Monday, 16 November 2015

Thicker Than Water (1935)

The final short to star Laurel and Hardy together, Thicker than Water sees the usual formula of domestic bliss turning to domestic chaos, with brilliant slapstick, a dash of Stan’s wordplay (“Is Mr Hardy Home?” “Yes but he’s not in”) and surrealism.

The story opens at the home of Mr and Mrs Hardy, and their lodger, a certain Mr Laurel. The two men want to go out to watch the ball game – but the lady of the house (played by the diminutive Daphne Pollard) will not hear of it, at least until they have done the washing up. The sight of the under five feet tall Pollard browbeating the hapless duo is mined to great comic effect, and the washing up goes as smoothly as might be expected, especially for those who have seen Helpmates.

The rest of the story revolves around money and debt, in particular, the debt owed to furniture store owner James Finlayson, and the money that Olly gave to Stan to cover this month's payment, money that, needless to say, did not get to where it should have, leading to further ear bending and emasculation for Olly.

In an effort to regain some of his crushed male pride, he is persuaded by Stan to withdraw the couple’s remaining bank balance in order to buy furniture outright, so they are not in hock to Finlayson. As we seen time after time in the world of Laurel and Hardy, no good deed goes unpunished, and Olly’s chivalrous attempts to help a lady get a Grandfather clock at an auction leave him minus his cash and holding the timepiece. Mrs Hardy does not approve, and registers her disapproval, with the help of a frying pan, on Olly's head, requiring a trip to the hospital and a surreal twist ending.

Surrealism is perhaps one of the more underappreciated elements of Laurel and Hardy films, and it crops up here in two distinct ways.  Firstly the body swap gag, where, after a blood transfusion required by Mrs Hardy taking a frying pan to Mr Hardy, Olly dresses, talks and acts like Stan, and vice versa. The voices are dubbed but the pair do an uncannily excellent job of mimicking each other’s body language and tics of each other. These sort of jarringly odd punchlines did crop up from time to time, such as Stan’s grotesquely distended belly at the end of Below Zero

Secondly is the recurring gag where by the pair change to the next scene by having one of them drag the frame in from off-camera, a clever way of getting quickly from one scene to another, seemingly quite innovative for the time.

Laurel And Hardy - THICKER THAN WATER - 1935 by nostalgia04