After being discharged from the 372nd infantry, on account of a bean shortage, smithy seeks employment. He finds employment at a construction site, where he helps to build a house, and soon... See full summary »
After being discharged from the 372nd infantry, on account of a bean shortage, smithy seeks employment. He finds employment at a construction site, where he helps to build a house, and soon causes havoc amoungst other workers. The constuction company owner leaves for a week, and tells his secretary to send a letter to Mr. Smith telling him to complete the construction of the house while he (the owner) is away. The letter is accidently sent to Smithy who manages to complete the house. When the owner returns the house is complete, and Smithy is commended until the last support beam is removed... Written by
One of the tragedies of the first World War -- the bloodiest war in history, up till that time -- was that thousands of the men who'd survived through the Armistice came home to discover that their civilian jobs were no longer open, and other jobs were not easy to find. 'Smithy' is a comedy -- a fairly lowbrow one, at that -- yet it touches upon that real and tragic situation. There's a dialogue exchange here which was probably meant as comedy, yet which I found genuinely poignant. When former doughboy Smithy (Stan Laurel) applies for work on a construction crew, the foreman asks 'Are you an ex-soldier?' ... to which Laurel replies 'For the rest of my life.'
The film starts with Smithy in the 372nd Infantry of the A.E.F. I'd expected some routine army gags, but I sat up and took notice when I saw that Stan Laurel's sergeant is played by the brilliant James Finlayson. I was all set for some of that legendary interplay between 'Fin' and Stan -- surely worth seeing even without 'Babe' Hardy to complete the formula -- but, alas, it doesn't happen. Finlayson is little more than a straight man here. A few years ago, while attending a performance of Alan Ayckbourn's play 'Comic Potential' in London, I was delightfully surprised by a line of dialogue paying tribute to the great Jimmy Finlayson: too bad that 'Smithy' wastes his talents. Charlie Hall, who also wreaked comedy mayhem in several Laurel & Hardy movies, is here too but likewise wasted.
Cut to a scene in the construction company's office, where the very handsome Glenn Tryon plays an executive named Smith. We know instantly what's going to happen: the workers receive orders that Mr Smith is to take over the construction project, and of course they think this means Smithy: the gormless naff played here by Laurel. Sure enough.
From here it's strictly by-the-numbers house-building slapstick, of the type which was perfected by vaudevillains Willie, West & McGinty. Laurel has one clever bit of physical comedy when he walks along the building site with a long plank of timber balanced on his head, extending fore and aft: when he suddenly does a volte-face and walks back the other way, the plank maintains its orientation instead of turning with him. Doesn't sound funny, but it's hilarious. I also laughed at one amusing gag performed by Laurel astride a ladder while carrying a roll of tar-paper. Amazingly and unexpectedly, the crew under Laurel's supervision actually get the house built. I was expecting it to be a crazy-quilt construction like the house Buster Keaton built in 'One Week' ... but Smithy and his work gang get the job done, to order. When the 'real' Mr Smith shows up, Smithy's loyal workers point out that the 'wrong' Smith still deserves credit for a job well done ... and then comes the final gag. I was expecting something here, but the visual punchline -- a surprisingly elaborate and expensive gag in this low-budget comedy -- was totally unexpected, and therefore hilarious.
I'll rate 'Smithy' 7 out of 10. It feels as if it's meant to be the first instalment in a series of comedies starring Laurel as this character: in the event, it was a one-off. Stan was good here, but he never truly became a first-rate screen comedian until he shared the screen with Oliver Hardy.
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