chickens Come Home

A kind of parody of political melodramas. We open on Laurel and Hardy as fertilizer dealers—apparently it is quite a concern, with several secretaries etc. Hardy lives in a mansion with servants. He’s running for mayor. Laurel, despite a name on the sign, is really an assistant to Hardy. Mae Busch shows up as a wicked woman from Hardy’s past and threatens to blackmail him. Then Hardy’s wife Thelma Todd shows up. Hardy locks Mae in the bathroom. Mrs. Hardy tells him she’s planning a fancy dinner party with important people that night. Ollie must go (but he was supposed to meet Mae that night to pay her off). He sends her on her way, muttering threats. He makes Laurel call his own wife and say that he’ll be home late. Mrs. Laurel refuses to allow it, but Hardy tells Laurel to do it anyway, sending Laurel to stall Mae while he goes home to the dinner party. Mae keeps phoning Hardy, causing embarrassment at the party. Laurel tries to keep her at the house.  Eventually they squabble and she charges out. Mrs. Laurel’s friend sees them and tattles to the wife. Laurel shows up at the Hardy house, Hardy says Mae is “Mrs Hardy”. They knock her out somehow and try the old bit of carrying her out on shoulders with coat over the two of them. Then the real Mrs. L shows up and chases the lot of them.

Our Wife

Ollie is preparing to get married to his sweetheart (Babe London). He’s as giddy as a bride, humming the Wedding March, practicing his “I do”s and swishing around in a floral print kimono. Meanwhile, Stanley is tending to the cake. When it gets covered with flies, Stan spritzes it with insecticide, which Ollie then mistakes for his atomizer and sprays in his mouth. Meanwhile the chubby bride’s father (Jimmy Finlayson) has caught wind of the groom and raised his objections, apparently based solely on an unflattering photograph. The two must elope. Unfortunately the car Stanley arranges is a tiny go-cart. There is a lengthy scene of the the three of them trying to cram into it. Finally they make it to the Justice of the Peace – who turns out to be Ben Turpin! The famously cross-eyed Turpin accidentally marries the bride to Stanley, and then kisses Ollie.

Come Clean

This hilarious short opens with a retread of the opening of their 1928 silent Should Married Men Go Home? , with the Hardys enjoying a quiet evening at home, and then being annoyed by a surprise visit by Stanley, who brings his wife this time. Laurel is particularly Langdonesque in this one, borrowing the full vocabulary of Langdon’s gestures, and behaving so stupidly he ought to be institutionalized. After making a nuisance of himself by requesting ice cream, he creates unending frustration at the sweet shop by requesting flavors that he has plainly been told they do not have. On the way back home the boys encounter trouble in the form of Mae Busch, as a confidence woman who railroads men by pretending to commit suicide by jumping off a bridge and then blackmailing them after they rescue her, under threat of crying rape. The bulk of the film concerns the trouble she causes when she follows Laurel and Hardy all the way up to the Hardy’s apartment and the boys try to hide her from their wives. In short, they do not COME CLEAN.

One Good Turn

One of the few Laurel and Hardy shorts I’ve seen that deals with the great depression, which was then at its depths. They are two itinerants, camping out. Laurel burns down their tent, and then disposes of the last of their food (soup) by pouring it on the fire. This is after he attempts to extinguish it one cup of water at a time (an old Arbuckle gag). To add to the absurdity of the moment, the pump appears to have been conveniently located in the middle of a pond full of water. They go a-begging at an old woman’s house. She feeds them. Whilst they eat, they overhear her and her friend Jimmy Finlayson rehearsing a melodrama and mistake the exchange for reality. They go out to raise $100 (for her mortgage payment, they think) and attempt to auction off their car. A drunk (Billy Gilbert) bids the necessary sum, but Laurel spoils the moment when he announces the time (“1:25!”) to an old man who asks. Later Hardy finds a wallet full of money left in Laurel’s pocket by the drunk. They two tussle and the car collapses into pieces. Hardy forces him to return what he thinks is stolen money to the old lady. When the truth comes out, Laurel is furious and goes into a rare frenzy, chasing after Hardy with an ax, collapsing a garage on top of him, and bouncing firewood off his head!

Beau Hunks

This is the longish short that was later remade (and padded to full length) as Flying Deuces. I guess the title is a play on Beau Geste. The boys join the French Foreign Legion to help Hardy forget a woman. (Hilarious that Stan would come along!) They are inept soldiers of course—but not really. They get separated from their company and end up beating them to a fort that is under siege by Arabs. They save the fort by throwing down tacks(!) so that the e bare-footed enemy end up hopping up and down in agony until reinforcements arrive. Hardy personally delivers the Arab chief to his post commander. Then Stan spoils the whole reason for being there in the first place (forgetting the girl) by accidentally showing him a picture of her.

1932

Helpmates

The plot of this one is deceptively simple, but the pair have no trouble filling twenty-plus minutes with comedy business on the premise. Ollie wakes up with a hangover in the aftermath of what was clearly an exceedingly wild party at his house. The joint is a total shambles. He has just learned that his wife (who has been away for a week) is about to come home early. He has only a couple of hours to get the house clean for her arrival. So he makes the mistake of asking Stan to come help him. With Stanley’s help, the remainder of the house gets destroyed. They haven’t even yet begun to clean up by the time Stan has doused the whole house with pans of water, broken windows and all of the dishes, ruined all of Ollie’s clothes, and exploded the gas stove. By then the wife has arrived at the depot. Ollie heads out wearing the only clothes he has left: his Knights of Columbus uniform. He returns a short while later with a black eye and no wife. Only to learn that Stan has put the coup de grace to his house by burning it to the ground.

Any Old Port

The boys are a couple of salts just off a whaling vessel. They check into sailor’s boarding house run by a character named Mugsy, one of the most hilariously heinous heavies in comedy history, played by Walter Long. They gallantly rescue Mugsy’s washerwoman from a forced marriage to Mugsy, but then are stranded without a dollar (Stan left their purse in the room). To make some dough, Ollie volunteers Stan for a boxing match. The opponent turns out to be…Mugsy! But that’s okay, because Stan has accidentally put on Mugsy’s boxing glove, which has a horseshoe in it. He wins the bout, which isn’t such a great development after all. Ollie has bet all their money against him.

The Music Box

Directed by James Parrott, The Music Box 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 this film is considered by many to be the greatest comedy of all time. It’s a film 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.

The Chimp

Jimmy Finlayson as a circus ringmaster. Tiny Sandford as a strongman who catches cannonballs. Laurel & Hardy are his assistants. Much hilarious business with cannons and cannonballs, culminating in thedestruction of the entire circus tent. The circus folds and breaks up; the owner divides the show up in lieu of pay. Hardy gets a chimp in a tutu (actually a guy in a gorilla suit). Laurel gets a flea circus. The rest of the movie concerns their travails trying to sneak the chimp into a boarding house, fleeing a lion, and lyin’ with fleas.

County Hospital

This classic I hold to be highly influential. Chaplin had made comedy with wheelchairs and legs in casts before, but here Laurel and Hardy pioneer business with the broken leg being held up by straps and a pulley. This is the one where Laurel goes to crack a walnut with the counterweight holding up Hardy’s broken leg in the cast. Later he hangs from an open window high above the street – they always take a concept as far as it can go.

Scram

In this classic, a mean judge (Richard Cramer) has Laurel and Hardy on the dock for vagrancy. Because the jail is full, he gives them one hour to get out of town. Instead, they meet up with a friendly drunk (Arthur Housman) and help him find his key. In gratitude he brings them back to his mansion, where they revel in the luxury, putting on silk pajamas and smoking cigars. But of course it turns out to be the wrong mansion. The drunk is shown the door by the butler, leaving Laurel and Hardy innocently trespassing in someone else’s house. Encountering the terrified woman of the house (Vivien Beaumont) they accidentally calm her down with some bootleg liquor, which was poured into a pitcher by their inebriate friend. The three are having a jolly old time whooping it up when the actual man of the house returns home  — a twist right out of the pages of the Mack Sennett playbook.

Their First Mistake

Hardy is the hen-pecked husband of holy terror Mae Busch. She is steamed up because Ollie keeps going out nights with Stan, leaving her alone. After she catches him in a lie she beats him up and it comes to a head. Laurel gets the bright idea that Ollie should adopt a baby to keep the wife busy so he can continue to carouse. So he adopts one. The trouble is, when he comes home he learns that his wife has left him (suing Laurel for alienation of affections!). Hilariously Hardy is not remotely upset about losing his wife, but he is irritated about having to raise the baby alone. He makes Stan stay and help him. Laurel tries to soothe the crying infant by violently shaking a rattle and cowbell. “Why don’t you give it something to eat? “A great pre-code gag: Laurel sits down and starts to unbutton his night shirt. Hilarious look from Ollie as he concludes, as we do, that Laurel intends to breastfeed the baby. Close! He finally pulls a bottle out. Much mishigas with trying to get the baby asleep, turning out the light, preparing bottles – they practically destroy the house. In the end, a hilarious and fairly weird scene where Hardy accidentally feeds the bottle to Laurel. And then it just ends, without ever resolving the issue of Hardy’s marriage or the fact that he is now a parent!

Towed in a Hole

Great opening: they’re driving along selling fish. Oliver singing out their wares (in a great blues voice), and Laurel tooting a horn. They are pleased at having made money at their fish selling enterprise. Laurel suggests they cut out the middleman and catch the fish themselves. (As though such a thing were easy). Next bit is on the boat, with Hardy trying to paint it, and Laurel causing all kinds of problems. He keeps hitting the till, so that the rudder hits Hardy , knocks him into paint buckets. Later, as he is trying to paint the mast, Laurel keeps coming out of the hatch making him fall onto wet paint. His last mistake: he leans a very tall ladder on mast. He’s painting at the top. Down below Laurel has become trapped between the mast and the wall somehow. His solution is to saw the mast in half. It comes crashing down—Hardy does a hilarious scream as he falls, and lands in a puddle.

1933

Twice Two

Another classic. This is the one where they play each others’ wives in addition to their own parts. A dinner party turns into a spat.

Me and My Pal

Hardy is a rich young executive who has worked his way all the way to the top from elevator boy. He is just about to marry the daughter of oil magnate James Finlayson when his assistant Laurel arrives with a present – a jig saw puzzle. The puzzle proves diabolical, drawing everyone in (Laurel, Hardy, Hardy’s butler, a cab driver, a cop) so that it causes a catastrophic delay in Hardy’s getting to the wedding. Exasperated Finlayson finally shows up at the house and gets into a fight with the cop. This causes the arrival of an entire squad and a general melee in the house (hilarious gag with Laurel being thrown the air). The house is destroyed, Finlayson and others are hauled off to jail, and as a capper, we learn that telegram that Laurel forgot to show Hardy contained vital financial information, and now Hardy is ruined.

The Midnight Patrol

In this classic, the boys play a couple of police patrolmen on what turns out to have been their first day of work. They are of course colossally inept at their jobs. Laurel mistakes a safe-cracker for the actual owner of the store he is burglarizing, even going so far as to assist him in opening the safe. When Hardy arrives and properly identifies him as a criminal, rather than arrest him, he haggles with him over the date of a court appointment. The film’s climactic scene involves the apprehension of the perpetrator of a house break-in (who turns out not only to have been the homeowner who’d left the house without his keys but their own chief of police.). The boys not arrest him but knock him out, but are summarily shot for their troubles. A couple of notable gag sequences.One, in which Laurel and Hardy are using a marble bench seat for a battering ram and Hardy winds up trapped under it in a fountain, nearly drowning (the team often gets this dark). Laurel’s dithering while Hardy nearly smothers is straight from the Harry Langdon playbook. In fact, he is for all intents and purposes, just doing Harry Langdon. Another sequence is notable for its excellent direction. The boys smash through the door to the house, fall through a staircase, and land in the basement in a barrel of sauerkraut: a nice little sequence for budding slapstick directors to study.

Busy Bodies

This movie has perhaps the best comedy sequence ever. The pair are working in wood shop. It starts very slowly—pretty much all silent?  Laurel accidentally goes over Hardy’s butt with a rasp. This leads to a battle with boards and tools, culminating with Hardy getting sucked out a ventilator shaft and stuck in an opening 60 feet off the ground. Laurel climbs a tall ladder to help him. The pair eventually fall to the earth crushing a shed containing their boss. Then they attempt drive off in a car that has been cut in half by a buzz saw. This is masterful. There’s nothing like it in the work of previous silent masters. A symphony.

Dirty Work

This little comedy rests on duel premises, either of which would be right at home in a Three Stooges comedy. Firstly, the pair are a couple of chimney sweeps, with all the predictable destruction ensuing. The stuff on the mantelpiece gets it first (it has been resting on the dropcloth the boys have so carefully placed there to prevent soot from escaping. Fat chance! The tarp is soon out of the picture.) Hardy goes on the roof, promptly falling back to earth and being smacked in the face by brushes. Eventually, the upper chimney collapses and brick work fills the fireplace. The room is covered in soot, much of the furniture is broken. Meanwhile (the second set-up): this happens to be the home of a mad scientist who has been working on a rejuvenation potion. He tries his serum on a duck; it reverts to a duckling. Later he puts the ducking back in and it turns back to an egg. Naturally, Oliver too will accidentally fall into the tank…and turns into a baby chimp.

1934

Oliver the Eighth

Hilarious! Laurel and Hardy are barbers. Laurel sees an ad in the paper: “rich woman seeking husband”. They both write letters of application but Hardy doesn’t mail Laurel’s. Ollie gets a reply, and abandons Stanley. When he gets to the house he sees that that the woman (Mae Busch) is crazy and hates all men name Oliver. A man named Oliver once left her standing at the altar! So far she has slit the throats of 7 Olivers—Hardy will be Oliver the Eighth.  She and her butler (a Boris Karloff impersonator) are insane. Laurel arrives for a piece of the action, having learned that Hardy hadn’t delivered the letter. After a crazy dinner, they are locked in room. Afraid of getting murdered, they agree to take turns staying awake. Of course Laurel falls asleep when he’s supposed to be on watch. Hardy rigs a device with a candle string and brick. Laurel sees a foot, thinks it’s a hand at the foot of the bed, and shoots—but it’s Hardy’s foot, of course. Then the brick falls on Hardy’s head. Finally the woman shows up, and puts the blade at his throat. In the end, Hardy wakes up. He is barber shop with Laurel shaving him and dreamed the whole thing.

Going Bye-Bye

This is the classic one where Laurel and Hardy antagonize a monstrous criminal (Walter Long), giving the testimony that sends him to jail for life, then expressing disappointment that he isn’t hung. He vows to escape and tie their legs around their necks. Understandably nervous, they plan to get out of town. They place an ad in the newspaper seeking partners to share expenses on a cross country trip. The ad is answered by sexy Mae Busch, which seems fine at first, until she turns out to be the gun moll for the same criminal the boys have sent up the river. And he has escaped and is hiding in a trunk in Mae’s apartment. Now he is stuck. The boys arrive at Mae’s place and set about trying to free the man in the trunk, whom they have no idea is the crook. In trying to free him they inadvertently do everything possible to work him into a lather: poke him with a hand drill, set him on fire, drown him in water. When he gets out and sees them, he goes berserk, and does indeed tie their legs around their necks before being subdued by arriving police. This is one of Laurel and Hardy’s most nicely focused comedies, nice clean story line, every detail on point.

Them Thar Hills

Laurel and Hardy go camping in the woods and accidentally drink moonshine that has been poured down a well. They become obnoxious and irritate a man (Charlie Hall) by flirting with his wife; etc. This one was such a hit they made a sequel.

The Live Ghost

The Live Ghost is a classic “haunted ship” scenario. The boys are forced to shanghai an entire crew of sailors and then pressed into service themselves. When the rest of the crew is off on shore leave, all it takes is an errant bucket of whitewash to turn one of their fellow shipmates into…you guessed it.  Look for one of our favorite comediennes Mae Busch as a quayside prostitute towards the end! The sight gag that tops the movie off is priceless.

1935

Tit for Tat

A sequel to Them Thar Hills. Laurel and Hardy own a store adjacent to the same man from the camping exchange; and the two take turns humiliating each other. This phrase, “Tit for tat” is what the team called their perennial routine of one-upsmanship going back to their earliest days as a silent comedy team. One guy accidentally sits on the other’s hat; the other guy puts his fist through the first guy’s hat in response. This film is entirely built of such exchanges, resulting in the total destruction of their stores.

The Fixer Uppers 

Hilarious comedy, excellently structured. The two are Christmas card salesmen. Mae Busch is blue over her husband’s lack of attention. They agree to a plan to make him jealous. Unfortunately the husband is the psychotic Charles Middleton and he is TOO jealous, challenging Hardy to a duel. The boys flee, get drunk, fall asleep and are delivered right back to the same spot because Hardy has Middleton’s card in his pocket.

Thicker Than Water

Hilarious, fairly perfect comedy, consisting of four segments. In the first Laurel, who rooms with Hardy and Mrs. Hardy (Daphne Pollard) causes a major confusion when he gives the furniture money (given to him by Hardy to pay furniture man Jimmy Finlayson) back to Hardy as his own rent. The second segment is a priceless dish washing routine, predictable, and thus all the more hilarious. Then Laurel persuades the hen-pecked Hardy to stand up to his wife and take all his money out of the bank to buy furniture. The boys go to an auction and accidentally end up in a bidding war against each other to purchase a cuckoo clock, which ends up costing them $290. They immediately destroy the cuckoo clock. Mrs. Hardy is so mad she clobbers Ollie with a frying pan. In the last segment, Ollie is in the hospital recovering from the attack. For some unknown reason, the doctors give Ollie a blood transfusion, using Stanley’s blood. The two wind up with reversed personalities, each comedian playing the other. Too many priceless bits of business in this comedy to count. But here are two of my favorites. In one, when Hardy has been hit over the frying pan, he waves goodbye to Stanley as he falls unconscious. In another, Stanley, eager to avoid Mrs. Hardy’s retribution, reaches over and pulls the film frame into the next scene at the hospital. I want more gags like this in the world!

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By this point, Laurel and Hardy had a few features under their belts. Over the next decade, they made only feature length comedies; good ones for five years, not so good ones for another five. Then after another five years they came back for one unfortunate last feature. And lots and lots of live performances, as chronicled in Stan and Ollie. For much more on on the team see the special section here.