Laurel and Hardy

And now a choice of endings… Laurel and Hardy in “Laughing Gravy” 1931.

You can enjoy this film as a two-reeler or as a three-reeler and I’m not sure which one is preferable. The longer ending radically changes the character of the experience.

In many obvious ways this is a remake of Angora Love (1929). Two men, a pet, and a mean landlord. The boys risk eviction from their room should their landlord discover a dog rather than, as previously, a goat. Goats are funnier – dogs are cuter – a comparison which pretty much defines the difference between the two films. The landlord is played by their perennial diminutive antagonist Charley Hall, who delivers one of his more histrionic performances as the mean mean little man who will toss an adorable little dog into the snow without a moment’s qualm.

This film is almost as cold as Below Zero, and Ollie’s plunge into the ice-capped water barrel is almost painful to watch. More than once, Stan is charged with pulling Ollie up a wall. He’s been asked to do this in other films, despite the obvious problems with basic strength to weight ratios. It is notable that while Stan is far more obviously affectionate around Laughing Gravy, Ollie is incapable of deserting the dog either – even when the dog clearly threatens their only form of shelter – and possibly their lives.

In the shorter version, Hall is about to toss Stan and Ollie out into the snow when a cop arrives with a quarantine notice, confining all of them indoors for months. This is more than Hall can bear so he grabs a shotgun and goes to blow his brains out. Hats off everyone.

In the longer version, lost and rediscovered in 1985, Stan receives a telegram telling him that he will inherit a large fortune from his uncle, provided that he pledges to forever separate himself from one Oliver Hardy. What follows is a masterclass from Ollie in extended moral blackmail. Ollie sings at Stan in an effective effort to break Stan’s heart. We are reminded that Ollie depends on Stan more than Stan does on Ollie. Which of them is really “holding the other back”? An interesting and perhaps a perennial question. Stan eventually throws away his fortune, but only to stay with Laughing Gravy.

I find the longer more “sentimental” version harder to watch, because this is the most painfully manipulative version of sentimentality imaginable. Part of you is shouting at the screen to tell Stan to take the money and run. Sudden violent death is rather more mercifully decisive as a way of ending a film. I’m actually happy to have both endings and I can oscillate between them according to my mood.

There is also a third sort of film which edits together Be Big with the shorter Laughing Gravy to give the impression that Stan and Ollie are living in this boarding house following expensive divorces from their wives at the end of the earlier film.

I’ve a few thoughts on some other Laurel and Hardy films.

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