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As an avowed Laurel and Hardy fan, I must say that Big Business falls into a special category all its own. I find the simple, deliberate nature of it immensely appealing. There is something downright innocent about the long-lost freshness of those semi-developed streets of Culver City and environs on that sunny December morning in 28 and they add a quality of mise-en-scene which was surely never foreseen back then. The snowballing reciprocal destruction starts innocently enough: an errant branch of Christmas tree--that symbol of peace and goodwill to men--gets caught in Jimmy Finlayson's front door once too often and ends up with extensive property damage on both sides. But each step in the progressively destructive game is almost reasonable its just when one contrasts point A with point Z that the absurdity, and the comedy, of the situation is so apparent. Produced on the cusp of the talkies, Big Business is also a sort of frantic paean to a lost art. And, in a strange way, unlike so many of their other films, Stan and Ollie are triumphant as they run from officer Tiny Sanford into the fade out. For as Jimmy lights up his exploding cigar, they are the ones lucky enough to have gotten in their last licks. In spite of losing the battle, they have won the war. One can almost smell the fragrance of pine needles intermingling with the stench of burning Model T
This classic Laurel and Hardy silent is definitely one of their best. Sound is not necessary to realize how absurd the concept of selling Christmas trees door-to-door in California is. The film drags a little bit at the beginning, but picks itself up incredibly fast to be incredibly funny. This is a must for everyone.
One of The Boys' funniest silent films, 'Big Business' contains their trademark Reciprocating Destruction theme. Irascible James Finlayson's temper and Stanley's oblivious ineptitude light the fuse to a battle that starts with a broken tree branch and ends with the total destruction of a Model T and the partial destruction of a Culver City bungalow.
It's a sheer delight to watch The Boys and Fin deliberately, and with malice aforethought, find new ways to inflict indignities upon each others' property. Fin cuts up the Christmas tree they were trying to sell, Stanley takes a pen knife and carves the wood off Fin's door frame. From there, we build to a crescendo of Stanley pulling up shrubs and hurling them through windows and Ollie methodically potholing the yard with a shovel, while Fin dances on the rubble that used to be The Boys' delivery truck. The neighbors gather on the sidewalk, unsure what to make of the melee; even the neighborhood cop is too stunned to step in and break it up.
This is a sport at which Laurel & Hardy excelled, and at which they can be seen again in the all-out wardrobe assault of 'Hats Off' and the freeway free-for-all of 'Two Tars', possibly their greatest Reciprocating Destruction movie.
This is a movie you should definitely buy.
Granted, there are feature films such as SOME LIKE IT HOT, DR. STRANGELOVE, ANNIE HALL, TOOTSIE, DUCK SOUP and so on that are classier, more well-written, and other such qualities. But when it boils down to laughs per minute, this short has them all topped. I mean, it is simply the best comedy ever done...anytime, anywhere. Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy as two Christmas tree salesmen in sunny California. And James Finlayson as their potential customer. When they start to tear his house apart, I don't stop laughing for a second. I seriously believe that this film should be placed in a museum, next to any other great works of art.
Well I belong to a place which is slightly behind on technology. The
first Laurel and Hardy film I got to see was in 1988, at a time I was
already 16 years old. I remember having seen a quiz on them however,
about a year before that in a well reputed magazine of those times in
India called "Illustrated Weekly". And that was it.
Today in 2005, I would wish to introduce myself as "Know all" on the matter of the "Boys".
To me they are "GODS". They have the ability of pacifying my existentialist angst at the flick of a button. There 75 year old gags still yank my guts out every time I laugh and fall off the bed.
With non-stop zany laughs, "Big Business" is one of the very best
Laurel & Hardy short comedies. It's pure lowbrow, slapstick humor, but
it's done with perfect pacing and timing, and it's impossible to watch
it without laughing.
It builds up gradually, beginning with Stan and Ollie going door-to-door trying unsuccessfully to sell Christmas trees, and soon leading to a wild fracas with irritated homeowner James Finlayson. This 'tit-for tat' premise was later the basis for a couple of their best sound comedies, with Charlie Hall instead of Finlayson (Hall also has a bit part in this one), but the idea works even better in a silent film like this, since there is no need for dialogue that might slow down the madcap antics. Tiny Sandford also provides some funny moments as a policeman observing the battle.
This is slapstick at its best, and anyone who enjoys these old comedies should make this a must-see.
The year of 1929 marked the Big Turnabout for Hollywood. The clamor for
Sound Film, "the Talkies", "All Singing, All Talking" and what have
you, had started out slow and was rapidly snowballing to the point that
"sounded" the end of silents. In this year we had both sound and silent
films released as well as some released in both sound and silent
versions. If there were to be any more Silent Masterpieces, now was the
time to do it, or forever remain Silent.
As it just so happened that there was to be this one, truly unique Silent Laurel & Hardy Comedy Short coming down the pike! And this was 1929, it was surely none too soon!
One thing for sure is that BIG BUSINESS was far better known by title to the public than most any other L & H Silent Short. This is mainly because of the Robert Youngson compilation film FOUR CLOWNS (1970). The film from Mr. Youngson centered on the Silent Screen work of 4 of the top artists from that period. They were: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Charley Chase and Buster Keaton. Among the titles that were reviewed and condensed was BIG BUSINESS.
Furthermore, back in the1970's, before the advent of Home Video Recorders, film buffs/collectors had film with which to pursue their hobby. There was 16 mm and 8 mm. And late in the game we saw the arrival of the format of Super 8 and finally, Super 8 Magnetic Sound films.
Various catalogue houses around the country provided us with the titles we wanted. At that time, one firm, Blackhawk Films of Davenport, Iowa, was perhaps the greatest company in that field. As well as featuring titles from other companies (Castle Films aka Universal 8, Ken Films, Official Films), Blackhawk was probably the largest company to bring more titles into 16 mm, 8 mm and Super 8 formats under their own label.
Furthermore, it was the folks at Blackhawk who had the exclusive with Hal Roach Studios to manufacture and offer for sale the titles from the Roach back-log. And that of course meant a legalized monopoly on Laurel & Hardy Films! So, an awful lot of collectors in those early days of yesteryear made their first Laurel & Hardy home film BIG BUSINESS. I know we did!
OUR STORY: As the movie opens, we see Stan & 'Babe'* riding along in their truck with facial expressions betraying the fact that they haven't been doing so well that day. They stop and very ceremoniously unload a Christmas Tree from the back and proceed to go up to the door of the 1st house in front of them to sell their wares. After an absurd exchange with a Lady, they go to the second house. After having no more luck and even receiving a clunk on the head they finally get to the house of old nemesis, James Finlayson .
The sale not only goes bad, but the three get involved in an ever escalating back and forth battle, which is in itself a classic example of what Roach Studios Directorial Supervisor, Mr. Leo McCarey had dubbed, "Reciprocal Destruction. As things continue to intensify, more and more neighbors are drawn into the gallery. At last, a Police Officer (Stanley J. "Tiny" Sandford) arrives via Prowl Car; but at first, rather than making his considerable presence known, 'Tiny' sits pen in hand, jotting down his observations in his notebook.
Finally we see an official Police intervention and it has the effect of pouring oil on a choppy sea. One by one, the Beat Cop gets the story from each about the disturbance, and some questionable "Crocadile Tears" from "the Boys" turns the mood to sadness and conciliation. Peace is restored and tranquility reigns supreme, momentarily, that is until ..No, no Senor, I'm not gonna tell!
See the Picture! Or better yet, buy the Picture! In the whole scheme of things, at least in regards to film history, BIG BUSINESS ranks as just about the zenith of the Laurel & Hardy silents. It showed a team that had been together for nearly 3 years, all the time finding their way and perfecting the business between the twosome that, to the public, was Laurel & Hardy.
And BIG BUSINESS was perhaps the finest single film exponent of that above mentioned "Reciprocal Destruction". What a fitting way to bid a fond farewell to the '20's and the Silents, and a hello to an Exclusively Sound output.
NOTE: * Oliver Norvell Hardy, while known on the screen and to the public as "Ollie", had, to all his friends, the nickname of 'Babe'.
Aspect ratio: 1.33:1
Sound format: Silent
(Black and white - Short film)
A minor dispute between two Christmas tree salesmen (Laurel and Hardy) and an irate customer (James Finlayson) escalates into massive mutual destruction.
The first collaboration between L&H and veteran comedy director James Horne is a masterpiece of its kind, in which two bickering salesmen become involved in a war of attrition with bad-tempered customer Finlayson (an invaluable member of the L&H universe). The escalation of conflict is joyously contrived (Finlayson reduces The Boys' car to spare parts, and they do the same to his house), and the pay-off - in which the entire cast is reduced to tears! - is no less satisfactory. Legend has it that the filmmakers accidentally destroyed the wrong house, after hiring the one next door...
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Big Business is one of Laurel and Hardy's best silent comedies. The whole idea of the two selling Christmas trees door to door is already a set-up for disaster. Trouble soon begins when an irate James Finlayson becomes extremely frustrated with the two annoying salesmen. Having slammed his door on them, the unwanted Christmas tree continues getting caught in Finlayson's door over and over until a hilarious tit-for-tat between the three escalates into a full blown destruction of Finlayson's property and Laurel and Hardy's car reduced to rubble. The facial expressions and comic antics of all involved are absolutely priceless. Hystericaly funny and very well paced, with a surprise ending, this is Laurel and Hardy at their finest. If you have never seen a Laurel and Hardy silent film, then Big Business is the perfect film to start with.
Want to know how to give yourself a self-induced hernia? Just watch
this Laurel and Hardy Masterpiece unfold before your eyes. The first
time I saw it I was reduced to a fit of hysterics - it made my entire
week, and I only have to think of James Finn, a Christmas Tree wrapped
around his neck as he tries to snap it, to get the giggles all over
again. What can one say that hasn't been said already? To me it seems
to tell us so much about why we humans fight and squabble over things
that are not that important, and do it in an infinitely better and less
heavy-handed way than Chaplin. Ugh! I'm getting all serious here - and
one should not be serious at all about one of the funniest twenty
minutes in screen history.
This is a beautifully polished perfect gem. It will survive as long as the movies themselves.
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