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Short Film Wednesday - Laurel and Hardy - Busy Bodies (1933)

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.


You can’t help but to think of Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times when you see this film. But while Chaplin had the benefit of a relatively mammoth budget compared to this short, Busy Bodies is predictably smaller in scope as it is in scale. The focus is much more on personal inadequacies rather than the grander point Chaplin was making about the dehumanization of workers stuck in an industrial machine. I mean, who in their right mind, would hire these two to do any sort of construction for them when they can’t follow through on a single project without some serious bodily injury and some butt-hurt feelings on Laurel’s part?

This film pre-dates Modern Times and you can see Chaplin's gears turning while watching these two have at it. I appreciate how this short actually ventures far more into the surreal than I have seen in either Chaplin’s films or any short so far. I am thinking specifically of the moment when Laurel sticks a brush lathered with glue onto Hardy’s face and, after some painfully unsuccessful attempts to remove said brush, proceeds to give him a shave. It’s a child’s logic, and it plays out as a parody of adult behavior, which is at the core of all their comedy.

Laurel and Hardy are also far more petty than Chaplin tends to be, but unlike, say the Marx brothers, their pettiness is very much grounded in reality and has less the anarchic randomness that group was known for. Their vendetta against one of their humorless co-workers ends in his getting fired. Theirs is a cruder, less elegant and meaner form of comedy, but I can see its roots in shaping a lot of its descendants during the sound era.

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