Two Tars (James Parrott, 1928), Leave ‘Em Laughing (Clyde Bruckman, 1928), The Second 100 Years (Fred Guiol, 1927)
Coming off the last evening I caught of the on-going silent (Stan) Laurel & (Oliver) Hardy two-reelers playing at the Cinémathèque which proved fun and charming, yet just a tad forced due to the lack of physical, sometimes even death-defying, stunts performed by the brilliant skinny/fat guy tandem, it was an even greater pleasure to witness them come back in joyous, inspired and manic full force.
For someone like me, who only knew of them from sporadically catching their later sound work on television as a kid, seeing these silent works has been a real revelation in learning what a brilliantly inspired duo they were, not only in how they perform off each other, but in their comedic acrobatic prowess (as bulky as Hardy was, he wasn’t afraid to mix it up physically).
From the first shown, Two Tars (as sailors stuck in a traffic jam that leads to hilarious misunderstandings, amusing quarrels and ultimately epic destruction on a ridiculous level), to Leave ‘Em Laughing (in which a hot water bottle and a tack lead the duo into a physical spat with their bemused landlord and an eventual dentist visit for Hardy that leaves poor Ollie mistakenly in the chair getting his tooth pulled — I mean… why are they doing all these things together in the first place?) and the last, The Second 100 Years (as convicts disguising as painters to break out of prison, only to find themselves, through a series of absurdly inspired situations, pretending to be dignitaries at a dinner with the warden himself), this trifecta really demonstrates how brilliantly their comic interplay (with, for instance, Hardy always believing himself to be the straight man forced to bear with his incompetent skinny friend and somehow totally unaware of how equally bumbling he himself is) comes out when they work against physical hijinks (and, it shouldn’t be forgotten, when they’re dropped into such cleverly constructed situations and predicaments that those earlier writers seemed to be able to offer in spades, for all those early silent comic greats).
After first noticing with the last Laurel & Hardy two-reeler program, now I catch the name in the credits each time of Academy award winning filmmaker Leo McCarey (who would make one of the greatest screwball comedies ever made, one that every human being should see, The Awful Truth), who I had learned was instrumental in guiding and creating the duo’s on-screen characters; in the case of these three, not as a director, but as screenwriter or co-screenwriter.
I eagerly await the next time the CQ programs some further glimpses at the masterful silent work of this original cinematic comic duo with a mismatched physicality that’s much more familiar today (with Abbott and Costello picking up the reigns soon after with similar body types yet far different character traits – there, the skinny guy plays the straight man, and he doesn’t just think he is, he actually is a straight man). My daughter missed this one with me and though I wish we could have shared it, each of the three efforts was still enjoyable enough – with such sophistication in their individual construction – for Papa Bear to admire all on his own.