Stan Laurel made quite a few short comedies for Hal Roach during the 1923-4 season, and while they tend to be amusing, fast-paced, and (usually) enjoyable there's something about Stan's characterization in these early films which the modern viewer is likely to find off-putting. In sharp contrast to the dull-witted, well-intentioned and lovable Stan of the best Laurel & Hardy films, the solo Stan is frenetic, sometimes obnoxious, occasionally mean-spirited, and clearly always desperate to make you laugh, traits he shared with the early Harold Lloyd. In a word, the solo Stan is unsympathetic.
Still and all, the sassy Stan of The Noon Whistle has some good moments, starting with his stylish entrance sliding down a coal chute. A lot of the material here suggests elements that would be reworked in later Laurel & Hardy comedies, from the woodworking factory location (used again in Busy Bodies ten years later) to the acrobatic gags involving lengthy boards swung this way and that. There's a nice bit of deftly-executed comic business involving a board leaned up against a wall that repeatedly falls, each time narrowly missing the oblivious Stan. There's another good bit involving our hero ducking in and out of locker doors while foreman Jimmy Finlayson tries to catch him. And of course, the sight of Finlayson hassling Stan throughout the proceedings feels like a warm-up for many battles yet to come. The Noon Whistle also contains a gag which would become over-familiar from its use in many later comedies (including L&H's The Finishing Touch), cartoons, and TV shows: Stan crosses carrying a long board past a spectator (Finlayson), and exits as the board continues to pass by -- eventually to reveal Stan carrying the other end as well. This may already have been a standard gag in 1923, but you have to give Finlayson credit for delivering a vigorous, neck-snapping "take" at the sight.
In an ironic sense, the most amusing aspect of The Noon Whistle may well be the gratuitous, last-minute attempt to work up some "love interest" between Stan and leading lady Katherine Grant, who plays a secretary at the factory and shows up in the final scene, just in time to share the fade-out clinch with our hero -- who, it would appear, she has just met!
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