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Laurel & Hardy




Hal Roach-MGM, 1928.  Directed by James Parrott.  Camera:  George Stevens.  With Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Edgar Kennedy, Charles Hall, Thelma Hill, Ruby Blaine.

Laurel & Hardy, sailors on leave, rent a car and pick up two girls for a drive in the country.  An initial altercation with drug store owner Charles Hall—in which the two tars are egged on by the girls, impatient to get going and have fun—is followed by an even more spectacular set-to when they hit the open road.  Road repairs have caused a massive traffic tie-up, and with the long delay having already caused tempers to reach the breaking point, Hardy's intervention is not welcomed.  Like a brush fire, antagonisms race, leap and roar into life, so that before long the waiting motorists are at each other's throats.  Finally, the all-but-destroyed cars limp off in a freakish parade, some of them in hot pursuit of the two tars, who lead them into a railroad tunnel just before a locomotive enters, thus completing the destruction of a peaceful Sunday afternoon.

Originally titled "Two Tough Tars" and running for three reels, the title and running time were both whittled down until, in its two-reel form, it became both one of the most elaborate short comedies ever made and certainly one of Laurel & Hardy's most famous.  The introductory "battle" with Charles Hall seems a trifle forced, but perhaps only because we know what lies ahead, and are eager to be at it.  As always, the full-scale war develops out of the smallest incidents of belligerence—oil is accidentally squirted in a motorist's face, and the delighted squeals of the two girls are not altogether conducive to patient understanding of the situation; cars are bumped unintentionally; the carefully arranged luggage, tied on top and sides of a rickety car, is pulled into the dust.

But once admonitions prove to be insufficient, the kid gloves are removed and orderly but unlimited destruction takes over—ranging from a pile of mud, carefully collected and molded into shape in front of the victim's unwavering eyes, dumped on his head, squashed flat and held in place by his bowler hat, to the ultimate demolition of all the cars in sight by yanking off hoods, doors and wheels.  Despite the sheer size of the comedy—and obviously a hundred or more cars and trucks were lined up on that sunny California highway—it is as usual the gentler bits of individual humor that register best.  Especially memorable is Laurel's pained and indignant expression (as though the act was not in accordance with the rules) when a hurled tomato hits him on the back of the neck, and slowly and juicily slips down the back of his sailor uniform; and another moment when an unfortunate motorist has aroused their particular ire, and, with a knowing affirmative nod at each other, they hoist up their belts in the time-honored nautical fashion, march over to the car, flank it, and without a word being spoken, pull off the front wheels simultaneously so that the poor crippled auto lurches down on its gas tank like a bewildered bulldogged steer.

Next to Big Business, which is better only because it is simpler, Two Tars is about the funniest and most representative of all Laurel & Hardy silents.

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