The Egg is one of the many short comedies Stan Laurel starred in during his long apprenticeship, and for fans who have seen a lot of his work it may look familiar in some respects. The lumber company setting is one he would return to just a year later in The Noon Whistle, a film that recycles some of the routines seen here, while Laurel & Hardy buffs will recognize one particular gagthe infamous "mouthful of nails" bitthat Stan would reassign to his partner Babe Hardy in The Finishing Touch in 1928. But in other respects this is an unusual short, even something of an experiment. At this point in his career Stan was still trying to develop an appropriate screen persona, and in the course of this two-reeler he ventures into areas he would seldom explore later on.
There's a noticeable element of social satire in this film that would not be unusual in a Chaplin comedy but is very uncommon in Laurel's work. Stan acted as understudy to Chaplin in the Fred Karno stage troupe in earlier years, and Charlie's influence on Stan is quite apparent here. The opening sequence of The Egg cuts back and forth between the morning activities of Gerald Stone, the wealthy villain, as he breakfasts in his palatial home, and Stan as he shuffles around in his humble shack. After breakfast Stone is offered a cigar by his butler, who lights it; Stan meanwhile selects a cigarette butt for himself out of a battered box. Stone travels in his chauffeured limousine, while Stan hitches a ride on the back of a garbage truck. Beyond the Chaplin-like comment on class differences, Stan even dresses like the Little Tramp in this film: he wears a tattered swallowtail jacket and a vest, topped with a derby. Early on, there's a shot of Stan seen from behind, running down the sidewalk and grabbing his hat as he rushes to work, and if you didn't know better you'd swear it was a shot of Charlie in character, taken from a Chaplin film.
Once Stan arrives at the lumber shop and gets busy the atmosphere feels more like a standard Laurel comedy, but soon afterward there's a sequence that is unlike any I've seen in his work: a fellow employee, a small scruffy man, is unable to lift a heavy plank. When Stan approaches and asks what's wrong the man replies: "I'm weak from hunger." Stan takes pity on the guy and gives him some of his own lunch, and pats him on the shoulder. But just as we're thinking that our lead comic is making an uncharacteristic and rather strenuous play for audience sympathy he undercuts the sentiment by hoisting the heavy plank and clunking the hungry man on the head. There, that's the Stan we know! Much of the rest of the film is taken up with the kind of gags we expect from the setting. Stan and the other workers are tormented by a sadistic boss who spends most of his time beating up latecomers. (Prolific character actor Tom Kennedy takes the role that Jimmy Finlayson would inherit in The Noon Whistle.) Meanwhile, however, the villain is attempting to wrest control of the lumber company from its kindly old president, whose daughter is on hand to provide obligatory love interest in the film's final minutes. Ultimately Stan manages to save the day for the old fellow and win his daughter's hand, but in the meantime there is one more sequence that is unusual for a Stan Laurel comedy. After putting up with as much abuse as they can stand, the workers finally rise up in anger against Boss Kennedy, and a spontaneous Labor rally takes place in the shop. Stan, of all people, is selected to deliver a rousing address to the angry workers. His speech is rambling collection of garbled historical quotes ("In 1492, when George Washington and the Smith Brothers gave us our Independence ") and mangled aphorisms ("a bird in the hand gathers no moss"). It be would a stretch to call this political satire, as the sequence is clearly intended only for laughs, but it's as close to political commentary as this comedian ever ventured; the mangled aphorisms, however, would become a regular device for Stan in the talkie era.
All in all, The Egg is an enjoyable comedy that ranks fairly high in Stan Laurel's somewhat variable solo output. At this point he was still struggling to refine his screen character and style, but this two-reeler stands as one of his more interesting, offbeat efforts to do so. Incidentally, the title is a reference to Stan's nickname in the film; he's called "The Egg" as a play on his actual name, Humpty Dumpty. Just why he was named Humpty Dumpty in the first place will have to remain a topic for further research.
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