Stan Laurel spent a decade knocking about in front of and behind the camera before he teamed up with Oliver Hardy to create movie history. Although he started making films in 1918, it was not until 1925 that he hit on the screen character we all know and love.
But Mr. Laurel did not spring full-grown and here, in this short subject for Joe Rock, we see him begin to take shape. His former standard character dressed in a boater and white pants, but here we see him in a derby and dark suit at the beginning, before an escaped prisoner mugs him for his clothes, which results in Stanley being in prison.
It is in prison that the bulk of this film takes place and here we see the problems of many of his films: he could do the gags well, but they were not structured beautifully, as they were by four years later. They are, in point of fact, random, and he runs the same sort of gag several times -- a minor thrill gag in which he moves out of danger several times just before being caught: in one case he keeps sitting in an electric chair that is being tested, and in another, a fellow con who is escaping swings a pickax against a wall.
This sort of gag could be set up so that each iteration builds on the previous instance -- think of how in WAY OUT WEST Stan keeps lighting his thumb, confusing Ollie. But no such sequence is in evidence here, just whatever turns up next.
It wouldn't be until the following year, still working for Joe Rock, that Stan found his timing. But it's a step in the right direction.
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