Tuesday, 5 August 2014

The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case, 1930

After you read this don’t forget to hop over to Todd Mason’s blog Sweet Freedom for more reviews of Overlooked Films, Audio & Video.

Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy decided that they needed a rest. They had been looking for work since 1921.

If the tagline of this classic Laurel and Hardy movie brings a smile to your face, this short film directed by old L&H hand James Parrott will have you in splits from scene one.

Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy are sitting on the docks with their legs over the side. They are at peace with themselves and with the world. Laurel is trying to catch fish while Hardy is trying to catch forty winks. That is, if Laurel allows him to. Laurel is swinging his fishing tackle—a ball of string tied round a piece of wood—over his head, with the harmless intent of dropping it into the sea and baiting the fish; instead, he hooks it into his friend’s hat and tosses it into the water. And that is just the beginning of their troubles and our laughter.

Matters between the two friends would probably have taken a turn for the worse, if such a thing is indeed possible, if a fish-wrapped newspaper didn’t catch poor Hardy smack in the face. As he pulls the damp and smelly paper away, a news item catches his attention—Ebeneezer Laurel has just died and has left behind a vast estate. Relatives of the wealthy man are advised to gather at the Laurel mansion where the will is to be read.

Hardy, who thinks for both of them, usually with disastrous results, is convinced that Laurel is the long lost heir and that they, mind you, not Laurel alone, are going to become millionaires. He promptly throws his friend’s ingenious tackle into the water.


It’s another story that the only Ebeneezer Laurel our Laurel thinks he knew broke his neck a long time ago.

When Laurel and Hardy reach the mansion on a dark and stormy night, they are greeted by a devilish-looking butler, police detectives, and half-a-dozen claimants to the property. The chief inspector informs the pair that he had planted the notice about the will in the paper so that he could bring all of Ebeneezer’s relatives together in one place. Apparently, the rich man was murdered and the police are investigating the crime.

What follows next is the finest bit of slapstick comedy I have seen. Laurel and Hardy, already scared to death, are shown to their room, which just happens to be the one where Ebeneezer was murdered. The room is in darkness and all the furniture is covered in shrouds of white, giving the place an eerie appearance in candlelight. Our friends are convinced the mansion is haunted. In effect, they become their own worst spooks.

As Laurel and Hardy prepare for bed (they wear their night clothes under their suits), they see ghosts everywhere, in the howling of the wind, in the cat that darts across their bellies, in the bat that hides under their white blanket and takes to the air with it, in the wooden clothes rack that Laurel inadvertently drags through the hall. Each ghostly episode is followed by a fresh round of terrified screams both from Laurel and Hardy and from the assorted guests who run helter-skelter and fall over each other, to the irritation of the police inspector and his gun-toting men.

The film seemingly culminates with the real murderer, a man disguised as a woman, and his accomplice, the butler, luring all the guests one by one into Ebeneezer’s office where a trapdoor swallows them. But then, a film about Laurel and Hardy must end with Laurel and Hardy and it does so in a nice little anticlimax. You won’t see it coming.

If you like slapstick comedy as I do, then this film is for you, for there is no one better at it than Laurel and Hardy. They mean well even if they are not “there” most of the time. Their humourous appeal lies in their utter innocence and in the acceptance of their lot, as they chase one dream after another with little more than a smile to gain.

Highly recommended.

Incidentally, in 1934, MGM released Oliver the Eighth whose plot was loosely based on this film.

16 comments:

  1. I've actually never watched a Laurel and Hardy all the way through.

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    1. Charles, Laurel and Hardy are "regulars" at home and we watch their films quite often.

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  2. Not a film fan but like your enthusiasm!

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    1. Mystica, I have been watching their antics since I was a kid. They are funny only if they are together.

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  3. This sounds a delight, Prashant. I was smiling all the way through. I don't think I've ever seen this but I'll definitely look for it. You're right, the appealing thing about Laurel and Hardy is their innocence in the face of a cruel and capricious world.

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    1. Yvette, it is a delight! This and other L&H films are available on YouTube. They never give up even after all their innocent enterprises fail and when they get into trouble, you want to tell the others to lay off for they really mean well.

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  4. I just love their films - truly make me weep tears of laughter - thanks Prashant.

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    1. Me too, Sergio. I watch their films all through the year. I also have a stack of CDs that are no longer available in the stores. I don't lend them to anyone. Their solo acts are not as hilarious as when they are together.

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  5. Haven't seen one of these for years and I'm unsure if I ever managed to watch all the way through either. I probably couldn't now either.

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    1. Col, I'm surprised that Laurel and Hardy are no longer as popular in the West as they are in countries like India. People of my generation, for instance, still speak fondly of L&H even if they no longer see their movies. They remain my favourite on-screen comedians.

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  6. I can remember seeing Laurel and Hardy as a child. In fact they remind me of childhood. I'm not sure I'd be able to watch them now.

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    1. Rebecca, I frequently watch Laurel and Hardy and other black-and-white comedy films of their era, like Charles Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Marx Bros, and Three Stooges, though L&H will always be my favourite.

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  7. I enjoy Laurel and Hardy in Hollywood Party (an old Jimmy Durante movie) but not if I watch too much of them.

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    1. Tracy, I'm sure I have seen HOLLYWOOD PARTY for I'm quite sure I have seen everything by Laurel and Hardy including many of their solo acts that are not as funny. I never tire of watching them.

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  8. Your enthusiasm for this film is infectious Prashant. We loved them when we were children, but I haven't seen one for years.

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    1. Moira, thank you. I still enjoy watching the innocent duo make innocent fools out of themselves. They live in a world of their own uninhabited by cares and worries as we know them.

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