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Thicker Than Water & The Fixer Uppers


Thicker Than Water (1935)

     Perhaps coming off a Marx Brothers picture had me ill prepared to enjoy my first Laurel and Hardy shorts or maybe the duo is just not my cup of tea. I caught Thicker Than Water and The Fixer Uppers among the marathon of Laurel and Hardy movies and shorts TCM aired last night as part of its month-long tribute to Hal Roach Studios. I have a few more shorts and feature films recorded, so expect those reviews at some point in the future.

     As mentioned, I had not yet seen a Laurel and Hardy picture, and like the Marx Brothers and Charlie Chaplin, the duo was not a comedy standby I ever had any interest in. But for perhaps no other reason than this blog, I have developed a desire to expand my historical film knowledge and have concluded my expertise would be considerably curtailed if I declined to enjoy these classics. Although I found the pursuit of Marx Brothers and Chaplin movies quite rewarding, I was a bit less-than-jazzed when watching these Laurel and Hardy shorts. Although their bits reminded me some of the Three Stooges, with whose films I have plenty of experience, they were otherwise fairly bland.

     In Thicker than Water, which was the last short the two did before making exclusively feature-length films, Stan Laurel suggests Oliver Hardy withdraw the $300 in his joint bank account he shares with his wife in order to pay off their furniture and eliminate debt collectors from his life. After a firm “no” from his wife, Hardy indeed takes the money with the intent of buying new furniture. He stops by an auction where a woman asks him to keep the bidding for a clock open until she can retrieve her money from home. After Laurel bids against Hardy and drives the price up to $290, the auction closes and the man is stuck paying for the grandfather clock. On the way home the clock is predictably destroyed when run over by a truck. What was fun about this episode is that when Hardy’s wife bashes him about the head with a frying pan, Laurel is forced to give his pal some blood at the hospital. A problem with the procedure results in the swapping back and forth of fluids, and the end result is Laurel “becoming” Hardy and vice versa. It was fun to see how each interpreted the other’s personality.

     The Fixer Uppers was on the same plain with Thicker than Water. When selling holiday cards, the two meet a distraught woman upset because her husband does not seem to care for her as he used to. Laurel proposes she make him jealous by being seen with another man. Hardy volunteers for the job, which heads for disaster when the husband, the best marksman in France, challenges him to a duel. Later, a mixup in identity results in police delivering the passed-out-drunk Laurel and Hardy to the home of the man set on ending Hardy’s life, and the two must find a way to escape with their lives.

     The shorts featured the physical comedy I recognize from the Stooges –or I should say: that the Stooges would later employ– such as the dropping of dishes by Hardy after Laurel sets them on an ignited stove burner. Hardy, at least, seems thoroughly superior intellectually to the Stooges while Laurel is mellowly dimwitted. I would not say Stan and Ollie are not funny, but their gags were relatively lost on me. Perhaps their full-length films will tickle me better.

Source: Robert Osborne


7 Responses

  1. The duo didn’t have many gags, but the ones they did use, over and over, seem to appeal because of their subtlety and light touch. You have to love both of them, but expecially Stan because he is so gentle and in spite of the bullying of Ollie, he seems almost to be providentially protected. All these decades later, their gags are part of our American language: “This is another fine mess you’ve gotten me into.” Perhaps it was a kind of innocence in a time when a lot of people were hurting badly.

    • I do find Stan endearing. His airy gaze and manner of speaking are cute and goofy and he does just let Ollie’s brutality roll off his back.

  2. Give them more of a chance Rachel. You still might not find them your cup of tea, but I love them. Like all comedy teams that did movie shorts, it can be hit or miss.

    Check out this scene from one of their feature length films “Way Out West”. Funny and cute.

    • Very cute. why are dance routines (when not part of a musical) funny? Is it just the absurdity of two people knowing the same moves, which never seems to bother anyone while watching a musical.

  3. Their humor, unlike the Marx Brothers and The Three Stooges, etc., doesn’t come from banana peel or pie in the face gags. Laurel and Hardy are all about refinement, dignity, grace, and decency. When the do have proper gags, their take on the gags are usually an intellectual variation of some sort. To me, Laurel & Hardy are like fine wine and great art, while The Three Stooges are like a day at the races and comic books.

    Both certainly have their place but there’s no doubt that I will always prefer L&H’s comedy.

  4. Stan Laurel was stupid, and he knew it; Oliver Hardy was stupid, but he didn’t know it – therein lies the key to their enduring appreciation.

    With Abbott & Costello, Costello was the eternal child. Abbott was
    the mean, bullying, authority figure who was seldom made to look foolish.

  5. @m gerin

    I’d argue that neither Laurel nor Hardy were “stupid” in any way. Their charm and the brilliance of their characters was that they were grown up children. They were naive in just about all ways, but never ever stupid.

    They were also kind and decent in all ways – even when lashing out at one another.

    Abbott and Costello, on the other hand, were unkind, unfriendly and unlovable. There are no similarities between the art of Laurel and Hardy, and the mugging of Abbott and Costello.

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