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  Block-Heads Friends Like These
Year: 1938
Director: John G. Blystone
Stars: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Patricia Ellis, Minna Gombell, Billy Gilbert, James Finlayson
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: 1917 and during The Great War Stan (Stan Laurel) and Ollie (Oliver Hardy) were stationed in the trenches in France, where the American troops went over the top, leaving Stan under strict orders to guard the trench. The war ended, and twenty years later he was still there, following his instructions to the letter, marching back and forth in the now overgrown trench and existing on a diet of canned beans that he had a huge supply of. One day, he was marching as usual when he heard an aeroplane passing by and did his best to shoot it down; the pilot landed and harangued him, demanding to know what he thought he was doing until he realised Stan didn't realise the war was over. Naturally, this was news that made the papers...

Block-Heads is often cited as the last consistently excellent Laurel and Hardy film, that in spite of it being made up of bits and pieces of previous comedy shorts from those involved in the writing: Harry Langdon, once a superstar in the days of the silents but now forgotten, contributed the World War I business that opens the film. While it wasn't quite up there with the all-time classics such as Sons of the Desert or Way Out West as far as their feature length works went, being too patchwork in quality for that, there were moments of the duo's accustomed brilliance for what felt like a couple of their two-reelers either joined together one after another, or subjected to a little creative editing to mash them together and increase the laughs per minute quotient, which was already fairly high.

Once the set-up was out of the way, which was considerably more complicated than what followed, we got down to the business of reuniting Stan and Ollie to enjoy the mayhem they conjured up when they were together. Here it was as if Ollie was under some bizarre influence once his best buddy returned, as we saw him in a brief domestic scene with his stern wife (oft-hardboiled Minna Gombell) and he seemed well-balanced if somewhat cowed and henpecked, yet once Stan was back in his life it was a recipe for ludicrous disaster. They met again in the Soldier's Home where Stan was staying, beginning as they meant to go on with him apparently having lost a leg thanks to the way he was sitting, leading to Ollie feeling sorry for him and carrying him even when it was clear to us that Stan was in full possession of all his limbs.

Naturally, this was absolutely ridiculous, and frequently hilarious, as once they have sorted out the leg mistake, Ollie drives Stan back to his apartment building, though not before Stan covers his new car with sand and demolishes his garage door in an accidental attempt to set it to open automatically. It gets yet more preposterous when the enter the building, leaning heavily on farce to establish Billy Gilbert (best known as Sneezy in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs) as a not-so-great white hunter jealously guarding his wife (B-movie fixture Patricia Ellis), so a misunderstanding can arise, though not before regular foil James Finlayson is encouraged into a fight with Ollie in the street. So much of this was simply twisting a normal example of day to day life - an out of order elevator, cooking dinner - and making it daft, or introducing a surreal element (Stan's pipe!) that such routines looked simple. They were not of course, it took a lot of skill to be this funny, and if the pair were never this accomplished again, then this was to be cherished.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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