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While portions of other Laurel and Hardy films are missing, this is the only one that has disappeared completely. It had very good reviews when released, and no one appears to have seen it since 1928. The boys are washing machine salesmen, and they have to carry one up a huge flight of steps. The same location was used a few years later for their Oscar-winning THE MUSIC BOX, only this time as piano deliverymen. There are plenty of still photos left, and they show Stan and Ollie constantly getting their derbies on the wrong head. This film was probably a slapstick classic.
For those of us who consider ourselves Laurel and Hardy aficionados, Hats Off is truly the Holy Grail of their lost films, as this title is often characterized. Not merely because it represents the only subject of theirs to be missing in its entirety, but because it represents, in a way, the very first official Laurel and Hardy film in which the die was cast as far as their costumes, manners, and even storyline go. The Second Hundred Years may have been made earlier, but the pacing and gags of that film could have been used by any number of lesser comics at the time and been perhaps equally as successful Stan and Ollie's basic personas are not really integrated into the story and their standard costumes, accoutrements and distinctive hairstyles were not present. Hats Off is perhaps the first to exploit the chemistry between Stan and Ollie and create the successful alloy between them and their story--the confrontation with Fin, women, and inanimate objects; the slow burns and quiet despair and the final orgy of destruction as release. All these things would become trademarks of The Boys, coming to fruition in classics such as 'Big Business' and 'Two Tars', arguably the best of their silent films. It truly represents the Missing Link of their career, the bridge between their earliest incarnations as a team, where story and character were still searching for the perfect pas de duex, and their late silents, where perfect harmony of style, character and content reign.
The latest release date for HATS OFF (work title: ROUGH ON HATS) I have been able to find so far is february 1929, when it was first shown in Germany. Also, it was still in distribution in the US in 1930. Stills existing today in the MGM collection numbers from S3-1 to S3-23, plus a still of the poster in its frame/stand on an US sidewalk. The cutting continuity at the Library Of Congress gives us a very good idea of this film, too. Keep looking for it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
About two years ago there was a special shown on Halloween Night on
Turner Classic Movie channel about a "reconstruction" job on the film
London AFTER MIDNIGHT with Lon Chaney Sr. That silent film is
unfortunately lost (the last known copy having been destroyed in a fire
in the 1960s). Using the script, still photos that survived, and the
remake MARK OF THE VAMPIRE, the Turner network did a good job
reconstructing the lost film.
Most of the work of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy remains in existence (as is most of the best work of Lon Chaney Sr., fortunately), but there are serious missing works. A French version of their early feature film, PARDON US, is no longer in existence (although the English and Spanish versions are), and it had them co-starring with Boris Karloff in it (the only time they did). Their sound film ROGUE SONG with Lawrence Tibbett is mostly gone, except for some fragments (fortunately also on You Tube). There are some early shorts that are missing too. The most serious one is HAT'S OFF. It is about how Stan and Ollie try a new career selling washing machines door to door. The film shows them lugging a heavy machine up a steep set of steps in one effort after another to sell this heavy machine. Unfortunately they never do make a sale. But they do keep getting more and more frustrated lugging the machine around.
If this sounds familiar it should. HAT'S OFF set the basic story line for their one Oscar winning film: THE MUSIC BOX. The same set of stone steps were used in both films. But there are apparent differences in the two films as well. One of them (a joke involving Anita Garvin) actually resembles a contemporary joke in a W. C. Fields film that was repeated in his short THE PHARMACIST. Stan and Ollie are at the bottom of the stairs when Ms Garvin calls them. They come up thinking she's interested in the washing machine. It turns out she wants Ollie to mail a letter for her downstairs. They head downstairs, when she calls them back. Stan goes back to her and finds she wants Ollie again. He comes up and finds Garvin did not give him a postage stamp for the envelope.
Fields, in one of his silent feature films, had a sequence where a woman drives through the night to his store, demandingly orders him to open up, and turns out she wants a postage stamp. Fields also milked the joke - he has the woman charges the $.03 postage to an account, and demands the stamp in the center of the sheet (it has not been touched by Fields when he picked up the sheet. So he has to cut the center out of the sheet (destroying unpurchased stamps) and gives the central stamp to the madwoman who leaves. In the later THE PHARMACIST Fields actually also gives away a free vase with every purchase (even a non-purchase like this) to the purchaser.
HAT'S OFF (from what is left of it) then changes direction. It does not go off into type of conclusion of THE MUSIC BOX (there was no apparent character like Billy Gilbert, who was to be the recipient of the player piano). Instead the film follows the path of THE BATTLE OF THE CENTURY or YOUR DARN TOOTIN' where the films end with massive fighting between men in the streets over trivialities that the boys cause without quite planning to do so. In YOUR DARN TOOTIN it was tearing off pants from passersby. In the sound short BERTH MARKS it was men in a railway car who were ripping off each other's shirts. Here it was hats. Apparently during the film Stan and Ollie kept knocking off each other's hats and putting on the other's hat. This leads to a battle where the hats of passers-by are knocked off from one another into a massive ruined pile.
The "reconstruction" is pretty good. But there is just too little in it to really tell the full effect of the comedy, though it is easy to see what is being led up to. Jimmy Finlayson is the man who hires the boys to sell his washing machines, and he is demonstrating the machine. We can guess that he'll end up covered in water due to Stan (as one of the stills suggests). Still the fact that the reconstruction could be made is a plus, and hopefully a copy may still turn up one day.
We all would like to watch Laurel & Hardy's "Hats Off." There are a series of photographs that still survive that depict some of the scenes. The book, "Laurel & Hardy" by John McCabe, Al Kilgore and Richard Bann show some of the gags that were in the film. In the RKO "Average Man" comedy; "It's Your Move," is the closest look we'll likely ever see of some of the same sight gags. Edgar Kennedy stars, he and his brother-in-law (Jack Rice) carry a washing machine up a long flight of stairs, just like L&H did. The most significant aspect about it; it was directed by Hal Yates, the same director of "Hats Off." Unfortunately, the long flight of stairs were not the same ones used in "Hats Off" and the later "The Music Box." Bill Cassara author-"Edgar Kennedy-Master of the Slow Burn"
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
[CONTAINS SPOILERS. MAYBE]
Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy are salesman at Kwickway Washing Machine Co. Stan accidentally opens a machine and it sprays Ollie and the proprietor, James Finlayson. He then tells them to start going door to door to try and sell a sample. Unfortunately when loading the truck, the machine falls on Fin a number of times. They next to go an apartment complex and begin knocking on doors. The machine get's heavy after a while and they end up without a sale. They stop at a flight of terace steps when they see a lady, Anita Garvin, waving to them so they carry the machine up the steps and halfway up, Ollie's hat falls off so he sends Stan down to get it at the bottom of the steps. Soon the machine falls from Ollie's grip and rolls down the stairs. So they pick up the machine and start back up. It turns out Anita wanted them to mail a letter for her. They then try to sell her the machine but she is uninterested as she has her own Chinaman. On the trip down the steps, their hats fall off and they mixmatch hats when putting them back on. Soon they meet another woman, Dorothy Coburn, who was interested in a washing machine demonstration...At the top of the stairs. Stan kicks her, Ollie laughs, she punches him and storms off. Their hats blow off again and they kick them into the street and then a bunch of other men get involved and a storm of flying hats occurs. When it's over, the boys put their hats back on the wrong heads.
I'll tell you, this sounds like a really funny Laurel and Hardy short. It was made in 1927, back in the days of silent film. I don't know about you but I like films with sound better. Unfortunately to this day, Hats Off is missing. It's the darndest thing! So please check your attics. It hasn't been seen for almost 76 years but I'm sure that sooner later it will turn up in an old studio vault or an old house attic or some building from way back when that'll be torn down soon. I wish I could see Hats Off. I wrote the review from pictures and a vague description from a Laurel and Hardy book. But anyway, if it were around today, I would recommend Hats Off. I'll bet it was really good.
Everyone would probably agree that this is an early version of 'The Music Box' substituted with a washing machine. They climb up the same steps in the same location for the same reasons. It is a classic example of how the talking films were superior to their silent films.
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