We all know that the Laurel and Hardy short films (“shorts”) were charming, hilarious, and full of fun. But did you know that they were also held in high esteem by members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences? Tonight’s program featured those Hal Roach films (and a related cartoon) that either won, or were nominated for, Academy Awards.
We began with the Walt Disney cartoon, “Mother Goose Goes Hollywood” (running time 7:53). Released on December 23, 1938, the cartoon was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Short in 1939, but lost to another Disney cartoon short, Ferdinand the Bull. See if you recognize Simple Simon and The Pie Man! It was noted that “political correctness” was unheard of back in 1938 and that some character depictions in this cartoon were negatively stereotypical of the time.
A ‘special bonus’ was screened next: the May 14, 1955 “Songs and Witty Sayings” episode of “The Honeymooners” wherein Ralph Kramden (Jackie Gleason) and Ed Norton (Art Carney) performed as Laurel and Hardy; it involved a pie and yes, Alice (Audrey Meadows) accidentally got a pie in the face! Which lead us to…
…a short film that didn’t garner Academy Award interest (it was released on December 31, 1927, the first year that the Academy was founded, so obviously they didn’t know what they were doing yet…), but “The Battle of the Century” (10:42) provided a wonderful example of Laurel and Hardy-generated chaos. Ollie was the fight manager for his hapless boxer Stan and takes out an insurance policy on his boxer and then proceeds to try to arrange for an accident so that he can collect on it.
However, when a pie delivery man (Hal Roach regular actor Charlie Hall) slips on a banana peel meant for Stan, a classic pie throwing scene results. Unfortunately, this is one of 5 Laurel and Hardy films with missing content (others are Hats Off, Now I’ll Tell One, Duck Soup, and The Rogue Song); several minutes of footage bridging the first and second halves and the final half-minute have not been located. Still, we’re lucky to have what’s left of this wonderful pie fight to end all pie fights.
We then saw Laurel and Hardy feature in “Them Thar Hills” (released July 21, 1934; 19:29). Although this short was not nominated for any Academy Awards, it was on our program tonight because it was the prequel to its nominated sequel, “Tit for Tat” (which we saw momentarily – see below!). Enjoy Charlie Hall (again) and Mae Busch as the married couple who run into the usual hiccups associated with The Boys.
Hal Roach of course also created and produced the Our Gang series. “Bored of Education”, released on July 20, 1936 (10:14), won the 1937 Academy Award for Best Short Subject, Comedy. The opening title read, “September 14; with vacation over, thousands of smiling, happy children return to school.” However, Spanky and Alfalfa were worried about having a new teacher. We watched as they concocted a toothache scheme to get out of class, and saw that their new teacher (Rosina Lawrence, who featured prominently in the Laurel and Hardy full-length feature film “Way Out West”) was one step ahead of them. And we listened to hear how Alfalfa’s singing was never better (well, sort of…).
We then proceeded to watch the only Laurel and Hardy sequel, “Tit For Tat”, released on January 5, 1935 (18:28). Taking off where “Them Thar Hills” left off (well, sort of…!), Stan and Ollie were the proud new owners of an electrical shop who visited the store next to them to meet their new business neighbors. But who were their neighbors? Charlie Hall and Mae Busch again, and Charlie was not pleased to see The Boys after his last run-in with them. Another round of “reciprocal destruction” is called for! The film was nominated for the 1936 Academy Award for Best Short Subject, Comedy, but did not win, losing to Robert Benchley’s How To Sleep.
Another ‘bonus’ program was then screened: two 1979 Anco Window Wiper Blade commercials that aired during the Super Bowl that year. The ads featured Laurel and Hardy impersonators and involved airplanes AND a piano. And speaking of pianos…
Our final feature for the evening was the one Laurel and Hardy film most people think of when they don’t know much about who The Boys were or what other films they made. “The Music Box” IS the film about The Boys carrying a piano up and down that long series of steps on that steep hill. It was released on April 16, 1932 (27:46) and won the 1933 Academy Award for Best Short Subject, Comedy. The creativity, humor, and its unforgettable association with Laurel and Hardy led to this film being selected by the National Film Preservation Board (founded by the Library of Congress) to the National Film Registry in 1997. Thus, this precious film was selected as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important” and will be preserved for all future generations to enjoy.
But WE didn’t have to wait for future generations because we enjoyed this film tonight. It’s tough to be a piano mover, but that’s the job we found The Boys working at in this film. Susie, their horse, was a big help, and Charley Hall appears (again) playing a postman. Our nice friend Billy Gilbert (remember him as the landlord in The Chimp?), was the irascible Professor Theodore von Schwarzenhoffen M.D., A.D., D.D.S., F.L.D., F.F.F. and F., and Sam Lufkin played the lesson-teaching policeman.
There were many delightful moments in this film, but in particular we watched for Susie’s behavior (and Ollie’s camera looks), Ollie’s laughter when an angered Stan “daily duties” a woman (!), and the inevitable large truck that naturally appeared when the Professor’s hat goes flying into the street. And all of this didn’t even get us to the top of the stairs where more mayhem and hilarity awaited.
It was a fun-filled evening enjoyed by all in attendance. We hope that you’ll join us at our next meeting to share in the continuing fun too!