& Hardy are Christmas tree salesmen whose salesmanship in sunny
California in mid-July is not producing very concrete results, even when
they follow up a turndown by trying to get advance orders for the
following year. Taking refusals in their stride, they determine to
make of James Finlayson a "test case" to prove their salesmanship when
his obstinacy becomes a little too firm. Soon Christmas trees are
forgotten, and in the battle royal that follows, their business-and his
home-are totally wrecked.
The apotheosis of all Laurel & Hardy films, and a subject that one could
not imprudently label the funniest two reels on film, Big Business
is one of the comedy classics from any star, any country and any period.
Even non-Laurel & Hardy devotees are automatically caught up in the
maelstrom of fury which, in its precise mounting excitement, attention
to detail, meticulous editing, and no-pause-for-breath action, is to the
comedy film what
The Birth of a Nation is to the
Even the preliminary skirmishing, which
has to be on the intimate, personal level, is hilarious.
Finlayson takes, examines, and winks approvingly at Hardy's watch,
assuring him that it is in perfect working order, and then in one wild
gesture smashes it to the sidewalk, and tramples on it. Hardy
slices slivers of woodwork from Finlayson's front door, but has his
shirt clipped in retaliation. Laurel pries the street numbers from
Finlayson's front door, and when Finlayson tries to call the police, the
phone wire is cut in half in his very hands. Time for honorable
negotiation and settlement now being past, the implements of war are
brought forth: gardening hose, shears, spades, bricks. As
Laurel & Hardy break a window, so Finlayson breaks the windshield of
their car, via a brick hurled at two paces.
Soon even the
back-and-forth, eye-for-an-eye warfare is discarded; Laurel & Hardy
dedicate themselves to the full-scale destruction of Finlayson's house,
while he launches an offensive against their car. When Laurel &
Hardy have finished with the house, there is still the garden, and when
trees have been toppled and shrubbery yanked out by the roots, the boys
fall back on the smooth lawn, which is soon filled with potholes.
Their car offers Finlayson less potential; after he has ripped off the
gas tank and broken doors and wheels, he does battle with their supply
of Christmas trees. Then a match applied to the leaking gas tank,
and everything explodes in a mass of burned rubble. Still
Finlayson seeks to add injury to insult. With a hammer, he skips gaily
and triumphantly over the wreckage, seeking out any piece of it that
still has a shape, and hammering it flat.
This incredible spectacle has of course been watched by a growing number
of curious but passive neighbors and passers-by, including policeman
Tiny Sandford, whose expression indicates contempt for such childish
goings-on, but whose respect for the due process of law impels him to
remain silent, making copious notes, until he is galvanized into
personal intervention by a spade landing on his foot, when Mr. Hardy,
adopting the stance of a baseball player, hits and demolishes all the
vases and other bric-a-brac that Laurel is throwing from inside the
house. The presence of the law brings Hardy up short; Laurel, as
yet blissfully unaware of it, trundles a piano onto the lawn, reduces it
to kindling with a few deft strokes of an axe, and then, when he too
becomes cognizant of the forces of law and order, strives somewhat
fruitlessly to reassemble the shattered keyboard.
forces are brought together in a truce and survey the battlefield.
Finlayson's home has been ruined, but presumably can be repaired.
Laurel & Hardy's loss is more serious. Their business, their
stock, their transportation, one suspects also their home—all totally
gone. The erstwhile enemies dissolve into sentimentality and
forgive each other; to show his good faith, Hardy presents Finlayson
with a cigar. But alone, their faces take on a conspiratorial air
and they break into chuckles; their remorse but a sham, they are honest
enough to admit having enjoyed the fracas to the full. The
policeman sees their mirth, however, and takes after them—their flight
punctuated by an explosion from Finlayson's cigar, the last gesture that
establishes them as the victors in the titanic struggle.