Laurel and Hardy

Laurel and Hardy: Embarrassing Rich Folk – Satisfaction Guaranteed. From Soup to Nuts (1928)

“All we ask is a chance!” pleads the business card of “Laurel and Hardy – Waiters”.

This shows Laurel and Hardy is the recurring role of last minute “help” who will ruin a posh dinner party.  Famously, the plot of this short was used to add an extra twenty minutes to A Chump at Oxford (1940), 12 years later.

I love to watch Stan and Ollie arrive at anyone’s front door.  Stan will offer to knock or ring but he’ll be swept aside by Ollie who feels that only he can knock or ring with the requisite elan needed to demonstrate gentility.  Ollie had such beautiful hands.  The little flourishes with which he performed the slightest action were a joy to behold.  The fact that his knockings on doors and tugging at cords were always disastrous, only made the flourishes funnier each time.

After describing their hostess (the very beautiful and very talented Anita Garvin again)  as “some wiggler” to her own husband, our heroes are dispatched to the kitchen where Stan insists that the strict “no hats indoors” policy ought to extend to the chef – resulting in a plate-smashing fight.

Anita Garvin is funny enough to watch even without Stan and Ollie, incidentally.  Her jittery comportment at table reveals that this kind of pompous and opulent display is nerve-wracking and uncomfortable, and that she is entertaining on this scale because she feels she ought to rather than because she enjoys it.  The simple difficulty of securing a cherry (or is it a very round grape?) from a fruit salad is a lovely little way of dramatising her incessant discomfort.

As always, in any given social situation, Stan never knows how to behave and Ollie thinks he knows exactly how to behave.  Ollie is always the more deluded of the two in this respect.  If the beginning of wisdom is knowing that you know nothing, then Ollie is far far behind Stan in the wisdom stakes.  Ollie keeps falling into enormous creamy pies while Stan has trouble with the practical logistics of soup serving.  There seems to be an infinite supply of these pies and Ollie seems to be able to clean himself up in no time at all, despite a satisfying amount of time being devoted to Ollie’s face to camera in the wake of each pie-copalypse.  Also note that when Ollie throws a banana skin away in anger, he never throws it very far away, making the next pie-copalypse a racing certainty.

The coup de grace is delivered when the hostess demands that the salad be served without dressing, causing a misunderstanding the ends the movie.  The same confusion (with one crucial refinement) is repeated in A Chump at Oxford.  Even funnier than Stan throwing lettuce leaves on people’s plates in his underwear, is his despair beforehand – his sense of helpless outrage at the prospect of his impending humiliation. When he tells the maid of his serving salad without dressing dilemma, she blithely responds that she always serves the salad like that.  Stan’s disgust at the moral turpitude of rich folk is priceless.

Stan is at his most typically egalitarian in this one – utterly refusing to defer to his employers or their guests, and barking orders at them when they step out of line.  He is both hilarious and heroic in his insistence that he has the same rights as anybody else.

This short is short, even by short standards.  And yet it is unhurried.  It flies by without ever being frenzied or desperate.  Without many minutes to play with, it gives us all the crucial reaction shots we need, the close up and extended moments of pathos that make Laurel and Hardy more wonderful than their contemporaries.

I do have a few thoughts on some earlier Laurel and Hardy silent films by the way…

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