6/28/16

THE SPEECHLESS LAUREL & HARDY: "THE FINISHING TOUCH"



In spite of my many years of devotion to the art of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, I never took much of an interest in their silent films. It seemed to me ridiculous to watch an L&H without the benefit of Stan's strangely pitched English accent and Oliver's over-ripe, florid pseudo-Southern one. But that was idiotic of me. Thanks to Youtube I've been wasting a great deal of time lately catching up on the L&H silents and they are mostly quite brilliant.

One of the strange things to contemplate is what audiences of the day may have thought the boys sounded like. Certainly the title cards make no effort to reproduce their actual speech patterns--one of the cards has Ollie saying "Give me them nails!", a contraction he would never have used in a talkie. (Indeed one can hear the real Ollie emphasizing the correct word: "Give me those nails!") L&H without their voices are really only 50% of themselves, yet the silents do manage to convey their personalities quite articulately albeit without words. Stan is a mite more aggressive toward Ollie in this one--an attribute that's always a pleasure to see come out of him, though I thought it didn't really surface until the mid-thirties. Again, I was wrong. I'm wrong a lot.

The above movie, 'The Finishing Touch', was shot off Motor Avenue and Pico Blvd, about five minutes from where I am as I write this. As always with early L&H, much of the fun comes with the meta-movie of its making: we can watch the film for itself while also viewing it as a document of what it was like for a film crew to be out in the streets of a still unpopulated LA  on those forgotten fall days when the movie was shot.

The film is hilarious from the opening truck-with-no-breaks gag. The stunts are quite terrifying and all appear to be performed for real--mostly Ollie takes the brunt of the action. This was by no means a 'quickie' slapstick comedy thrown together on the fly. The elaborate gags required multiple breakaway houses and much planning had to have gone into shot selection and choreography of events. You'll note that the 'Supervising Director' was Leo McCarey while the actual director was Clyde Bruckman. What was the difference I wonder? This was the typical credit spread on these silents L&H's--McCarey never seems to be credited as the actual director. I get the feeling that he spent a lot of time in the planning stages of the film and preferred to leave the grunt work--i.e. the shooting--to somebody else. In this case it was Bruckman who later wrote scripts for The Three Stooges (including "Brideless Groom", a Shemp classic) and finally shot himself when he was rendered unemployable after being sued by that prick Harold Lloyd for allegedly plagiarizing his own material which Lloyd claimed he had sole control over.

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