"Crook's Tour," a standalone short from Hal Roach's "All-Star" series (a catch-all for everything that wasn't Laurel and Hardy, Charley Chase, Our Gang, et cetera) is quite a funny -- and always a surprising and sometimes just downright weird -- piece from the "Lot of Fun." It certainly has an extremely odd premise that won't be replicated by chance in a million years: in England, a sandwich man working for a tailor is mistaken because of some half-caught words and his suit for a duke, then is taken aboard a ship sailing for America that is completely full of gangsters so he can be set up to marry the daughter of the drunk fellow who met him.
And that's just the basics. A lot of laughs come from the unfolding of this somehow inspredly daft plot. The duke is played by Douglas Wakefield, an English fellow who appeared in a number of All-Star comedies in the thirties and that was about it. It seems Roach may have been trying to team him up as a comedy act with Billy Nelson, who makes his film debut here, and they don't do badly at all, though they don;t have the magic of a Laurel and Hardy. Nelson is the small but rough Cockney, and Wakefield does a very capable version of the upper-class English twit character (who isn't really upper class). He's enough of a twit anyway to think that a machine gun is a violin and he can "play" it by firing at random.
A very good number of laughs too come from the very strange but resolutely amusing sight of young Baby Alice Raetz as the younger daughter who acts like a sultry, grown-up gangster girl (they spank her, producing my biggest laugh. The mother tells them to "Beat it!" and Wakefield innocently explains that "We just did!") . The final gag sequence, in which Wakefield blows things up by drinking nitro-glycerin and spitting, is just surrealistic.
"Duggie" Wakefield, Billy Nelson, and the Hal Roach Studios production team were a bizarre combination that produced a memorably out-there two reeler; it was funny, and I would watch more.
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