My three-way tie for greatest Laurel and Hardy short is ‘Helpmates’, ‘Brats’, ‘Music Box’ and today’s film, ‘Hog Wild’. Notice that I said THREE way tie and then mentioned FOUR films. Now having said that, picture me saying it to Stan and Stan counting the ‘three’ titles on his fingers and coming up with four, then looking at the camera puzzled and trying to make sense of the discrepancy by counting again. Now picture Oliver Hardy watching him do this with silent but increasing frustration and outrage, culminating in his slapping Stan’s hands down, then making that odd movement where he sort of shakes his entire body in the general direction in which he wishes to go and says ‘Now come on!’ The previous little scenario is the result of watching way too much L&H–one begins to see everything in life as a potential vignette from one of their films.
‘Hog Wild’ (1930) is, in many ways, a little history of the Culver City area of Los Angeles. (The accompanying video will show this better than I can explain it). Apparently the ‘hero’ house was a set built on a then-vacant lot. The roof must have been yet another set, constructed in the air but no doubt surrounded by platforms not seen by the camera (one whole section would have been for the camera and crew, another section for padded safety landings for the stunt work). As for the runaway car climax, it looks to me like all the stunt work was actually done by L&H, though after repeated viewings I get the sense that long shots of Ollie on the ladder as the car drives through Culver City traffic may have used a ‘fake-Ollie’ full sized dummy, saving ‘real-Ollie’ for the closer angles. Nor do I think there’s any rear-screen projection–the Hal Roach process work is easily noticed as it was less advanced and effective than other studios. Even if there is a small amount of process work, it’s still a stunning piece of filmmaking, given that there were no visual special effects involved. All of this amazingly intricate work was poured into a twenty-minute film that would be seen in theaters briefly before being replaced by yet another L&H short. Since nobody dreamed of such a thing as TV repeats, I guess the general feeling was basically ‘here today, gone tomorrow’, the energy and ingenuity that was put into the work being just another day at the office. Certainly Stan Laurel, as an old man living in Santa Monica in the 1960s, was notably grateful for the renewed interest in their work thanks to TV exposure. The aging Stan graciously received visitors at his small apartment (he was listed in the phone book believe it or not) and loved recalling the precision and methods by which they accomplished their work in films like ‘Hog Wild’.