A pretty good demonstration of why Laurel needed Hardy
Stan Laurel's solo work is erratic in quality, but generally enjoyable for buffs who enjoy silent comedy. However, despite the man's obvious skill as a performer and comic craftsman, much of his early work is frustratingly unsatisfying, and usually for the same reasons: 1) at this stage of his career Stan couldn't settle on a consistent character to play; 2) his scenarios were randomly cobbled together, sometimes chaotic; and 3) all too often, the best gags were appropriated from elsewhere. All three of these drawbacks can be found in the work of many of his contemporaries, like Snub Pollard or Lupino Lane, but we expect better of Stan. When we catch him reworking gags borrowed from Keaton and Chaplin, as he does in White Wings, we may chuckle anyway, but not the way we do when we see the originators of these routines performing them the first time around.
For example, when Stan pretends to be park statuary in this film he not only reuses a bit Buster Keaton devised for The Goat in 1921, he reuses the very same location. And immediately afterward, Stan reworks Chaplin's sliding door routine from The Adventurer (1917). Even Keaton and Chaplin reworked familiar material on occasion, and always gave borrowed gags their own idiosyncratic twist; but Stan, at this stage of his career, didn't have a well-defined screen persona, and wasn't able to do that. Incidentally, in the course of the sliding door routine, Stan turns to the camera and giggles at his own cleverness, a habit he later condemned in Red Skelton's work.
At any rate, borrowings notwithstanding, this short is about par for a Laurel one-reeler of the time. It's brief and fast-paced, and doesn't make much sense, but provides enough mirth along the way to justify the time spent viewing it. Stan plays a street cleaner (then called a "white wing") who gets involved in various misadventures. He mixes up his wheeled garbage can with a baby carriage, gets chased by a cop, and eventually finds himself impersonating a dentist. And so it goes!
One sight gag involving a baby's long dress --this was back when babies, regardless of gender, wore long dresses--is strikingly bizarre, even dreamlike, in the way that silent comedies can sometimes be. Unfortunately, some of the other gags are in poor taste, especially during the 'Painless Dentistry' sequence. One of the dental patients is Jimmy Finlayson, in one of his first appearances opposite Stan, and although nothing much of interest occurs during their scene just seeing them together is a hint of far more successful collaborations to come.
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