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Laurel & Hardy

 

 

CHICKENS COME HOME

MGM/Hal Roach, 1931.  Directed by James W. Horne.  Camera:  Jack Stevens.  With Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Mae Busch, Baldwin Cooke, Gordon Douglas, Norma Drew, James Finlayson, Thelma Todd.

Hardy, a newly married and newly successful businessman, is suddenly visited by an old flame from the past, who threatens blackmail.  Stan, his friend and business associate, is told to keep the vamp at bay—but she descends on the Hardy home nevertheless, and the complications that ensue defy a logical explanation to the automatically suspicious Mrs. Hardy.

A meticulous re-working of Love 'Em and Weep, one of the earlier films in which they appeared together (though not as a team), Chickens Come Home is a fine example of Laurel & Hardy's control over their own work, and of the sophistication they could bring to basically knockabout material.  Although there are one or two fine sight-gags, the comedy is again largely situational.  One of the well-developed gags common to both versions is of the wife's arrival in her husband's office while the vamp is hiding in the bathroom.  The silent version handled it all as a good, if unsubtle, visual gag; the sound equivalent tones down the rather outlandish elements of the vamp hiding, and concentrates more on the husband's efforts to keep his wife out of the bathroom.  When he finally succeeds, and Mrs. Hardy is about to be eased out of the office, Laurel breaks in with "Wouldn't you like to wash your hands before you go?"

Hardy essays what was originally the James Finlayson role; Laurel repeats as the friend; and Finlayson here is cast as Hardy's butler, a nebulous role for Charlie Hall in the original.  The expanded part in this new version gives Finlayson some fine opportunities to vary his traditional relationship with Hardy.  Always his enemy, he was also usually his employer, a man of property.  As the butler, he still manages to be Hardy's superior, for in overhearing Hardy's compromising phone calls, he is put into a unique position for blackmailing.  With a knowing wink at the audience and a scowl of disapproval for his employer, he manages to be on hand whenever the phone rings, hand outstretched for the bribe which may ensure his silence.

One of the better Laurel & Hardy films of its period, its only real flaw is its padded length; indeed, of all their three-reelers, only The Music Box really justifies the extra reel.

The Films of Laurel and Hardy
by William K. Everson
The Citadel Press, 1967