Prisoners in Cell Block L&H

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My dodgy photo of a very good photo of Laurel & Hardy on a visit to Scotland — this is on display at Bo’ness Library as part of an exhibition showcasing Silent Stars in Scotland.

Laurel & Hardy shorts at the Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema always play to a packed house, and a packed house dotted with derbies and fezes, at that. Ace pianist John Sweeney joined the fest for the first time to provide accompaniment upon the “music box.”

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I had seen two of this year’s trio of (very) dumb shows fairly recently: I wrote about the early pairing DO DETECTIVES THINK? here. It’s a lovely example of the more macabre style of terror comedy (see also the sublime OLIVER THE EIGHTTH).

When the Hippodrome ran DOUBLE WHOOPEE, it inspired me to check out Jean Harlow’s other work with the boys, so I saw BACON GRABBERS then. Watching it afresh, I really felt Ollie’s frustration at having to rely on Stan’s inept assistance. Since Ollie doesn’t realize that he himself is an idiot, Stan’s foolishness is a thwart disnatured torment to him.

Silent movie maven Bryony Dixon explained to me that the show’s somewhat mysterious title stems from it being basically plagiarized, by Stan, from a Fred Karno music hall sketch he’d appeared in. Since Karno had sued Charles Pathe and Max Linder for stealing Mumming Birds and adapting it into AU MUSIC HALL, the boys were being cautious in giving it a new name.

Many of the Laurel & Hardy shorts have quite peculiar titles which have little to do with the contents– one plus side of this is that whenever I think I’ve seen them all, it turns out there’s one I’ve never had the pleasure of. This turned out to be the case with THE SECOND HUNDRED YEARS, in which the boys break out of prison and then back in. This was the movie for which Stan shaved his hair, according to Fest director Ali Strauss, and when it grew back it was all tufty…

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It kind of fizzles out, but it has some great stuff. I liked an exchange between Stan and another convict. “How long are you in for?” “Forty years.” Stan smiles and passes an envelope. “Mail this for me when you get out.”

What did Stan and Ollie DO, to earn sentences clearly in excess of forty years??? I have to assume that with their usual luck, they simply appeared in the wrong place at the wrong time and got mistaken for someone else. Still, soon they’ll be at LIBERTY.

The program came complete with newsreel footage of a 1930s Glasgow pantomime featuring two (fairly good) L&H impersonators, and afterwards I chatted with Tony McKeever & Douglas Muir, no slouches in the looky-likey department themselves ~

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2 Responses to “Prisoners in Cell Block L&H”

  1. The boys did spend a lot of time in jail. In PARDON US, they’re aspiring bootleggers who get as far as trying to get an advance order from a cop, but one suspects they were more often scooped up as vagrants, or perhaps for the outcome of some misfired venture (Did the cop catch them after the fadeout of “Big Business”?). Then again, they may have just offended the dignity of the cop on the beat — offense enough in old comedies and perhaps in real life.

  2. And judges! FInlayson is the prison governor here, but he’s a judge in Do Detectives Think! If Stan bit his ear as he was about to pass sentence, that would be good for an extra couple of decades in the hoosegow.

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