Stan Laurel gets the shaft, drops a lode, and corrupts miners.
For me, the funniest thing about this barely funny slapstick comedy is its title. The movie takes place in a coal mine, so American audiences probably assumed that the title 'Pick and Shovel' is merely a reference to the miners' tools. However, in Britain the phrase 'pick and shovel' refers to hard labour -- any hard labour, with any tools or with no tools at all -- performed by prison inmates. That title indicates to me that some Brit who didn't get a script credit on this movie -- possibly the Lancashire-born Stan Laurel or his Scots crony Jimmy Finlayson -- had some uncredited input.
Apart from that title, the comedy here (what there is of it) is mostly formulaic slapstick, made slightly more cringe-worthy than usual because Stan and the other miners are swinging picks at each other. There are a couple of amusing surrealist gags: Stan reports for work at the coal face wearing a raccoon coat, and the foreman's pretty daughter has a job in the mine shaft. She must be one of those miners' canaries I've heard about.
The beloved James Finlayson performs opposite Laurel here, but I must warn fans of Laurel & Hardy that this movie contains none of the hilarious interplay between 'Fin' and Stan that highlighted so many of the classic comedies which pitted Fin against Stan and Ollie.
Although I enjoy slapstick and physical comedy, I tend to dislike gags which involve someone getting covered in dirt, sludge, slag or industrial waste. Here, I cringed even more than usual when the dirt came, because it involved a load of coal showering down onto Finlayson's head.
I was one of the thousands of volunteer workers at Aberfan in October 1966 just after the mine-tip disaster which killed 144 people, and later I worked as a miner (opals, not coal) in the tunnels at Coober Pedy, so I've some idea of how extremely dangerous pit mining is. (I've also been down the shaft of the now-disused 19th-century anthracite mine at Beamish in Durham.) Just this moment, as I write this review, there are desperate attempts to rescue some miners trapped underground in Utah: let's hope they get to daylight alive! (UPDATE: They didn't. R.I.P.)
Slapstick is my favourite form of comedy, but mining is such a deathly dangerous profession that I just couldn't laugh at the mishaps in 'Pick and Shovel'. Nice title, though. My rating for this miner comedy, which is indeed a minor comedy: just 2 out of 10, partly in appreciation for pretty Katherine Grant's performance.
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