Hats Off has been described (by Randy Skretvedt) as the “Holy Grail” of lost Laurel and Hardy movies. I’d like to reverse this comparison if I may. The Holy Grail is, when all is said and done, just an old cup. Hats Off is a priceless example of silent Laurel and Hardy mirth-making. Perhaps the Holy Grail should be described the “Hats Off” of lost religious relics instead.
You can, if you wish, watch this reconstruction of stills that give some indication of the plot of “Hats Off”.
The film co-stars our old friend James Finlayson and the sublime Anita Garvin. Stan and Ollie are recruited by Finlayson as door to door washing machine vendors, and before long you realise that this lost silent film offers an early version of their Oscar winning Music Box short. Yes, it’s even the same flight of stairs. If ever I go to Los Angeles again, I will make the time to actually find that flight of stairs. It’s one of the most important flights of stairs in cinema history.
A complete step related cinematic pilgrimage would include the Odessa Steps of Battleship Potemkin, and the Georgetown steps that feature so prominently in The Exorcist. But these steps in Los Angeles are the most important in my view. These steps offer the most poignant commentary on the human condition ever committed to celluloid. In the form of steps, that is.
As in The Music Box, our heroes have to keep lugging a very heavy object (a washing machine) up a steep flight of steps. The ending is completely different, however, and the sequence of still shots available does not quite explain how this ur-Music Box movie turns into a full scale tit for tat street riot with a narrow focus on the destruction of hats.
Who knows if Hats Off survives somewhere? Anywhere? Maybe, just maybe, those two reels were lying around in a steel canister in that same cave where Indiana Jones was forced to pick just one relic to take home with him.
He chose…. poorly.