Homeless, penniless and one step ahead of the police, Stanley and Oliver take refuge in the home of big-game hunter Colonel Buckshot while the owner is on safari. When Lord and Lady Plumtree call to enquire about renting the house, Oliver pretends to be Colonel Buckshot, while Stanley masquerades as both butler and maid. All goes as well as can be expected, with Lady Plumtree and Stanley, in his guise as "Agnes," engaging in girl talk, until the real Colonel Buckshot returns unexpectedly. Written by
Paul Penna <email@example.com>
From the moment this movie begins we know we're in for something a tad unusual. In the early talkie days the folks at the Hal Roach Studio experimented with a new format for delivering opening credits: instead of simply filming title cards in traditional fashion they built a spiffy Art Deco stage set complete with proscenium arch, and hired a pair of young girls called the Crane Twins to march out onto the stage dressed as bellboys to deliver the film's credits verbally. The girls speak in unison at first, then alternate, then bow in tandem as they conclude. The effect is quite odd and (inadvertently?) funny, and kicks off ANOTHER FINE MESS on a curious note. The twins introduced several concurrently produced comedies featuring Charley Chase, Our Gang and the 'Boy Friends,' but this marks their only appearance in a Laurel & Hardy movie. I find the girls rather endearing, myself, but in any event Roach's experiment with spoken credits didn't last long.
Enter Laurel & Hardy chased by a cop, and we're back on familiar terrain. And yet things aren't quite so familiar after all, for it soon becomes apparent that this film has a different feel from the average L&H comedy. There's an actual plot, comparatively little slapstick, and an unusual amount of verbal humor. It's no surprise to learn that ANOTHER FINE MESS was based on a stage sketch, because once the boys seek refuge in the house where most of the action takes place it does indeed feel like a stage act is underway, a routine involving disguise and mistaken identity with some farcical elements included for good measure. Ordinarily, Laurel & Hardy didn't place much emphasis on dialog humor as such, but here they do, and happily the material is pretty funny. (Interestingly, the sketch this film was based on was written by Stan Laurel's father, who was a theatrical manager and playwright, and it was said that the old gentleman did not approve of this adaptation.) In any other L&H short the guys would've spent five or ten minutes trying and failing to enter the house, but this time they've got a rendezvous with The Plot and not so much time for physical shtick.
As it happens, the guys take refuge in the home of Colonel Buckshot, who has supposedly departed for Africa. His servants, who have been entrusted to rent the place out, have also left for a weekend vacation. Complications ensue with the arrival of a honeymooning couple, Lord and Lady Plumtree, who are interested in renting the place. Even bigger complications are set in motion by Ollie's decision to open the door to the couple in order to get rid of them, which forces Stan to impersonate the butler, which in turn forces Ollie to impersonate Colonel Buckshot, which in turn forces Stan to impersonate Agnes the maid. That's what I love about this movie, that decisive moment that starts the ball rolling. All the guys had to do was ignore the doorbell and wait for the couple to leave, but then they wouldn't be Laurel & Hardy and we wouldn't have this fine mess to enjoy.
It's amusing to watch Ollie brazenly attempt to assume the role of the wealthy Colonel Buckshot, behaving the way Ollie believes such people behave, and he's well matched by Stan's quick-change impersonations of Hives the butler and Agnes the maid. I especially enjoy the scene between Agnes and Lady Plumtree. We have to assume that Thelma Todd's laughter throughout the scene is genuine; I mean, playing opposite Stan in drag, listening to him ramble on and giggle nervously, who wouldn't crack up? While it's true that the musical score and sound effects used in ANOTHER FINE MESS are somewhat more emphatic than the typical Roach comedy of the period, as an earlier reviewer pointed out, I feel this gives the film an agreeably wacky, "cartoon-y" feel suitable to the situation. I love the moment when the real Colonel (Jimmy Finlayson, underplaying as usual) returns home and tries to grasp what has happened. His furious response prompts the silliest wrap-up ever contrived for a L&H short. It's a laugh-out-loud ending --it was for me, anyway-- and it ensures this movie's status as a treat for comedy connoisseurs.
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