Laurel and Hardy

What Price Decent Reception? Laurel and Hardy in “Hog Wild” (1930)

Most people would have cut their losses after the chimney stack and much of the roof had been destroyed. Most people would have regarded the structural integrity of their primary residence of greater account than better radio reception. But not Oliver Hardy. And most especially not Mrs Hardy as played by Fay Holderness.

It is interesting to trace the shifting oscillations in economic fortune from one Laurel and Hardy film to the next. In some films they start a dime away from starvation. In this film the Hardy household actually has a maid, a giggly creature whose only purpose is to expand a prolonged joke about Ollie looking for a hat that’s on his own head. It is worth expanding this very basis joke insofar as it’s always worth watching Ollie assert his own personal worth and supposed dignity at florid length. In the wake of his eventual mortification, Ollie is ordered by his spouse to finally put an aerial on the radio – a far more onerous task than later generations might credit.

Stanley arrives by car. There’s a nice anticipation of the final dramatic scene offered in terms of the way in which Stan, while driving, swivels his head around to observe a woman raising her skirt to cross a muddy puddle. He careers across a busy junction to the honks of many to illustrate the fact that sometimes not crashing is as funny as crashing. He is instantly enlisted for the aerial installation project.

Hog Wild is not a complicated film. It is a bag that contains exquisitely timed comic vignettes. Note that after we see Ollie fall into the duck pond the first time we don’t have to see subsequent falls – just their consequences. Assuming that the finished product owes rather more to Stan Laurel than to nominal director James Parrott, this two reeler shows how Stan had by 1930 become the supreme master of knowing what to show and what not to show? What does an audience need to see and what can we just let them extrapolate?

By 1930, it was now understood that however long you might initially think it’s worth while training a camera at Oliver Hardy’s face in the aftermath of a painful accident – double that length of time. By 1930, it has been established that there is always one more brick that can fall on his head. The climax of the film consists of a truly extraordinary stunt involving driving a car through busy streets with Oliver perched on top of a ladder on the back seat. The stunt is credible, terrifying, and hilarious. Somehow Ollie remembers to tip his hat to ladies on the top deck of a bus, because his ingrained southern gentility kicks in even at times of mortal crisis. When watching a stunt of this nature, the joy is not the disaster but the postponement of disaster, the surprise and twisted delight you feel that such an impossible situation can be sustained for as long as it can.

And when the crash comes, Mrs Hardy arrives weeping, having just learned that her precious radio has fallen prey to bacon grabbers (repo-men), neatly making every scrap of preceding pain and destruction pointless. It is important that everyone realise this. And then there’s a final crunch, consisting of Stan’s car becoming concertina’d between two tram cars. The bizarrely crushed vehicle that survives recalls those inventively violated cars from Two Tars – one of their best silent films. In common with those strange mutations, Stan’s car somehow still moves under its own power. They can still drive away from this carnage – which allows the film to end on a strangely affirmative note.

Stan has lost a car. The Hardys have lost a radio and much of their roof. Compared to most other Laurel and Hardy film conclusions, they’re not down that badly.

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