Some Laurel and Hardy comedies really stick in the mind. Some of them I found quite disturbing and remembered them long afterwards due to this. Oliver the Eighth, where Ollie faces being murdered if he falls asleep. Or how about The Live Ghost, where their necks are twisted round by an angry sailor? A Chump at Oxford was another I would never forget, with what seemed an eerie double life for Stan. We find he'd suffered a memory loss and is really Lord Paddington, an upper class intellectual. Eventually he's restored to normal (and Stan seems dopier than usual to accentuate the difference), but the question remains: is Stan really Stan or Lord Paddington? Add to this an Oxford lynch mob and these events can seem quite horrifying to younger viewers. As a result I had fond memories of this one, to find that it's only sporadically amusing.
One thing I noticed seeing it again is how sketchy it seems. The fairly humorous butler and maid intro feels like a vignette, completely unconnected with the rest of the film. Research confirms this, the movie being shot as a forty-minute endeavour in June 1939. The extra footage was filmed in September of the same year to make it a feature for European sale. That said, even some of the original footage seems padded, with a seven-minute bench scene that is extended long past its natural lifespan.
When I was eight the idea of two grown men being terrified of a man dressed up as a ghost seemed like the funniest thing in the world to me. Now it feels fairly demeaning, or maybe it's seeing Oxford populated by the oldest students on Earth. When Laurel and Hardy arrive at Oxford they're cast as reactive victims of the stereotyped English students. (True to Hollywood form, even in a film populated by a majority of English actors they're still the villains, hoping to "beat those Yankees").
However, the reason for the fond memories of this one - not just by me, but by everyone who speaks about it, it seems - is the blissful final eight minutes when Stan becomes Lord Paddington. Absolutely hilarious, adopting a mockery of an accent and the predilection for calling Ollie "Fatty". He says it just seven times, but every time he does so it's hysterical, with "you're a witty old stick in the mud, aren't you, Fatty?" a particular highlight. If only the rest of the film was as good, this would be a classic. Unfortunately it's too patchy, making this, overall, just a very average Laurel and Hardy movie. The memory cheats.