Before the days of home video, Stan Laurel's pre-Hardy comedy 'Kill or Cure' was known -- to the extent that it was known at all -- only because a few sequences were included in Robert Youngson's compilation film 'Laurel and Hardy's Laughing 20's'. Youngson knew what he was doing: the best gags in 'Kill or Cure' were brought intact into his compilation, while the rest of this only mildly funny comedy remained on Youngson's cutting-room floor.
Laurel portrays a commercial traveller, hawking a patent medicine cried Professor I.O. Dine's Knox-All: that name is the funniest joke in this movie, which ain't sayin' much. I should point out that this movie dates from 1923, the shank of Prohibition. During Prohibition, quite a lot of Americans purchased patent medicine if it had (ahem!) 'medicinal' properties, so -- if Knox-All contains alcohol -- Stan's job in this movie is less desperate than the one which he and Ollie famously had in 'Big Business', selling Christmas trees in the summer. Too bad for this movie that it's not nearly so funny as 'Big Business'.
We see Stan (but don't hear him, in this silent film) delivering a spirited sales talk to a man who seems to be paying attention ... until we learn that they're standing outside a deaf-mute institution, and this man is deaf. A haughty woman emerges from the gates: Stan quickly tries to engage her attention by wiggling his fingers at her. Of course she's not deaf, and she promptly whacks him with her umbrella. I found this sequence offensive, NOT because it involves deaf people (the deaf aren't the butt of the joke) but because it abets the very widely-held misconception among hearing people that they can communicate with the deaf by merely waggling their fingers randomly and performing Charades without actually learning the highly complex grammar of sign language.
More amusingly, a spinster in this movie has a pet canary named Rudolph (as in Valentino), and there's a gag involving trick photography to enable a man to hide behind an object that's narrower than his body. I've seen this device in several cartoons and live-action movies but 'Kill or Cure' is, I think, the earliest movie to use it that I've seen so far.
Stan Laurel, an under-rated actor, does one bit of physical business here that's worthy of Chaplin or Keaton, in which he conveys his emotions -- and a change in his demeanour -- while walking away from the camera with his back to us. Still, Laurel never really became a first-rate comedian until he united with Oliver Hardy to form the greatest comedy team ever. 'Kill or Cure' barely rates 3 out of 10.
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