Laurel and Hardy

Perfect Day. Laurel and Hardy’s. Not Lou Reed’s. OR “The Long Goodbye”.

Who’s been in the awkward position of having to say “Goodbye”, and then having to say it again and again and again?

Who’s been in the awkward position of trying to get a party to leave the house and settled in a car to set out for somewhere and then various things happen that force you to repeat the choreography of vehicular comportment over and over and over again?

All of us. That’s who. And that’s why this is a film for all of us.

This memorable little film is all about this experience of awkwardness, and the awkwardness that is greatly exacerbated by the fact that the day is supposed to be absolutely delightful. The day would be far less nightmarish if it didn’t have to be “perfect”.

One of the chief problems our heroes face is gouty Uncle Edgar (Edgar Kennedy yet again), whose foot needs to be elevated throughout the trip. He’s a bad tempered old soul is Uncle Edgar and Stan and Ollie (not to mention Uncle Edgar) would be just as happy if he stayed home. But nobody is allowed to escape this outing. The day would be less than perfect without him.

This is a film about strained good humour. A delightful Sunday picnic has been promised and nothing is allowed to ruin a so-called “perfect day”. Enforced cheerfulness is, quite literally, the order of the day. It only takes the film nineteen minutes to set the party on its way but it feels much much longer. Everything seems to take an eternity here – and the idea that most of the morning must have gone is central.

The slowness with which they realise that the reason why the car isn’t moving is because it’s still jacked up from the wheel change is quite beautiful. The wheel spins suspended above ground while a cacophony of interminable “goodbyes” fills the air.

When retributive violence finally breaks out, it’s almost a relief, although hostilities are suspended because of the mortal terror inspired by a passing priest.

Let us remind ourselves that “Why don’t you do something to help me?!” was a more frequent Oliver Hardy catchphrase for much of the first half of their career than “another nice mess”. In the meantime, the bulk of the film doesn’t move more than a few yards away from a Model T. Ford. Its discontents are expressed by means of a variety of strange noises – none of which indicate a crisis severe enough to cancel the trip altogether.

Having got enough laughs out of its nineteen minutes, the car sinks into one of those huge and deceptively deep muddy puddles that festoon the Laurel and Hardy universe.

Long prized for its use of sound effects, this a very calculated and tight movie. Above all, it’s a comedy about the agony of having to be nice. It’s a comedy about certain inhibitions and the crippling “niceness” of suburban life.

Indeed, it’s exactly the sort of Laurel and Hardy movie that lingers in the memory long after you’ve seen it, even if you only saw it once, years ago. And the thing that you’ll remember are all the strained smiles accompanying all the “Goodbyes”. This is the kind of comedy that connects immediately with something like the lived experience of everyone who sees it. And by doing so, it creates a kind of sympathy. And as a result of the sympathy, it makes us want to love them – not just in this film, but in any subsequent movie as well.

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