Before they became a legendary comedy team, Stan Laurel (1890-1965) and Oliver Hardy (1892-1957) were already making people laugh. Prior to 1925, SL had been in over 50 films and OH in 250. They first appeared together around 1921, but not yet as a comedy team. Many of these films from the silent era were only eight-minute shorts, but it was always a very funny eight minutes.
In 1963, I went out one Saturday night to Straw Hat Pizza in Stockton, CA. I knew of L and H, but what happened that night has stayed with me to this day. The manager of the pizzeria had a 16MM projector and would screen old films on the weekends to bring in business. He was showing a few old silent comedies. He noticed I was paying a lot of attention and asked if I had seen Big Business. I had never heard of it. He spooled up his projector and I just about had a brain aneurism from laughing and choking on the pepperoni. BB was made by L and H in 1929. It’s all about Stan and Ollie as door-to-door Christmas tree salesmen. They don’t have much luck until they get to the home of their irascible foe, actor James Finlayson (1887-1953). Their attempts to sell him a tree become all out war, when they end up wrecking his house while he demolishes their tree and car.
I became a life-long L and H fan from that point on. When they re-released, and I eventually watched, The Music Box (1932), it truly cemented the deal. This time out the boys attempt to deliver a piano to a home at the top of a hill. Their ongoing attempts to get the piano to the top and then into the home of the new owner may well be the funniest scenes ever filmed.
These two films are as good as comedic cinema can get. Look around for them as they are available on DVD and included in many L and H sets. Also, for the folks who would like to introduce younger kids to one of the best physical, slapstick comedy teams of American film, The Best of Laurel and Hardy Premium Collector’s Edition is now available for under $20 at several stores, including Target. Inside is a beautifully designed book with a history of the team. And, six DVDs which contain many highlights of their history, including lots of silent films, dating back to 1916, showing the two actors in their early years. Also you get a chance to see the full length 1925 version of The Wizard of Oz with OH as the tin man. A couple of their feature films and scenes from their best films make up the 11 hours of video. The set ends with their last film, Utopia (1952). There are also 26 minutes of home movies, which are interesting for their historical value. You can see Big Business and The Music Box for free on YouTube.
Even though the DVD set does not include Big Business or The Music Box, it’s still worth adding to your home movie collection. It is a delight to introduce young people to these films and watch their laughter explode.
Big Business and The Music Box are rated 4.0 plus. They are among the best pictures produced in the 20th century. The box set is rated 3.9 out of 4.0 reasons to proclaim, “Well, this is another fine mess you’ve gotten us into”
Side Note: If, after watching The Music Box, you would like to take a trip up the steps, travel to 923-925 Vendome St. near the intersection of Del Monte in the Silver Lake District of Los Angeles. There are 147 steps to the top and a small street sign at the bottom, which says “Music Box Steps.” You can drive by the home in Big Business at 10281 Dunleer Drive near Rancho Park in Los Angeles. Apparently people still approach the house trying to sell the current owners Christmas trees. I am not recommending you try it.