Unusually for a Stan and Ollie short, this film is perhaps most notable for the quality of its actual dialogue. In other words, a higher percentage than usual of the reasons why you are laughing during this film are dialogue driven rather than visually driven.
The plot of this one is partially recycled from their early silent film Do Detectives Think and some plot elements would be reused yet again in their very late film The Bullfighters.
Laurel and Hardy are witnesses to the many crimes of the cartoonishly brutal Walter (Butch) Long, a familiar Stan and Ollie antagonist. From the dock, Long declares that his life’s sole remaining purpose is to escape from prison in order to enact grisly revenge on the two men whose testimony secured his conviction.
Stan and Ollie therefore determine to get out of town, but Stan decides that they need someone to share expenses on the trip, a suggestion which turns out to be one of those ideas that Ollie proclaims to be genius. After a little scene of domestic confusion involving crushed glasses and spilled milk, the pair have a telephone conversation with Mae Busch who is happy to be a third wheel on the incipient trip but who is, unbeknownst to our heroes, Butch Long’s girlfriend.
Long escapes, reunites with Busch, who is none too pleased to see him and ending up hiding in a trunk thinking the cops are at the door. Stan and Ollie attempt to free Long from the truck using drills and blowtorches in a scene which (rarely) illustrates Stan and Ollie (innocently) inflicting pain rather than receiving it. Long is finally re-arrested following the destruction of the trunk, but breaks free for long enough to twist Stan and Ollie into pretzels. The conclusion of this film therefore resembles The Live Ghost which also features Walter Long perpetrating bizarre bodily contortions.
The joy of this film is, as I say, in the dialogue. In court, Stan pipes up following the judge’s sentence of life imprisonment with
“Aren’t you gonna hang him?”
In the car afterwards Ollie berates Stan for this impolite intervention by saying
“Couldn’t you see that he was annoyed?”
Ollie’s reading of the personal ad placed by Stan in the newspaper is a particular joy – as it the way Ollie apologises on the phone:
“Excuse me. My ear is full of milk.”
My personal favourite moment is when Mae Busch explains to Stan and Ollie how her friend managed to accidentally lock himself in a trunk while trying to pack it. After a brief but perfectly timed pause, Stan observes.
“It could happen.”
And we laugh because we know that this far fetched calamity is fully congruent with what we know to be the life experience of our heroes. For once, the kind of thing that happens to Stan and Ollie has happened to someone else.
That’s just what the universe is like – don’t you know?
I’ve some thoughts about a few other Laurel and Hardy films.