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Tit for Tat

Ring a Ding Ding

Tit for Tat (1935)

     Poor Oliver Hardy. Just when I’ve been lulled into thinking Stan Laurel is the greatest thorn in his side, he opens up shop next to an even greater problem. In the 1935 short Tit for Tat, the men establish an electronics sales store next to a grocery. Looking to be kindly neighbors, the men visit the grocery where the conversation hints that one of the men once had a fling with the owner’s wife. He therefore does not desire to be friends.

     The men go about their business, installing new lightbulbs to the store sign. In the process, not only does the bumbling Laurel break a number of bulbs, but he strands his friend on the grocery store’s outside window ledge after propelling a ladder upwards via the basement lift. Greeted at the window by the grocer’s wife, Hardy enters her flat and returns to the ground floor with the lady, leading her husband to suspect an untoward incident. Thus begins the feud that originates in the grocery owner’s insulting of Hardy’s character.

     Going back and forth to each others’ stores, the men fling food, slice up a hat and burn each other with a curling iron. Laurel and Hardy also mock the grocer by eating a marshmallow each time they exit his shop. Eventually, the businessman covers the sweets with alum powder, resulting in some scrunched up faces. Our boys also encase the angry neighbor’s head in lard. What is most absurd about these instances it that no one moves to stop them. Although it is obvious that by taking Hardy’s hat and turning on the meat slicer that the accessory will be destroyed, the men just stand and watch. Although the grocer loads a handful of watches into a blender cup, neither Hardy nor Laurel makes a move to prevent him from grinding them up. On top of everything else, a man has also been stealing items from the electronics shop, exchanging pleasantries with the owners as he goes.

     The comedic duo stuff a lot of nonsense into a half-hour short subject film and prove why they are so well loved and so good at what they did. Tit for Tat might be my favorite of their shorts so far.

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Our Relations

Gasser

Our Relations (1936)

     With every Laurel and Hardy movie or short I watch, I warm more to their humor. Our Relations would be my favorite thus far and is just a riot of misunderstandings.

     Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy open the film at the dinner table with their wives. The two are best friends and when the women are away discuss their twin brothers, which Ollie’s mother writes have been executed after getting into trouble at sea. The rest of the film centers more around those relatives –Alf Laurel and Bert Hardy– and the trouble they create. It turns out that part of the families is in fact not dead, but still working on a boat. They have docked in the same town as their brothers but will not run into them until the film’s close. In the meantime, a shipmate has convinced the men to hand over all but $1 of their salary for him to “save and invest”. The bumbling duo is also tasked with picking up and delivering a package for the captain that turns out to be a rather large pearl ring. While at a restaurant, two young women notice the ring and assume the chaps are loaded, so when the couples join up for a meal, the gals order everything on the menu.

     Alf and Bert have already annoyed the restaurant waiter (Alan Hale) so when they attempt to leave to “get a change of clothes” and their money, the waiter requires them to leave collateral, so they offer up the ring. When they find the shipmate who is keeping their dough, Finn (James Finlayson), he refuses to give the money back … which leads to the stealing/hocking of Finn’s clothes … which progresses to the loaning of Alf and Bert’s clothes back to Finn … which leads to the men wandering about in sheets and towel turbans. I could go on for a while explaining the plot but it only gets more complicated. Eventually the paths of the twins overlap with Stan and Ollie and their wives suspect they’ve cheated on them with the two restaurant dames. The waiter is also taking things out on the wrong Laurel and Hardy, and the pearl ring is being handed off to all the wrong people.

     The first really funny moment for me was when Alf and Bert are initially in the restaurant. In order to talk over their money situation privately, they head for a phone booth. After squeezing in together to chat, the phone rings and a drunk chap carrying armfuls of goods also presses into the small box. Faces are smashed against the glass, Laurel is stepped on and milk is spilt on the men’s heads. Finally, the booth tips over and shatters with the drunk fellow never able to properly hold a conversation with his wife at the other end of the line. The scene was humor without words and really great.

     One scene toward the end has both sets of Laurel and Hardy in the same restaurant. Confusing interaction between the pairs has them mispaired at one point and the viewer starts to question who is who. The movie magic techniques used to place double the Laurel and double the Hardy in one scene at the same time is done in multiple ways. At this restaurant, obvious back projection has one set of protagonists walking behind the other two sitting at a table and vice versa. Other scenes involve body doubles, editing that switches back and forth between the pairs without showing them at the same time, and finally a split screen technique where the respective twins walk side by side without crossing the center line.

     I do not recall Hardy ever visually addressing the camera in Our Relations as he often did to share with the audience his frustration over whatever Laurel was putting him through. In this movie, the two are essentially in the same boat at all times with Laurel being only slightly dimmer than his companion.

The Bohemian Girl

Gasser

Bohemian Girl (1936)

     I previously expressed that I was not totally impressed by Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy after seeing a couple of their shorts and was assured that I should persevere and check out their feature-length films. I’m glad I did because I found The Bohemian Girl quite entertaining. The flick is based on an opera about gypsies and a villainous count’s estate, but the comedic duo’s involvement has little to do with the plot until about halfway through.

 
     After some singing and discussion by the gypsies of how Count Arnheim dislikes their kind so much, we eventually reach Laurel and Hardy sitting outside a wagon. Hardy owns the wagon homestead with his wife, an evil, dominating sort who is having an affair literally right in front of him, and Laurel is the best friend who seems to live with them. The wife ends up kidnapping the young daughter of Count Arnheim –although it’s unclear why because she does not ask a ransom– and telling Ollie it is his daughter. The wife eventually runs off with her beau but announces the child is not in fact Hardy’s before she departs.
 
     Jump to a dozen years later and the girl is grown and living happily with her father and “uncle”. The girl wanders onto the count’s property where she is captured and threatened to be flogged. The men attempt to rescue her, but when the count notices a necklace she wears, he realizes the girl is is daughter.
 
     The Bohemian Girl is loaded with fun bits between the leading men. Sent to find a pouch of Oliver’s money, Stan searches under the pillow of the “sleeping” man and ends up squirming under the entire mattress in his plight and coming face-to-face with an awake Oliver who had to move from his bed to allow his friend’s clumsy efforts.
 
     Laurel continues to win me over as a favorite, especially after a scene alone with some wine. Tasked with bottling a barrel full of the intoxicant, the man gets the liquid flowing through a tube but in between bottles is forced to stick it in his mouth to prevent making a greater mess than he already is. When some bottles are corked, and Stan’s wits are diminishing, it takes even longer to get the wine to the bottle. The goof is pretty sloshed by the time Hardy finds him. I also enjoy that Laurel is quite airheaded and rather “stoned” seeming in his demeanor, yet he continually outsmarts Ollie. He also dupes several town folk with his hypnotic pickpocket routine and even has a man who Hardy sloppily robs arrested for taking back his own property. Needless to say, I’ll be open to more Laurel and Hardy pieces from now on.
    

Thicker Than Water & The Fixer Uppers

Gasser

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

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