The Sunday Intertitle: Citrus

Stan Laurel’s citrus-based comedy, ORANGES AND LEMONS of 1923 just isn’t good enough. I’ve come around to his parody films, which are inventive and silly enough to get you over the major hurdle of No Ollie — they’re different enough, too. It’s not like there’s a role for Ollie in them. But O&L is just basic slapstick, with Stan as, effectively, his old colleague Chaplin in one of his work-based comedies. Stan, like Charlie, is a shiftless and incompetent labourer who is entertained by his own mistakes, especially when they result in his boss or even his co-workers getting pelted with fruit. The lack of solidarity with his fellow employees (see THE PAWNSHOP for instance) is tres Charlot.

(This is the shorter version on YouTube, but it has better picture quality.)

Of course, Stan’s performance isn’t. Despite having worked alongside Chaplin, he never attempted to impersonate him as far as I know. But if he’s not like the Little Tramp, he’s not much like himself, either. Some of his antics are things you might conceivably see Mr. Laurel do in a drunk scene, or some other instance of out-of-character hi-jinks, but he’s devoid of any of his signature moves, gestures and expressions. His Barrymore-Ogle-Schreck monster in DR. PYCKLE AND MR. PRYDE has more in common with the classic Stan than this cheeky chappie.

Stan DOES share a scene with a big fat chap, “Tonnage” Martin Wolfkeil — who acts like a small child, i.e. plays the Stan role. Maybe an idea started to click in Stan’s head as he inappropriately played the leader of this duo for a few seconds of screen time. (One can imagine typecasting dictating that Ollie ought to play the infantile one, with his big baby face, with Stan as the more adult half of the team. Thank God that never came to pass.) This moment feels like one of those cartoon parodies of OF MICE AND MEN — but it hadn’t been written yet. Later on, Stan, no sentimentalist, kicks this inoffensive fellow in the face.

Stan wears an amusing clown-sized sombrero for half the film but, forced to assume a disguise, steals a derby from a chap with a Chaplin moustache — is he slowly becoming himself? Seconds later, that sheepish, chin-stretching beam makes an appearance on his features.

There are only about three good laughs in this thing, but I kind of like how the title bridges the distance between London and the music hall (“…say the bells of St. Clemence”) and California and the cinema. James Finlayson appears briefly.

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