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Short Film Wednesday - Laurel and Hardy - The Music Box (1932)

Inspired by having seen Stan & Ollie, I will be trying to fill in a blind spot with the films of Laurel and Hardy, artists I had absolutely no familiarity with before seeing the movie.


It’s difficult to not compare Laurel and Hardy to the silent film comedians that came before (and worked with previously in vaudeville). The whole fat and skinny dynamic is reminiscent of Fatty Arbuckle and Buster Keaton with Stan even doing the similar stone-faced bit that Keaton did. They’re not as athletic as Keaton or as expressive/sentimental as Chaplin though. They are also not entirely anarchic like the Marx Brothers. In fact, there is a groundedness and certain obedience to rules in the face of absurdity. I am thinking of when the owner of the house hits the piano with an ax, making it play the national anthem, and everyone, including the irate owner, stands to attention and salutes.

The main factor for these two is how they are willing to take a lot of punishment. Though apparently they would ease up on the stunt work later since they were getting so popular, they rival Harold Lloyd for the physicality of their stunts. Even though someone like Keaton or Arbuckle were no slouch at stunts, there was a certain grace to them, despite the latter’s large frame. In “The Music Box,” we see Laurel and Hardy sweat and struggle. I was also taken aback when the piano drags Hardy down the stairs, since it looked so real. The body didn’t flop around like a dummy would have, and while it may not have been Hardy getting dragged down, it seems like a real person.

Perhaps the best feature of this film is the use of sound. I am talking about the rogue player piano, of course. Every time something happens to that piano, it makes a ruckus that would not be remotely possible for that instrument. I see this as an incorporation of using relatively new sound technology. It’s the closest the short gets to absurdism and is definitely the better for it. It should be noted that there is also evidence of the negative effects of using this new technology, namely, how talky and awkward all the actors sound. While I appreciate the simplicity and effectiveness of the main gag, it doesn’t seem to have the sharp execution of a lot of the silent comedies that had come before, though I am still willing to see more.

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