Ollie (Oliver Hardy) is trying to sleep in the double bed he has rented in this boarding house, but there is an impediment to his slumber: his friend Stan (Stan Laurel) is next to him, has succeeded in sleeping, but has not succeeded in ridding himself of the hiccups. To make matters worse Stan keeps stealing the sheets, it's a bitterly cold night with snow falling heavily outside, and as if that were not bad enough there's a danger of rousing their pet dog Laughing Gravy. That's an issue because the mean-minded landlord (Charlie Hall) has banned pets, and Stan and Ollie have had to smuggle the pooch in - but if he starts barking...
Unlike many stars of silent cinema, Laurel and Hardy made a smooth transition to the talkies, mostly because while they did not neglect the physical humour Stan, the brains behind the best gags, ensured the dialogue not only enhanced the short films they made, but contained jokes as well. Yet take a look at Laughing Gravy, and you would see that slapstick was where they were concentrating, with the result that it was one of their sound efforts which travelled the best, as they were wont to record various versions of their shorts in phonetically learned languages other than their native English, another reason they remain the best-loved comedy duo around the world to this day.
And besides, Laughing Gravy was really funny no matter what language you spoke, named after the little dog (that really was what it was called) who appeared in films mostly as an extra, but here was given a shot at immortality. He was never going to be a Rin Tin Tin, Lassie or even an Asta, but for twenty minutes he was the star sharing the screen with two towering talents, and all he had to do was look cute. This was the Laurel and Hardy short for animal lovers as the boys go to incredible lengths to prevent the mutt from getting abandoned outside in the snow, indeed you would need a heart of ice yourself not to be moved by the plight of Laughing Gravy, and all because of the nasty landlord.
Charlie Hall was that man, the most prolific supporting player in Laurel and Hardy productions, though oddly less well-remembered as the other Brit they liked to employ, James Finlayson (who wasn't in this one). Still, anyone who has seen Laughing Gravy will recall him as one of the recipients of many clonks on the head - seriously, not a minute goes by without someone getting an object dropped on their bonce, as if they were going for some kind of record in the space of twenty minutes. But that was nothing compared to the landlord's eventual fate driven to distraction by Stan, Ollie and the dog until he takes drastic action that ends the film on an unexpectedly bleak note (don't fret, the dog is fine).
Before that, we were treated to expert japery as not only is the four legged friend sent out to freeze, but its owners wind up stuck outside and trying to get back in, with hilarious scenes of Ollie pulled up by sheets into the open first floor window of his room, or both of them garnering big laughs from something as simple as attempting to stay on a roof in the snow. There's something about the quality of winter weather in Laurel and Hardy shorts that isn't like anything around today, whether it's the oddly fake, fat flakes falling from the sky or that timbre to the soundtrack, crackly, yes, but also with all its own texture. It's no surprise that Laughing Gravy became a staple of Christmas television down the years (though the festive season is never mentioned in it) since there's a lot to do with the setting, atmospheric black and white and essentially sweetnatured mood (until that ending) that makes it ideal viewing for Yuletide. A word of warning, though: avoid the half hour version, which adds a rediscovered, initially cut reel and dilutes the charm of the twenty minute original.