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An Amazing Film, Given What The Two Were Doing At That Time
Context is important. The first time I saw this film, it was part of Image Entertainment's "Lost Films of Laurel and Hardy" DVD series years ago. In that set, the film was presented alongside their repertoire of better-known, far superior work that they produced several years later at the Hal Roach lot as a team. It's important to keep in mind that in this film they are not at Roach, and years ahead of their official teaming.
At this point in his career, Laurel is an up-and-coming vaudeville performer, a veteran of Fred Karno's English music hall troupe and understudy for Charlie Chaplin prior to his film career. He has appeared in relatively few films. Hardy, conversely, is a seasoned and professional film comedian, having spent most of the previous five or six years in hundreds of films, probably all comedies. Often he played the villain, sometimes another supporting role, and, in his "Pudge and Runt" comedies with Billy Ruge, the star.
I just saw "The Lucky Dog" in sequence with many of the other films that either Laurel or Hardy appeared in during that time. In that context, one has to marvel at the amazing coincidence of this film's mere existence. For example, the false mustache Hardy sports in this film is larger but otherwise similar to the real one he bore in his later appearances with Laurel, after they teamed. It was the only time that I've seen at this point in his career that he wore a smallish, square mustache.
Laurel proves to be a competent and charming comedian on his own, but the film comes to life when the two appear together. Their screen relationship is apparently from the start. Hardy plays a burglar who resolves to wipe out Laurel once the latter turns in defiance of him. Unlike his many other roles as the heavy during this period, Hardy comes off as bumbling and oafish a bully as he does years later, Laurel is as blithe and unintimidated in the face of this imposing man as we remember him from the team's heyday.
When the two appear together, they appear as two kids playing, and we in the audience share in their delight. It does seem like the appearance of Hardy in the second, more rare half of the film, seems to have been inserted as an afterthought, as though the director realized how funny and natural the two of them were together, and decided to use Hardy in another scene with Laurel. One can imagine a scene in real life, just as the one depicted in the film, where Hardy, in his burglar outfit, appears to be leaving the film when the director (or, in the context of the film, the villain) cries out to him - "hey you -- get back here!"
It is worth noting that for all of the times Hardy becomes frustrated with Laurel's character in the team's heyday, this is the only film in which we get to see Hardy literally beat the crap out of Laurel. One scene briefly features Hardy thrashing about a Laurel stuffed dummy to comic effect.
One has to wonder if producer "Bronco Billy" Anderson spent the last 40some years of his life kicking himself for not having teamed these two back in 1919 when this film was produced. It appears someone must have noticed how well the two worked as a team. It seems tragic that we lost so much potential work with them, but we can also be thankful for what they did leave us. It's no slouch by any standard.
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