Laurel and Hardy

Leave ’em Laughing (1928). Gas attack in Culver City.

Ollie is not smarter than Stan. This is many times illustrated over the course of decades, but never more aptly than here.

Stan can’t sleep for toothache. A bandage is wrapped around his jaw and looped at the top so as to give him bunny ears. Stan’s character (as subsequent films show) can not only waggle his real ears, his fake bunny ears are also sentient and react to painful stimuli. In the meantime, barefoot Ollie will tread on a drawing pin – throw it away – and tread on it again, just as he’ll be bashed by a bathroom cabinet door swinging back at him twice within a minute.

Stan is evicted from the only bed for emptying the hot water bottle in it and Ollie determines to remove the tooth there and then. The usual door handle efforts don’t work, and only succeed in waking the landlord, the ubiquitous Charley Hall, who tells them to begone in the morning. The three of them hit one another is a strange slow desultory fashion and then Stan and Ollie return to bed. Which collapses.

The dentist waiting room scene the next day builds up the violence of this particular practitioner to the extent that you’d rather be worked on my Laurence Olivier in Marathon Man. When Torquemada tells Stan that it’s his turn, Stan passes out instantly – which ought to make the dentistry easier, except that Stan then responds to the laughing gas by waking up again. Ollie and Torquemada then have to devise a plan to actually subdue Stan for the duration of the extraction. Suffice to say, as a result of some confusion, it is Ollie’s not Stan’s tooth that’s removed. I love to watch Ollie’s face as his tongue moves around inside his mouth, establishing the fact of the missing tooth. In the rage that follows, laughing gas is released and starts to fill the whole room. Two nurses are afflicted and disinhibited by the gas – but meanwhile Stan and Ollie return to their Model T. Ford and start to drive under the influence.

The remainder of the film consists of a confrontation with a traffic cop played, predictably, by Edgar Kennedy in his first of many Laurel and Hardy films. The hapless gassed up duo hit cars fore and aft whenever they’re told to stay still and stay still when they’re told to move, laughing hysterically all the while. Kennedy’s traffic cop is partially to blame for the eventual situation by bundling them back into their vehicle when they clearly need to be separated from it. There’s something very satisfying about seeing law enforcement with trousers around its ankles, and it’s odd that the humiliation of the traffic cop does not seem to provoke infectious laughter among the good people of Culver City, even without the benefit of laughing gas.

Ultimately, Edgar Kennedy takes the wheel himself to drive Stan and Ollie to jail, before turning a corner into one of those treacherously deep muddy holes that seem to bedevil Culver City’s streets. As they become completely submerged, Stan and Ollie continue to howl with mirth. It’s a somewhat artificial and abrupt conclusion to the movie, but obviously two reels of film have now been used up.

This is a simple little film which demonstrates how early in their career, Laurel and Hardy had everything right. Their characters relate to each other and to other people in ways that would be consistent and joyously predictable for the next decade. Bless this little film. Oh bless.

Nitrous Oxide is now recognised as a Greenhouse Gas and its agricultural over-applications may have troubling implications for the planet. But remember folks – Stan and Ollie were only acting.

I do have a few thoughts on some even earlier Laurel and Hardy silent films by the way…

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