Imagine living next door to Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, James Finlayson and Charley Chase? Sounds fun eh? Or sounds initially like fun before becoming unbelievably annoying, so relentlessly annoying it makes you want to lose the will to live or at least move to a different hemisphere.
Stan and Ollie, incidentally, have not had a chance to grow their hair back from their time behind bars in The Second Hundred Years. Chase, Finlayson, Hardy and Laurel are lunatics who may be in training to become wacky radio announcers. In some ways, this is Laurel and Hardy’s first “cameo” appearance, since they are here not just as two individuals but sort of as a team. Stan shoots Ollie in the bum with an arrow and it is funny. It’s all in the timing.
Living next door to this collection of cuckoos is Max Davidson and his family, the Gimplewarts . Max Davidson played a large number of stereotypical yet affectionate Jewish father figures throughout the silent era. (Ethnic humour in the 1920s and 30s ran to such comical culture clashes as the Cohens and the Kellys series.) Richard Bann has argued that Davidson, a supremely talented comic actor, fell out of favour with Hollywood moguls like Louis B. Mayer who felt that Davidson was too Jewish and that Jewish families on film ought to “assimilate” to the point of being indistinguishable from their gentile neighbours.
Here’s the article. I’d need to do a deal of research to have a worthwhile opinion about it.
Pa Gimplewart tries to put the house on the market, but the only offer they get is to swap houses on the strength of one photo – no questions asked. The family immediately moves into their new home, which turns out to be a hilarious jerry-built funhouse in which nothing works the way it should. Light switches illuminate bulbs in different rooms. Light switches also turn on the shower. Inflammable gas comes out of the taps in the kitchen and water spurts from the gas hob. Concern about the stability of a piano leads Papa Gimplewart to produce a spirit level which slides right out of the house as soon as it is laid on the floor. Never a good sign. He goes upstairs to take a bath, which is clearly not a wise move, because simultaneously a bunch of relatives arrive expecting to be fed. Water from the bath drips onto chocolate cake and into the coffee. The extended family bores easily and they soon take to fighting one another, a circumstance which further exposes the fragility of the house. and everything in it. Finally someone looking to weaponise some furniture picks up the chair that’s been wedging the piano in place resulting in the piano sailing straight through a wall and into a car, which instantly disintegrates. Of course, one thing you learn from Laurel and Hardy era movies is that the Model T. Ford will collapse if you so much as look at it in a funny way. Just when things can’t get any worse it turns out that Laurel, Hardy, Chase and Finlayson have moved house. They’re next door again.
Thanks to my Laurel and Hardy completism, I have seen a Max Davidson movie. He’s a little man with big responsibilities, and the world is not kind to him. His movie persona could be summarised as fraught and anxious paterfamilias. I like him.