Laurel and Hardy

Cold-blooded murder. Laurel and Hardy in “The Midnight Patrol” (1933).

At the end of this one Stan and Ollie are murdered in cold blood. Yes – you heard right – shot dead in the back – so-called execution style by the Chief of Police. What kind of world did our heroes live in where such a callous cold blooded homicide can be perpetrated with impunity by the very man ultimately responsible for local law enforcement? A much bleaker world than the world most 21st century film comedians inhabit – that’s for certain.

In this one, Stan and Ollie are actually on the right side of the law for once – rookie cops patrolling the streets late at night. They are of course, unable to even defend their own police property – let alone anybody else’s property. Although they are armed, the thought of using or even threatening lethal force is anathema to them.

Stan keeps forgetting the name of the address they’ve been told is being broken into so he goes into a nearby shop and asks to use the phone, instantly assuming that the safe-cracker behind the till is merely the forgetful store owner. After offering help and advice to the thief, Stan and Ollie finally figure out that’s he’s a less than honest citizen. Armed with those most lethal of weapons, a pencil and a notebook, they demand that this miscreant shows up to court to answer for his attempted crime. This results in one of the best scenes in the film as the trio attempt to arrange their calendars for everybody’s mutual convenience.

The safe cracker is played by Frank Terry – using the well worn theatrical pseudonym of Walter Plinge. Apparently Terry was inadvertently responsible for handing Harold Lloyd a dangerous and explosive prop that was responsible for the mutilation of Lloyd’s hand.

Finally they arrive at the big house that’s apparently being broken into. We’ve already seen that the so-called burglar is actually the owner of the property who has mislaid his keys. And a very tiresome and shouty man he is too.

After a few attempts at a subtle break in to apprehend the presumed intruder, Stan and Ollie end up trying to smash the door down using a heavy marble bench as a battering ram. As a consequence of some backward momentum, Ollie ends up face up in a pond with the slab on his chest – mouthing (or bubbling) “why don’t you do something to help me” while he is in the process of drowning.

Stan and Ollie do eventually smash their way into the house – largely destroying the staircase – and thereby apprehending the “intruder” in the cellar. Having bundled him up and escorted him to the station, they live in hope of promotion for their arrest. Once their prisoner is revealed as the Chief of Police however, them make a quick get away. Not quick enough – unfortunately, as the Chief murders them in cold blood (off camera) and cold-bloodedly orders his underlings to “call the coroner”. I have no idea which precinct in which city these events take place – but I would hate to live anywhere under the iron grip of such a ruthless tyrant as such this Chief – a man who acknowledges no rule of law.

Some of the clowning in this one is of a very high order. The timing of action, reaction and exasperation these two had perfected by 1933 was so joyously flawless that you can watch this kind of thing over and over again and spot some new detail, some tiny flourish or slight gesture that informs everything that is good and holy about Stan and Ollie.

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