Laurel and Hardy

“Child is the Father to the Man”. Laurel and Hardy in Brats (1930)

Oliver Hardy had an exquisite singing voice. Can we say that often enough? I think not. Oliver Hardy had an exquisite singing voice.

His delicious rendition of “Go to sleep my ba-ay-bee” provides the climax of this little film, shortly before he opens the door on an apparently watertight bathroom in order to release the inundation that concludes proceedings.

Along with Early to Bed, this film is unique in that it features only Laurel and Hardy.

Laurel and Hardy are charged with taking care of their offspring (mini-mes?) for the evening. There is some exquisite detailed clowning involving both pairs of Stan and Ollie. The film begins with Ollie losing to Stan at checkers – which provides an ideal excuse to watch Ollie’s deliciously mannered hand gestures. Ollie cannot perform the simplest task without a certain flourish. The kids meanwhile are jabbing and prodding at one another and are clearly incapable of setting any sort of example to their parents.

In some ways Oliver Hardy has more work to do playing two roles that Stan Laurel does because “Stan” is already infantilised in so many ways. Little Stan is very like Big Stan whereas Little Ollie, although anticipating Big Ollie, is to some extent distinctively “childlike”. Ollie got painful and dangerous pokes in the eye throughout his long association with Stan, but perhaps no poke in the eye feels as painful as the one Little Stan delivers to Little Ollie with the assistance of a door handle in the film. It’s all the more painful because you can see it coming.

Meanwhile grown up Stan and Ollie are playing pool – an exercise replete with destructive and painful possibilities. As is so often the case when Stan is carefully arranging gags – jokes are actually funnier when you can see them coming in advance and have time to prepare yourself for them. You know in advance that trying to chalk up your pool cue while eating square white marshmallows is a recipe for confusion. You can see the glass cabinet behind Stan’s cueing arm for a little while before stuff starts to get smashed. It’s the “when” and not “if” of the smash occuring that absorbs the audience.

Stan always had a nice line in garbled adages. “You can lead a horse to water but a pencil must be lead.” Words to live by – I’m sure you’ll agree. It is of course after fine and uplifting sentiments on the subject of tolerant parenting have been assented to that Ollie has to slip on a roller-skate and so career down the stairs with his legs bizarrely splayed.

What else is going on here? Well, there’s an animated mouse for one thing. If anyone knows of earlier combinations of live action and animation, I’d be delighted to know of them.

This is a visually inventive film which uses oversized furniture to create a realistic sense of a miniaturized Laurel and Hardy that proves an adventure playground of hilarious hazards. It’s an unsentimentalised view of childhood and an even less sentimentalized view of adulthood that we get here. If there’s one thing this film illustrates, it’s that some people grow “up” without ever really growing up.

Of course, Ollie’s ‘tache looks fake because is fake. He had to shave it off in order to play an infant version of himself.

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