Laurel and Hardy

Rich people are different… Laurel and Hardy in “Wrong Again”.

No Thomas Gainsborough masterpieces were harmed in the making of this picture.

Stan and Ollie are stable-hands who overhear two separate bits of news and who join them together logically but erroneously.  They determine that a local millionaire will pay $5000 for the safe return of “Blue Boy” – which is the name of a horse in their care.  (The millionaire will in fact pay this sum for the safe return of the Gainsborough masterpiece.)

They show up at the house with the horse but the millionaire just espies Stan from him balcony.  On learning that “Blue Boy” is with them, he delightedly throws down the keys and tells them to bring “Blue Boy” into the house.

Stan finds this odd.  Indeed, in many ways Stan remains wedded to a version of “common-sense” throughout this two reeler, while Ollie insists that the mega-rich are inherently eccentric and that their bizarre instructions should be followed to the letter.  Ollie accidentally reinforces this doctrine when he accidentally knocks over a very ugly nude statue and breaks it into three pieces.  Such is his natural modesty that he avoids looking at it while piecing it back together – resulting in a creature whose breasts and buttocks are facing in the same direction.  Stan treats this disconcerting statue as evidence of the truth of Ollie’s thesis.   Thorstein Veblen could not have theorised to Stan regarding the Leisure Class more powerfully than Ollie.   A twisty-turny hand gesture is deployed again and again in order to describe the essential “difference” of those to the manor born.

The same twisty-turny gesture would be recycled for one of their last films The Big Noise to describe eccentric inventors.

However, when the millionaire tells Stan to put “Blue Boy” on the piano where it’s always kept (rather odd – I would never keep a Gainsborough masterpiece propped up on a grand piano) – Stan needs a while to process this command before reporting it to Ollie.

The whole purpose of the film is the scene with a horse on a piano, the leg of the piano breaking, and Ollie trapped underneath the piano bearing the weight of both grand piano and horse while they try to refit the piano leg.  Eventually, Ollie’s face is trapped between the piano and the piano leg.  Stan’s attempts to help are constantly interrupted as he repeatedly leaves Ollie to his agony in order to admonish the horse for continually knocking his hat off.  In the twenty-first century, it’s odd to see how wedded people used to be to their hats.  The idea that you could forget about your hat until the whole horse-piano situation is sorted out would never occur to Stan.

Meanwhile, the actual painting is safely delivered.  For now.

When millionaire discovers that the boys have brought a horse into his house, he determines to shoot them both dead with a big gun.  This seems to me an overreaction. Fortunately, like most guns from silent comedies, this firearm is only capable of wrecking a policeman’s trousers.  in the kerfuffle,  the painting itself is irreparably damaged with an underlings face jutting out of it.  This is not the fault of Stan or Ollie.

I’ve always liked this film, which is really all about trying to put a horse on a piano and keep it there. There’s the build up to this absurdity, the duration of the absurdity, and a very rushed conclusion to the film afterwards.  This is not a film about wrecking a house.  Comparatively little is destroyed by Laurel and Hardy over the course of twenty minutes.  They rearrange an already ugly statue and perhaps the top of the piano will need to be revarnished.  It’s not “slapstick” comedy so much as comedy that tries to fulfill the logic of an absurd premise.  And there’s something peculiarly satisfying about seeing a horse on a piano.  It’s a bizarre but real accomplishment.  Before we mock them, we should ask ourselves – how well would you or I have done, charged with this (apparent) commission?

They put a horse on a piano, for the tragic and moving reason that they are in thrall to the authority of immense wealth.  If gaffer wants a horse on his piano, he’ll get it.  Who and what are we to argue?  Laurel and Hardy may be “wrong again” in this film, but they’ve been doing their best, darn it.

I have some thoughts on some other Laurel and Hardy shorts…

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