Still solo, and still in search of a character to play
This amusing short comedy is no masterpiece, but it's one of the better films Stan Laurel made as a solo, prior to teaming with Oliver Hardy. It took Stan a while to hit his stride, at least in part because he couldn't come up with a consistent, sympathetic screen character. Sometimes (as in Kill or Cure) he is miscast as an aggressive, fast-talking sharpie; at other times (as in Half a Man) he is oddly fey. Here, at least, his character is an agreeably innocent, childlike precursor to the Stan we know, dressed in an outfit which suggests a boy wearing his father's out-sized suit. In keeping with this characterization the entire plot of the film is set in motion by Stan's determination to follow the instructions given him by an authority figure, a streetcar conductor, so that he might switch to the correct train. Because the man told him to 'Follow that young lady' he attempts to do so, but winds up following the wrong lady, doggedly. He's not a trouble-maker, he's just trying to do what the man said.
It's interesting to compare this film to the superficially similar Just Rambling Along, made in 1918 when Stan was at the very dawn of his film career. In the earlier comedy the callow young Stan follows a pretty girl down the street and into a restaurant for no particular reason. They're dallying, and he's trying to get something going, but beyond that his character is aimless, and so is the film. This time Stan has a goal, and the fact that accomplishing it involves tailing a pretty young woman all over town is secondary, and almost irrelevant.
Along the way some of the gags flirt with poor taste, and others may have been over-familiar even in 1923, but still and all this is a pleasant one-reel comedy for buffs that offers some interesting period detail (streetcars, a department store, a barber shop) for the historically inclined. A Man About Town is also boosted by the presence of Jimmy Finlayson, as a detective who becomes quite obsessed with tracking Stan's activities. Seeing these two interact on screen is a treat for fans, though just a warm-up for the great comedies still to come.
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