The Lost Films of
Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy
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Oliver tries to measure Stan's inseam in "Putting Pants on Philip."

Classic Comedies (1928-1929)

In 1928, Laurel and Hardy perfected their team. They created a string of classic comedies that placed them among the most popular of all silent comedians.

"Putting Pants of Philip" (1928: vol. 6) is one of their funniest efforts. However, Laurel and Hardy aren't playing their typical characters. Hardy plays a well-respected man about town who meets his Scottish nephew at New York harbor and is shocked to find the kilt-wearing Stan. Whenever he sees a good-looking woman, Stan does a scissors kick and takes off in pursuit. Soon a crowd of spectators begins following them around the streets, much to Ollie's chagrin, who would prefer if Stan would walk several steps behind. He doesn't want to be associated with this galoot. When asked to name his favorite comedy short, Oliver Hardy picked "Putting Pants of Philip." This short contains several choice bits of comedy, but the best involves a blast of air from a sidewalk grate that lifts Stan's kilt--and causes several young women to faint.

"Battle of the Century" (1928: vol. 9) is a near-lost classic, now available only in fragments. Robert Youngson salvaged the final four minutes of the short's concluding pie fight from a decaying camera negative for his 1957 compilation feature The Golden Age of Comedy. And in 1979, Richard Feiner discovered the missing first reel. The beginning of the second reel is still missing, but this DVD restores the fragments into proper order and uses the original cutting continuity script together with still photos to fill in the gaps. This is as complete a version of "Battle of the Century" as you'll likely ever find. The DVD also contains a second version of this comedy with just the surviving footage and no script or stills to fill the gaps.

From "Leave 'Em Laughing" (1928: vol. 5) throughout the remainder of their silent comedies, Laurel and Hardy consistently played the same characters in each short. They had discovered characters who played well off each other, so they stuck to those characterizations while perfecting their interactions.

"Leave 'Em Laughing" breaks into three parts. In the first part, Stan and Laurel try to sleep, but Stan's toothache cause problems. (The following year, this first section would be reworked into an entire 20 minute short as "They Go Boom.") Part two places them at a dentist's office, where Stan's aversion to pain causes more problems. (This second section would be reworked in their first feature, Pardon Us.) And part three fills them with laughing gas. As they try to drive home, they frequently break into hysterics, causing havoc for traffic cop Edgar Kennedy. (This final section would be repeated in County Hospital.)

Oliver Hardy doesn't know it yet, but he's in trouble in "The Finishing Touch."
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"The Finishing Touch" (1928: vol. 1) is an archetypal Laurel and Hardy comedy. The boys play contractors hired to finish work on a house. The owner offers them 500 extra dollars if they'll finish the job by noon. That's all there is to the plot. The camera simply watches as they go work. Hardy stuffs some nails in this mouth, preparing to do some serious nailing; however, Laurel removes a box and Hardy crashes to the ground. Gulp! Hardy takes a break by reading a newspaper while perched on the end of a plank; however, Laurel decides to saw the plank. Crash! Down goes Hardy in a heap. Edgar Kennedy drops by as a policeman ordering the boys to keep the commotion down: there's a hospital next door. But a bucket of glue falls off the roof onto Kennedy, followed by a couple dozen wood shingles--which quickly become adhered to Kennedy as he does a slow burn. Even a nurse from next door takes a tumble into a whitewash trough. No one's dignity is spared in "The Finishing Touch." Laurel and Hardy would revisit this territory frequently in their careers, while assuming different vocations--chimney sweeps, piano delivery men, sawmill workers, etc.

"From Soup to Nuts" (1928: vol. 8) is another archetypal Laurel and Hardy comedy. They play waiters. Their business cards stay "All we ask is a chance." They're hired for a ritzy dinner party; however, all their experience is at railroad eating houses. So needless to say, the dinner party does not go smoothly. A more-easily-irritated-than-normal Stan yells at the guests and even punches the husband in the chin. When told by Oliver to serve the salad "undressed," Stan logically strips to his underwear and walks into dinning room. The guests, who don't pay attention to the hired help, don't even notice until he has practically served everyone. Laurel and Hardy remade "From Soup to Nuts" in 1939 as the opening sequence of A Chump at Oxford.

"You're Darn Tootin'" (1928: vol. 9) starts off in relatively routine fashion: the boys get fired from their job in an orchestra and subsequently play their instruments on street corners to earn their room and board. However, then the comedy takes an unexpected turn: Laurel gets angry and begins kicking people in the shin. Before long the street is full of angry men who are hopping on one foot or limping. They eventually take out their anger by ripping off each other's pants! It's one of the most absurd and hilarious sequences in any Laurel and Hardy comedy.

"Their Purple Moment" (1928: vol. 4) is "dedicated to husbands who hold out part of the pay envelope on their wives -- and live to tell about it." Portraits of marital less-than-bliss would frequently becomes a foil for Laurel and Hardy's comedy. In this outing, Stan has been squirreling away three dollars a week from his pay check for several months. Now he and Ollie are ready to take the cash and paint the town red. But Stan's wife has already discovered his hiding place and replaced Stan's stash with coupons. Stan doesn't discover the ruse until he and Ollie have rolled up an impressive tab.

"Should Married Men Go Home" (1928: vol. 7) takes a form that Laurel and Hardy returned to often -- the retribution comedy. After meeting Edgar Kennedy on a golf course, a battle soon begins -- which reaches its climax in a big mud puddle where no one escapes without a thick coating of mud. But one of the best scenes occurs in a soda shop, where the boys meet a pair of young women (Viola Richard and Edna Marian) and attempt to treat them to sodas -- on just 15 cents. This sequence would be remade the following year with sound as the short "Men O'War."

Stan Laurel's sleep is about to be interrupted in "Early to Bed."
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Throughout most of their comedies together, Laurel faced the indignities heaped upon him with great patience. But every so often, his anger boiled. When it released, the results were frequently hilarious. "Early to Bed" (1928: vol 2.) is one of those film. The short starts innocently enough with Laurel and Hardy sitting on a park bench, but after Hardy reads a letter he turns to Laurel: "I'm rich! My uncle has left me a fortune," he says. Stan begins to cry. "What's to become of me?" he asks. Therefore, Oliver invites him to be his butler. (Does that really sound like a good idea?) Soon, Oliver becomes a major pest to Laurel. He always wants to party. When he comes home after a night out drinking, he won't let Laurel be. He wakes him up, pours water on him, and wrestles with him on the floor. Stan has had enough of this routine, but Ollie won't let him resign. So Stan tries to get fired. He breaks vases, he kicks furniture, he pulls down curtains, and he throws chairs through plate glass windows. Eventually, he unleashes his anger on Ollie. He begins chasing him while swinging a fireplace shovel. This leads to one of Laurel and Hardy's all-time great sight gags: Oliver hides in a fountain, replacing the head of a cherub with his own. He even manages to spout a stream of water like the other cherub heads. However, Stan becomes suspicious and watches the heads. Eventually, Ollie runs out of water. Stan thinks it must be a mechanical failure, so he smacks the head several times with a shovel!

In "Two Tars" (1928: vol. 8) Laurel and Hardy play two soliders on leave looking for fun. But they end up stranded with several dozen motorists by a road block on a highway. Tempers run high and in classic retribution comedy fashion, the results include smashed headlights, punctured tires, and ripped-off fenders.

"Habeas Corpus" (1928: vol. 5) returns Laurel and Hardy to a cemetery -- as in "Do Detectives Think?" A nutty professor needs bodies for his experiments so he hires Stan and Ollie to dig up a few graves. Significantly, we don't even need to see Laurel and Hardy to recognize their presence. We only see a close-up of hands knocking on a door, but the hesitant motions of Stan and the circular, take-charge motions of Ollie are unmistakable. The graveside shenanigans in "Habeas Corpus" are fairly conventional stuff with few surprises. But this short features a priceless bit of comedy involving Oliver's attempts to boost Stan over the cemetery wall, with unfortunate (but hilarious) results.

Stan and Ollie get into trouble with their wives in "We Faw Down."
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"We Faw Down" (1928: vol. 3) is another archetypal Laurel and Hardy comedy. It gives us Laurel and Hardy as married men reluctantly spending the day with their wives. However, the lure of a poker games proves too strong and they devise a story in order to get away: the boss wants them to go to the Orpheum Theatre. The wives scowl suspiciously as the boys stumble out the front door. Does this plot sound familiar? It's essentially the same story they would tell in their classic feature-length comedy Sons of the Desert. However, instead of going to a theater, in Sons of the Desert they are supposedly going on a sea cruise. But the results are the same. In "We Faw Down," the wives learn that the theater has burned down, and in Sons of the Desert, the wives learn that the ship capsized. In both cases, the boys return home, oblivious to the dangers they would have suffered--and the grief they put their wives through. That grief has now turned into anger over the deception.

Stan and Ollie in a publicity still for "Liberty."
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In "Liberty" (1929: vol. 3), Laurel and Hardy ventured into territory frequented by Harold Lloyd. They end up balancing on the girders of a high-rise office building, desperately trying to find their way back down again but only getting further and further into trouble. It's the high-wire antics that most people remember about "Liberty," but the best comedy comes in the setup: when Laurel and Hardy breakout of jail, their accomplice hands them a new set of clothes, but the pants get mixed up. They discover this only after they're already wearing each other's pants, so they must find somewhere to change. They try an alley, but a lady pokes her head out of a window and screams. A cop sees them unbuttoning their pants and he chases them. A lobster falls into Laurel's pants, causing him to jump in surprise with each nip of the lobster's claws. Eventually, they try changing at a construction site only to discover they are in an elevator headed to the top floor. Filmed high above Los Angeles by director Leo McCarey and cameraman George Stevens and utilizing camera angles that enhanced the illusion of danger, "Liberty" is one of Laurel and Hardy's most inventive comedies.

"Wrong Again" (1929: vol. 5) is built upon a classic misunderstanding. Hardy is a stable boy who overhears two men talking about the stolen "Blue Boy." Hardy assumes they're talking about a horse, also named "Blue Boy." So he and Laurel return the horse to its owner. "Put him on the piano," says the owner. Stan and Ollie hesitate only briefly before they proceed to do exactly as the owner requested.

"That's My Wife" (1929) gives us a familiar scenario: a man (Hardy) must convince a wealthy relative he is happily married. However, Hardy's wife has just walked out on him, thanks to the hanger-on guest (Laurel) who Hardy has failed to kick out. "He's untidy," says Hardy's wife. "He eats grapes in bed!" So Laurel dresses as Hardy's wife. "She's not much to look at … but she's a clown," says Hardy to wealthy Uncle Bernal.

Stan and Ollie play door-to-door Christmas tree salesmen in "Big Business."
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"Big Business" (1929: vol. 1) is one of the all-time great comedies. The Library of Congress even placed it on their list of 100 American films officially designated as American classics. As in "The Finishing Touch," the plot is exceptionally simple. Stan and Ollie play door-to-door Christmas tree salesman who run into a particularly tough customer (James Finlayson). Eventually, the customer tires of their efforts. He uses a set of shears to reduce a Christmas tree to kindling. So there! But Laurel and Hardy won't take this lying down. Soon they and Finlayson trade turns demolishing each other's property. Before long Laurel and Hardy are throwing his furniture into the front yard, while Finlayson reduces their car to a pile of rubbish.

Oliver Hardy plays a hotel doorman in "Double Whoopee."
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"Double Whoopee" (1929: vol. 2) is another of Laurel and Hardy's most famous comedies. It places them as a footman and a doorman, respectively, at a posh hotel. A Prussian prince is on his way in when Laurel and Hardy show up for work: "There is some reason to believe that they may be competent," says their letter of introduction. The prince is a scowling, monocled martinet who has blown into town because he wants to make "whoopee," or so he tells the crowd in the theater lobby. Modeled after Erich von Stroheim in Foolish Wives, the prince looks dignified, in a nazi-ish sort of fashion, but much of the comedy is aimed at stripping away that dignity--by sending him crashing to the bottom of an open elevator shaft not once but three separate times! This short is filled with great bits, but the most famous involves Jean Harlow. She arrives in a cab in front of the hotel. Hardy greets her and offers to escort her to the front desk: "Might I presume that you would condescend to accept my escourtage?" Oliver says. Thanks to Stan's unfortunate timing, the car door slams on her dress--but she doesn't realize it as the dress rips away. Now wearing only a slip, she sashays across the lobby. In addition, frequent foil Charles Hall plays a cabby who Hardy inadvertently signals with a puff on a whistle: "It blew," says Hardy sheepishly. Soon Hall and Hardy begin a demolition routine reminiscent of "Big Business"--buttons are pulled off, cap bills are ripped loose, Hardy's whistle is crushed under Hall's heel--but before Hardy's uniform is completely demolished, a policeman runs off Hall. But my favorite piece of comedy involves Stan helping to fix a hotel customer's collar: he holds the customer's coat and gives the collar a yank only to discover he's now holding an entire shirt in his hand. Astonished, the customer opens up his coat to reveal a bare chest. And later, after Stan has become irritated after losing his coat to Harlow--leaving him standing in his long underwear in the lobby--the customer confronts him: Stan scowls, rips out a patch of hair from the man's chest, and then stuffs it in the customer's vest! "Double Whoopee" represents Laurel and Hardy at their absolute best.

Volume Seven of The Lost Films of Laurel and Hardy includes an "all-talking" version of "Double Whoopee," with voice characterizations by Chuck McCann. However, by pulling out the title cards, awkward gaps develop -- for the film footage rarely showed characters speaking all the words on a title card. Typically, a character would start to speak, the title card would appear, and then after the very last word the characters would reappear. Ripping out the title cards makes the film jerk forward spastically. It's an interesting experiment, but nothing more.

page 5 of 7


Page 1 Introduction

Page 2 Pre-Union Solo Efforts (1919-1926)

Page 3 Together … But Not Yet a Team (1926-1927)

Page 4 The Team Solidifies (1927)

Page 5 Classic Comedies (1928-1929)

Page 6 The Transition to Sound (1929)

Page 7 About the DVDs