“The Lucky Dog” *
Released 1st December 1921, this is the first film that Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy appear in together. Stan is kicked out by a landlady “whose heart is harder than her mattress.” He later encounters some mishaps while attempting to enter a dog into a competition. At the competition Stan meets up with a lady and offers to take her home. She accepts his kind offer, but little does he know that her boyfriend is waiting at the house.
Oliver Hardy plays a robber who accidentally places some money into Stan’s back pocket, and then steals the money off him, much to Stan’s confusion. They meet up later at the girl’s house, while her boyfriend and Ollie plot revenge on Stan.
Although this is a far cry from the standard Laurel and Hardy film, it is nevertheless fascinating to watch. Their characters certainly don’t resemble Stan and Ollie, but the film includes some excellent examples of how strong their comedy talent had already developed as solo performers.
“45 Minutes From Hollywood” *
Released 26th December 1926, this is the first film produced by Hal Roach that features both Laurel and Hardy. A family decide to travel to Hollywood with each member hoping they are going to find success. There are many hilarious sight gags on their journey with a bike, a train and a bus.
On arrival at the hotel, the main character Glenn Tryon is knocked unconscious and then dressed up as a woman. Ollie plays the house detective who is taking a bath at the time. When he pushes his way out of the locked door, he finds his angry wife who doesn’t seem pleased that another woman – Glenn Tryon – is in their apartment. Glenn is thrown out of the window and into a dust bin. The film concludes with an uproarious battle between all characters.
Stan makes a brief appearance as a hotel guest, who is most annoyed when some of the battle takes place on his bed. Behind a bushy moustache he shows some resemblance to James Finlayson. Although some of Ollie’s familiar character traits are apparent, this is not a conventional Laurel and Hardy film. It is an excellent comedy in its own right and it provides an insight into Hal Roach’s earlier work.
“Duck Soup” **
Released 13th March 1927, “Duck Soup” is a significant film due to the fact that it is the first glimpse of the conventional Laurel and Hardy characters. It is also the first time they appear together as a comedy duo. Local forest rangers are recruiting nearby citizens to help fight the forest fire. Stan and Ollie are not very keen to be firefighters for the day, and so they make a quick getaway on a bike. They hide in a mansion that has been deserted while the owner, Colonel Blood, is on a hunting vacation. Ollie pretends to be the owner, while he forces Stan to act as the maid, Agnes. Unfortunately the pretence doesn’t go according to plan, as the Colonel returns home to collect his bow and arrow and the boys are caught by the forest rangers. They are forced to help fight the fire with a rather strong hose pipe.
The story was originally written as a play by Stan’s father Arthur Jefferson. Laurel and Hardy remade the film in 1930 as a sound short called “Another Fine Mess.” Those that are familiar with the sound version may find “Duck Soup” a little tedious to watch when reading through so many dialogue titles. On the other hand there are several excellent gags and ideas that are not reused in the later version and therefore it remains a must for any true Laurel and Hardy fan. For the more casual fans I recommend “Another Fine Mess.”
“Slipping Wives” *
Released 3rd April 1927, the top billing of this Hal Roach production is Pricilla Dean, but it features both Laurel and Hardy as separate characters, and not as a duo. Pricilla’s character is married to an artist, but she feels as though he is neglecting her and shows more interest in his artwork than their marriage. She hires Stan’s character, Flamingo Ferdinand, to make love to her and make her husband jealous. The idea isn’t so successful, as her husband is extremely unobservant, but Stan does succeed in irritating the butler, Ollie.
Although this is a far cry from any conventional Laurel and Hardy film, there is a strong vibe between Stan and Ollie’s characters that suggests they could be successful as a permanent team. This is not a film for those searching for a standard Laurel and Hardy movie, but it is absolutely hilarious as a stand alone comedy, and I recommend it to those who are willing to view with that respect in mind.
In 1935, Laurel and Hardy came back to the storyline with a brand new sound film called “The Fixer Uppers.” The storyline is almost exactly the same, but it is a completely different film, as it uses whole new gags and ideas. A true Laurel and Hardy fan will thoroughly enjoy watching both, but for the more casual fan, I recommend “The Fixer Uppers.”
“Love ‘Em And Weep” *
Released 12th June 1927, this film stars James Finlayson, Mae Busch, and Stan Laurel. Oliver Hardy also makes a brief appearance as a guest at the dinner party, but they are not cast as a team for this particular film.
Mae Busch plays Fin’s ex-girlfriend, who threatens to publish an old photograph, claiming they are having an affair. This will ruin both his marriage and his career. She arrives at a very inconvenient time for Fin, as his wife has planned a dinner party and expects him to be there. Therefore Fin asks his business associate, played by Stan, to keep Mae occupied while Fin is at the dinner party. This causes more suspicion for Stan’s own wife.
Laurel and Hardy remade this as a sound film in 1931. In the sound version, titled “Chickens Come Home”, Ollie plays Fin’s role, while Fin plays his butler. Mae and Stan remain the same characters. Although there are a number of slight differences between each film, the casual fan would most probably prefer to watch “Chickens Come Home”, while the more enthusiastic Laurel and Hardy fan will find it a joy to compare the two versions.
“Why Girls Love Sailors” *
Released 17th July 1927, “Why Girls Love Sailors” is another film that was made before Laurel and Hardy became a permanent team. Nevertheless, both of their names were now at the top of the bill, and the content of the comedy was as strong as it would be in their later films.
Stan is a sailor on board the Merry Maiden. His girlfriend is kidnapped by the captain, and so Stan decides to rescue her by dressing up in drag, and start flirting with the captain. While the flirting takes place, the captain’s wife arrives and she doesn’t seem very pleased. She ends up shooting the captain, while Stan and his girlfriend hastily run away.
Ollie’s role in the film is described as First mate. There is an extremely funny scene when Stan needs to get rid of all the crew members, and so dressed in drag, he flirts with each one individually and then knocks them out. He throws a bottle at Ollie, and blames it on the unconscious crew members. Ollie is daft enough to believe it, and so he throws them overboard.
It’s scenes like this that make the film an absolute must for anyone. Those that are searching for the usual Laurel and Hardy characters will no doubt be disappointed, but the film itself is an excellent comedy and one that will leave the audience in fits of laughter.
“With Love And Hisses” **
Released 28th August 1927, this film continues with a military theme as Laurel and Hardy are in the army. James Finlayson is the captain of the troupe, Ollie is the sergeant, and Stan is one of the privates. There is a hilarious scene in the middle of the film when Finlayson is inspecting their guns and Stan is a less than competent member of the troupe. When Fin orders Stan to “dress, right”, he replies: “I’m wearing everything you gave me.”
It is Ollie’s job to take the troupe on a march, but after two miles they decide to go skinny dipping. Before tossing his cigarette butt on to the pile of clothes, Ollie orders Stan to keep an eye on the uniforms, so that he can so swimming too. Rebellious Stan ignores his orders, and decides to join the rest of the group, causing the clothes to set on fire.
Genuine Laurel and Hardy fans would be delighted with this film, as James Finlayson stars alongside Stan and Ollie, making them a trio more than a double act. The primitive picture quality of the film may sometimes be distracting for those who are not used to watching silent movies, but even the most casual fans will find this film extremely funny.
“Sugar Daddies” *
Released 10th September 1927, “Sugar Daddies” is another example of James Finlayson starring alongside the boys to form a trio more than a double act. Fin is an oil tycoon who wakes up one morning with a hangover. His butler, Ollie reminds him that he married a girl the night before and that her family are waiting downstairs.
His step daughter and brother-in-law are both angry, and they demand money otherwise they threaten to kill him. Fin calls on his lawyer, Stan to come and straighten things out. Even after Stan’s attempts to gain an agreement, Fin’s brother-in-law remains adamant. They soon run away when he pulls out a gun and starts to fire.
They hide in a hotel for a while before making their inventive escape. Stan sits on Fin’s shoulders and wears a long overcoat, pretending to be Ollie’s wife. This gag is used in their earlier film “Love ‘Em And Weep” and its remake “Chickens Come Home”. However this is by far the most creative version, as there is a hilarious sequence while they are on the dance floor and later end up at an amusement park. While at the amusement park it is Stan, Ollie and James Finlayson that cause the most amusement.
Although this is a brilliant comedy that is filled with excellent gags, casual fans will likely to be disappointed if they are searching for a conventional Laurel and Hardy film.
“Sailors Beware!” **
Released 25th September 1927, the comedy standard of this film matches those of the established Laurel and Hardy films, even if the pairing of the team isn’t particularly obvious. Stan is a taxi driver who is inadvertently taken aboard a ship. Viewed as a stowaway, the captain gives him two choices; he could be thrown overboard, or put to work. Stan unwillingly chooses the second option.
Anita Garvin plays a crook, whose husband is a midget, posing as a baby. They cheat their way through many gambling games with other passengers, before being exposed by Stan at the end of the movie. Ollie plays one of the sailors, who often ends up at the centre of every unfortunate situation.
This is a gag-filled comedy masterpiece that anybody with a sense of humour will thoroughly enjoy. Although they are not a team as such, their individual characters are the established Stan and Ollie that we are familiar with, making it a must for both casual fans and Laurel and Hardy enthusiasts.
“The Second Hundred Years” ***
Released 8th October 1927, this movie is often considered to be the first official Laurel and Hardy film. Stan and Ollie are two convicts who are locked up in prison, but slowly building an underground tunnel to dig their way out. They end up digging their way to the warden’s office.
Another attempt at breaking free from prison has them disguised as painters. In order to convince the suspicious policeman that they are genuine, they quite literally paint the town! Their vandalism of extremely expensive property doesn’t seem to bother the policeman so much, but when Stan accidentally paints a woman’s bottom, he really has crossed the line!
To hide from the police officer, Stan and Ollie jump into a limousine and steal the clothes of two French police chiefs before throwing them out the window. The French police were on their way visit the prison. They were planning to study the prison ideas – “So they can adopt some other system.” Disguised as the French police chiefs, Stan and Ollie provide a realistic display of sophistication at the dining table. While they are taken on a tour around the prison cells, they are too easily recognised by their fellow inmates and eventually discovered by the police.
“The Second Hundred Years” is a must for anyone interested in Laurel and Hardy. Even though they are dressed slightly differently and look different with their shaven heads, this is Stan and Ollie at their best. Their characters are the same as those of the talkies, and the comedy content is at its peak. This film provides a lot of belly laughs.
“Call Of The Cuckoo” *
Released 15th October 1927, this is a Max Davidson film that features guest appearances by James Finlayson, Charley Chase and Laurel and Hardy. Stan and Ollie’s heads were still shaven from their previous film “The Second Hundred Years” as their hair had not grown back yet.
Max Davidson advertised his house for sale or exchange in the local newspaper. The reason for deciding to leave was due to their nutty neighbours, Fin, Charley, Stan and Ollie, who were ruining his family’s high profile reputation. The first customer was put off by their silly behaviour, but the second was willing to exchange his house, with no questions asked.
Max gladly accepted the offer of exchange, but there was a reason why no questions should be asked. The house looked as though it could have been built by Stan and Ollie, as everything was either backwards, didn’t work sufficiently or didn’t work at all. The lights, the shower, the kitchen lino, the taps, cooker and even a moving piano all caused chaos.
When the relatives all conveniently arrived at tea time, the stress caused by the house started a fight that would end up knocking half of the house down. Just as things couldn’t get any worse, Fin, Charley, Stan and Ollie arrived, announcing that they were moving in next door.
This is an extremely inventive and creative offering from the Hal Roach team that is always amusing to watch. Those looking for a standard Laurel and Hardy film will be disappointed, as their appearances are only cut in short sections and their characters don’t resemble Stan and Ollie. Nevertheless the film is still very funny in its own right.
“Hats Off” ***
Released 5th November 1927, “Hats Off” is now considered to be a lost film. The last noted public screening was in Germany in 1930. After being sacked as dishwashers, Stan and Ollie seek for alternative employment. James Finlayson offers them a job as door-to-door salesmen and provides them with a washing machine to sell.
Stan and Ollie make several attempts at selling the washing machine by carrying it up and down a huge flight of steps. Thinking they have made a sale, they carry the washing machine up the steps, only to find out that the girl wasn’t interested in the machine, but wanted a letter posting.
The film concludes with Laurel and Hardy starting a street battle, drawing in tons of people who all end up having their hats destroyed.
“Hats Off” was remade as “The Music Box” in 1932. The remake was a talkie, which won an Academy Award for Live Action Short film comedy.
“Do Detectives Think?” ***
Released 20th November 1927, “Do Detectives Think?” is not only the first time Stan and Ollie wear their trademark derby hats, but it also introduces the same feel as a standard Laurel and Hardy film. James Finlayson is a judge, who sentences a throat-slashing murderer to be hung. The killer soon escapes from prison and plans to slash the judge’s throat in revenge.
Fin phones a detective agency and asks for two of the bravest detectives they have to offer. The chief detective hires Stan and Ollie for the job, which doesn’t say a lot for the rest of the force. Their courage and bravery is demonstrated later in the film when Stan becomes terrified of his own shadow.
When they finally arrive at Fin’s house, the murderer is already there, but he’s posing as the new butler. Detectives Stan and Ollie believe this story for a while, but subtle clues, such as walking around with a seven inch blade in his hand, cause Stan and Ollie to realise the truth. After several failed attempts, they finally capture him, and the police escort him away.
In 1934, Laurel and Hardy used a similar storyline in a 2 reel talkie called “Going Bye Bye!” and also came back to the idea in a later feature with 20th Century Fox called “The Bullfighters.” All three films are entirely different from each other, and “Do Detectives Think?” is a fantastic example of how wonderful silent comedy can be.
“Putting Pants On Philip.” *
Released 3rd December 1927, this is an unusual example for Laurel and Hardy’s first billing as an official team. Piedmont Mumblethunder (Ollie) waits for his nephew Philip (Stan) to greet him when he arrives from Scotland. Throughout the film, Ollie is embarrassed by Stan’s Scottish attire and his weakness for women – whenever a girl catches Stan’s eye, he starts chasing after her.
Ollie takes Stan to a see tailor to try and buy him some new trousers, but when the tailor measures further up his leg, Stan loses trust and puts up a fight.
Towards the end of the film, Ollie demonstrates his courteous and refined approach to flirting with a girl, before getting flicked on the nose. The film ends with Ollie falling into one the many mud holes that appear throughout the Hal Roach comedies.
Although many of their usual mannerisms are apparent, the relationship between Piedmont and Philip is somewhat distant from Stan and Ollie, preventing it from being a standard Laurel and Hardy film. The comedy content is typical from the Roach films of that period, and therefore it’s always a joy to watch.
“The Battle Of The Century” ***
Released 31st December 1927, “The Battle Of The Century” is currently a partially lost film. It was originally approximately 19 minutes long, but today only 10 minutes remain. Ollie plays the manager of a rather incompetent boxing fighter called Canvasback Clump (Stan). Stan almost wins the fight immediately, but his lack of understanding the rules gives his opponent, Thunderclap Callahan, a chance to reawaken and knock him down.
Later in the film Ollie places a banana skin on the floor in the hope that Stan would slip up and claim accident insurance. The idea doesn’t go according to plan though, when Charlie Hall slips on the banana skin instead. This causes a pie fight that would arguably become the biggest pie fight in the history of the movies. When Stan proposed the idea of the film to Hal Roach he suggested they make “a pie fight to end all pie fights.” To ensure this was possible, they ordered a total of 3,000 pies from The Los Angeles Pie Company. This was an entire day’s output.
Even with half of the film missing, I think this will be thoroughly entertaining for both casual and die-hard Laurel and Hardy fans. It is always amusing to see someone hit in the face with a pie and it’ll never grow old.