Professor Clements' Trained Flea and Insect
Circus is in town, and when Farina goes to examine the sidewalk show with
his dog Magnolia, the Professor's star flea, Garfield, decides to go AWOL
and live with the pooch for awhile. When the entrepreneur discovers
that his star is gone, he offers the gang a dollar if they can find
Garfield. In the confusion that follows, the entire Flea Circus is
tipped over, and Garfield invites his cronies to "come on up" and join him
on Magnolia's back. Meanwhile, Mary's older sister is getting married,
and the gang is in attendance; the little kids, Farina and Scooter, also
show up, however, and Magnolia is with them. As the dog wanders around
the home where the ceremony is about to begin, she drops fleas hither and
yon, first sending the musicians into itching spasms and eventually
infecting the entire room. When Farina drops a whole jar of additional
fleas, the situation becomes impossible, and the party is violently
disrupted, with everyone running outside for relief. The fleas
continue to wreak their havoc, however, even on a nearby status of a discus
thrower that goes into convulsions and runs off its pedestal when the
insects get to him!
Thundering Fleas is pure and
delightful sight-gag comedy, expertly served by the Hal Roach team for
Garfield, the star flea, is an animated
cartoon character, combined with some live-action movement to provide at
least a minimal illusion of reality—although "minimal" is certainly the
only goal of this farfetched comedy.
The real highlights of Thundering Fleas
are the appearances of members of the Hal Roach comedy troupe in
featured roles. First, we see
Oliver Hardy as a cop who becomes Magnolia's first transfer-victim,
going into amusing contortions as his body is covered with fleas.
He eventually rips off his pants, causing considerable embarrassment
when Farina runs off with the trousers and unwittingly leaves the
policeman stranded. His solution to the problem, in true silent
comedy style, is to paint his bright white long johns black and simulate
The next cameo features
Charley Chase, somewhat hidden behind a giant walrus mustache, as a
wedding guest. When he feels an itch under his nose, his mustache
twitches from side to side with hilarious results, before he plucks the
intruder out of his hair and relaxes. Not for long, however—since
another small army of fleas is assembling under his shirtfront.
Chase's "guest appearance" was apparently filmed during a spare moment from
his own shooting schedule on the Roach lot, since he appears alone on-screen
as a cutaway from the party.
Then there is
James Finlayson, sans mustache (Charley
Chase must have worn it) as the justice of the peace. His
performance is conventional until the actual moment of truth, when he asks
the groom the Big Question and the fellow, covered with fleas, jerks his
head from side to side as if to say "No!" Then Fin gives him his
famous fisheye look and repeats the question; when the same result occurs,
his reaction is even funnier, until the preacher gets bitten himself and
becomes a victim of itching.
Pert Martha Sleeper is also seen to good
advantage in her brief scenes as the bride, who is among the last to suffer
Although the gang is on hand throughout the
proceedings, they really take a back seat to these "guest stars" and sight
gags. As if to compensate, McGowan opens the film with a junior
version of the wedding, allowing us to spend time with the kids before
moving on to the grown-up wedding.
Some viewers might find it odd that the wedding
is never resolved in this film and the "story" never comes to a close.
But Thundering Fleas is more concerned with gags than with plot, and
it scores as a completely satisfying comedy because the laughs never let up.