Laurel and Hardy

There are no ghosts. Not a hint of one. Laurel and Hardy in “A Haunting We Will Go” (1942).

There are no ghosts in this story. There are no hauntings. This title is, accordingly, a strained pun that collapses with its own irrelevance. As a stupid movie title it vies for attention with Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked (2011), a film with no shipwreck.

And so, fellow completists, we confront this second bafflingly desperate attempt by Fox studios to find gainful employment for the world’s greatest double act. You could have paid to have Stan and Ollie filmed for an hour in an ordinary room with just a small piece of wood to play with and thereby have guaranteed an infinitely more enjoyable hour and six minutes than whatever entertainment is intermittently provided by whatever A Haunting We Will Go is.

What do they do well here? Stan does a nice double take when he thinks he’s seen a dead body. Ollie gets repeatedly hit on the head with a sandbag at one point. The rope trick at the end is well done.

The reason why this doesn’t feel like a Laurel and Hardy film is because, as with the lamentable Great Guns, there is nothing really happening between Stan and Ollie here – nothing that illustrates their contrasting yet complimentary characters. In A Haunting We Will Go they are just two silly men in a bizarre situation.

Sometimes, it is allowable to curtail the clowning to allow a narrative to unfold. Babes in Toyland is an example of a successful Laurel and Hardy film that never allows comedy routines to overly obscure an effective fairy tale. But in all honesty, if you want to tone down Stan and Ollie’s clowning in order to a story to be told, then the story really has to be worth telling. And A Haunting We Will Go is not a tale that needs to be told.

There’s a coffin, a trip by train to Dayton Ohio, and some nasty but dim gangsters. There’s Dante the magician, who decides for some reason to employ Stan and Ollie in a subordinate capacity. You do get to see some nice magic tricks, but Dante’s very real talents as an illusionist are undermined by obvious trick photography. In other words, anybody could have played Dante the magician. They didn’t need the real Dante the magician for much of this film, although it’s interesting to note that Dante pioneered transdimensional phone boxes a full twenty years before Doctor Who first aired.

Versatile and gifted actor Elisha Cook Jn. is also wasted as one of the clueless criminals. Like the rest of his sorry and unfunny gang, he ends up in a lion’s cage, clinging to the railings – just out of reach of the beast’s claws.

Indeed, it’s impossible to watch this movie without feeling overwhelmed by a tremendous sense of waste.

At the end of the film, a tiny Stan hatches from an enormous egg. Why? Your guess really is as good as mine.

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