Laurel and Hardy

They Go Boom! (1929). They really do. This Laurel and Hardy title does what it says on the tin.

There is only one set for this film, unless you count an ensuite bathroom as a separate set. Outside this room, all is darkness. There might not even be an outside world.

We’re paring things down to the essence of things here. Oliver Hardy has the sniffles but has magnified his affliction to a potentially fatal case of “ammonia”. Stan Laurel snores, attempts to minister to Ollie, but ends up exacerbating Ollie’s pain in a variety of inventive ways.

Nobody else appears except for the bad-tempered landlord, played by the familiar Charley Hall and at the end a whole troop of policemen burst in (clearly it’s a quiet night down the station and they’re bored).

The window blind won’t stay down. The water for the restorative footbath is too hot and the mustard bath is far too sticky. I think the finest moment amid all the painful foolery is when a plaster affixes it to Ollie’s rear end and Stan of course (under instruction from Ollie) rips out the entire seat of Ollie’s nightshirt. Of course, it’s the calmness with which Ollie recognises his exposure that is so precious, as is his need to make sure that the window blind is down.

There’s no music here, but there are some wonderful sound effects.

Eventually, their inflatable mattress is filled with gas which expands until Stan and Ollie are nearly touching the ceiling atop a perilously stretched bubble of inflammable material. We then realise that the film will end with an explosion, that the title of the film has a “Ronseal” quality to it and that “Boom!” is precisely what they are both going to do.

Stan and Ollie (especially Ollie) are adept and portraying the agony and the weariness of not being able to sleep. There’s a peculiar sense of helplessness attached to three o’clock in the morning. Stan, meanwhile, is unfailingly helpful up to a point. I love the way he hides in the bathroom and refuses to come out, except to run out to say that he’s not coming out.

Because if there’s one thing worse than being stuck with the sniffles at 3 am and unable to sleep, it’s being the bedfellow of someone who is stuck with the sniffles at 3am and unable to sleep – someone who sends you on incessant errands. Part of the painful intimacy of Laurel and Hardy is to do with the fact that afflictions have to be shared. Oliver Hardy would never dream of allowing Stan Laurel to sleep if he cannot.

This version of a supremely shared lifestyle ensures that at no point in the lives of Laurel and Hardy does either of them have a problem that the other does not. This dynamic would culminate, a decade later, in a scene by the banks of the Seine in The Flying Deuces – by far the most disturbing few minutes of their entire career(s).

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