Short Film Wednesday - Laurel and Hardy - Helpmates
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.
I am starting to see the pattern in these Laurel and Hardy short films. Much like The Music Box, which came out later this year, the core of this short is a take on the Sisyphus tale. This film starts off with Hardy seemingly looking directly into the camera and chastising someone for his profligate behavior. It turns out he is looking into a mirror and the person he is chastising is himself (a neat trick, considering how hard it is to film characters looking into mirrors), which already frames this as Hardy’s narrative. Hardy as Sisyphus is pushing the boulder of his house, which refuses to get clean, mostly due to the interference of his friend Stan, who can’t help making Hardy the victim of his mishaps, such as the smokestack breaking and the flour falling on him.
What still holds up about this film is the sound design - specifically the moment with the dishes, which make far more of a cacophony than actual dishes would when broken. Otherwise, the dynamic between Hardy and Laurel is a funny one if not a particularly logical one. I was not clear at all why Laurel is helping Hardy except that Laurel is kind of a dimwit who just takes all the abuse Hardy heaps on him. Clearly, their relationship is a parody of a man and a wife and has cheeky overtones of homoeroticism, which was possible since this was pre-Code. This theory is only strengthened in my mind when Hardy returns from the train station after trying to pick up his wife, wearing a bent sword (too long to explain the set-up). Even more appropriately, Laurel only really gets the house clean when Hardy is out of the house, except for the fact that Laurel burns the house down at the end. Maybe it’s a challenge to the traditional notion of domesticity, or I am definitely reading way too much into it. I still think there is a bit more to this short than just pure gags, although it doesn’t take away from the merit of the short if there isn’t subtext.