Laurel and Hardy

Everybody has a Past. Laurel and Hardy in “Chickens Come Home” (1931).

Does anyone else remember when political careers could be destroyed by a sex scandal?  It does seem a long time ago I admit.

In this film, a remake of the silent Laurel-Hardy-Finlayson comedy Love ‘Em and Weep (1927), Oliver Hardy is on the brink of actual political office.  The progression from dealer in fertilizer to politician seems logical enough (indeed Stan reports that this fertilizer dealership has a sample room).  Ollie is so far ahead in the polls that he’s dictating his victory speech to Stan, although they are continually being interrupted by a musical pencil sharpener.

In bursts Ollie’s Past, played by the very wonderful Mae Busch (just as she had in 1927).  Past is brandishing a beach photo (see above) which could apparently destroy Ollie’s political aspirations in an instant.

The film follows the plot of Love ‘Em and Weep, pretty closely.  It’s a three reeler, not a two reeler, which accommodates dialogue but does not alter the sequence of events very significantly.  The most important  difference between these two films is of course the fact that the central role is played by Oliver Hardy rather than by James Finlayson, who is demoted to the role of butler.  Finlayson responds to this demotion seemingly with poor grace and the maxim “no man is a hero to his valet” has rarely seemed more apposite.  As Ollie fears for the imminent arrival of Past at his swanky and tactical pre-election dinner party, Finlayson has to be continually bribed.

At the conclusion of the film, Finlayson indulges a double take that is extravagant even by his standards.  In all fairness, this double take is in response to the appearance of the bizarre hybrid creature made of Ollie and Unconscious Past that Stan is passing off as Mrs Laurel.

The story is in fact vastly improved by this rearranged casting, because nobody does embarrassment better than Oliver Hardy.  Mrs Hardy (Thelma Todd) knows that something is up and her murderous glances of bitter suspicion are priceless.  Ollie’s rendition of “Somebody’s Coming to My House” (an old Irving Berlin classic that is hilariously appropriate) counts as my highlight of the film.  Indeed, all commentary on Chickens Come Home is liable to focus on Ollie’s performance, since Stan’s role and performance is essentially the same as in the earlier film – a film in which Ollie only had a tiny role as “Dinner Guest who resembles Teddy Roosevelt”.

Nowadays, audiences are desperate for closure and would want to know if, after all this absurdity, Ollie still won the mayoral election.  But as Laurel and Hardy fans, we know that the story always ends at a point of absurd crisis… the future is irrelevant and the next film will see the boys in a totally different situation altogether.

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