Monday, 28 April 2014

The Hoose-Gow (1929)

Starting a fight in prison may be common enough in prison movies, but starting a rice pudding fight is something else entirely, something that requires a special level of idiocy. Step forward Laurel and Hardy, who achieve just that in The Hoose-Gow (the name derives from juzgado, the Spanish word for courtroom). We get a brief intro, establishing that Stan and Olly have (unwittingly, they say) been caught up in an armed robbery. Beyond that, there is little in the way of story, which does leave the film feeling a little rambling and unfocussed, not helped by the flat uninspired direction, which leaves the performers to take up the slack. 

Luckily, they are up to the task, with plenty of slapstick, kicking, punching, gouging with pick-axes, tearing of clothes, accidentally chopping down a watch tower, and other assorted self-sabotaging stupidity and childish antagonism (as well as a reworking of the salt shaker lid gag from You're Darn Tootin').

No matter where Stan and Olly are, they never fit in, and this is no exception, with Olly's naivety and genteel manners, and Stan's timidity clashing sharply with the wily, rough looking convicts. 

Just when the film feels like it is running out of steam, along comes regular foil James Finlayson as the top hat and tailed prison governor, and the second half of the film kicks in. After inadvertently puncturing the radiator of his car, Stan and Olly ill-advisedly decide to plug the holes and absorb the water with rice, leading to the aforementioned bust up. 

Like so many of the food fights or bouts of destruction in Laurel and Hardy films, the whole thing starts off feeling stylised, almost ritualised, with people waiting for the other person to have their turn, even though they must realise they are about to get something in their face, before the pace and intensity gradually picks up. 

The Hoose-Gow is not the best Laurel and Hardy short, not least because it feels like they (presumably along with the rest of Hollywood) are still trying to figure out how to make sound and dialogue work in films. However, it is still a very funny and thoroughly entertaining way to spend 20 minutes.