The only reason why anyone would find themselves watching The Stolen Jools (1931) is if, like me, they are a Laurel and Hardy completist and want to ensure that no precious moments of Stan and Ollie screen time are allowed to go unseen. This bizarre two-reel comedy features Laurel and Hardy in a cameo in which they play “two guys” attached to the police department. Their car falls apart. That’s the full extent of their involvement in this picture. Incidentally, if there’s one thing that Laurel and Hardy movies can teach us about the Model T. is that you could basically tear it apart with your bare hands if you had a mind to it.
The “plot” of The Stolen Jools is as follows. Norma Shearer’s jewels are stolen at a swanky party and Eddie Kane has to get them back. This review comedy features just about every Hollywood star you can think of who was available in 1931. Norma Shearer, Fay Wray, Loretta Young, Joan Crawford, Gary Cooper, Douglas Fairbanks Jn, Wallace Beery, Edward G. Robinson, Buster Keaton, “Our Gang”, Victor McLaglen, Maurice Chevalier and the immortal Joe E. Brown are all given a few seconds each. Never before and never since have so many legendary names been squeezed into less than twenty minutes. There are also a number of established comic turns in this tiny film, performing truncated versions of their most successful sketches and spouting what we must assume are familiar catchphrases. All I can say about them is that if you’ve ever wondered why Laurel and Hardy comedies have survived and those of their contemporaries have not – you could do worse than to watch this film.
So many of Laurel and Hardy’s contemporary comics function at frenetic pace. The gags pile, giving the impression that writers and performers alike aren’t entirely sure which gags are funny and which aren’t. A Laurel and Hardy two reel comedy might be frenetic one moment but very very slow and patient the next. A Laurel and Hardy comedy knows that what is funny is not the amusing accident but the slow anticipation of the accident and the painful subsequent reaction to it. None of their competitors (excepting Buster Keaton) devoted as much time to the human face and the way it communicates how an unusually slow brain tries to work something out.
The Stolen Jools meanwhile, is a sort of almost amateur caper got up by the so-called Masquer’s Club as a charity gimmick to support the National Vaudeville Artists Tuberculosis Sanitarium. It is sponsored, ominously enough, by Chesterfield Cigarettes – whose involvement is obtrusively advertised at the start and half way through in the form of clumsy product placement. Times have changed. (Good.)
Norma Shearer’s jewels are eventually restored by little Mitzi Green, an eleven year old in a pretty white dress who stares and grins at the camera to declare that the moral of the story is…
“Never spank a child on an empty stomach”.
It’s just about the creepiest thing you’ve seen in your entire life.
I have a few thoughts on some other Laurel and Hardy films…