The Laurel & Hardy Project #4: Duck Soup

The first-ever on-screen pairing of Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy, though they were not yet an official comedy team.  The Roach Studio was at the time shuffling its various actors through all kinds of permutations, and it was apparently Leo McCarey who saw the potential of the Laurel & Hardy combination.  McCarey was the supervising director of this film, and though he’s most famous for his talking films like The Awful Truth, Make Way for Tomorrow, An Affair to Remember, The Bells of St. Marys and the Marx Brothers classic that borrows the title of this short, he was very influential in silent comedy at Roach, working with Our Gang and Charley Chase in addition to Laurel & Hardy as a writer, director and “supervising director”.

It was in the latter role that McCarey worked on this film, based on a play by Laurel’s father, Arthur J. Jefferson.  Stan and Ollie play a pair of tramps on the run from park rangers who want to draft them to help fight a raging forest fire.  They flee into an empty mansion (the owner is on vacation) and set up residence, only to be forced to pose as owner and butler when prospective sub-letees arrive to tour the place.  When the real owner, a blustery madman of a hunter who looks like a psychotic Teddy Roosevelt, shows up, chaos reigns.  Eventually, the boys end up at the fire, whipped into the air by an overpowering fire hose in a brief, beautiful image of freedom and karmic punishment.

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