The delightful week between Christmas and New Years is here, the one in which there is no true clock to adhere to since nobody’s really anywhere or doing anything (unless of course you have a job like a real person). My preference for this cherished week has always been to bury myself in antiquity and shut out the dreadful ‘reality’ looming out there that will surely soon be back to torture us (Elon Musk, Crypto, Donald Trump, Putin, Tom Brady etc.) So what better way to do that then commit to a full immersion– a ‘deep dive’ as the overused phrase goes–into the world of Laurel and Hardy and their filming locations?
We’ll start with ‘Perfect Day’ (1929). One of the teams earliest sound shorts, ‘Perfect Day’ was photographed from Saturday, June 1 through Monday, June 10 1929 and released in August of that year. The street it was filmed on, Vera Avenue, is in Culver City and the house that they live in, which is featured in almost every exterior shot, still stands and looks almost exactly the same. Indeed, there is a large group of L&H fans who are devoted to finding the exact locations they filmed at in and around Los Angeles and I’ve included two short docs showing us the ‘Perfect Day’ street decades after the little movie company went out there to shoot a two-reel comedy (on what appears to have been a rather windy few days).
The film provides a couple of curious tea leaves to be read by the observant L&H devotee. One is that the meticulously thoughtful-though-seething-with-contempt Ollie is not yet fully formed. He’s angry and violent toward Stan from the beginning, shoving him, hitting him and screaming very unlike-Ollie things such as ‘I’ll break your neck!’, ‘I oughta kill you!’ etc. Similarly Stan is much less intimidated by Ollie than he seems to be in subsequent years–he fights back instantly and is more than willing to defend himself. The difference between the method of making their silent films and the adaptation to sound is still a work-in-progress. A silent could accommodate a load of unrehearsed, unplanned chatter and yelling over a slapstick sequence. In a talkie, the noisy and random nature of the improvised dialogue detracts from the action. That’s not to say that the film isn’t very funny–it remains one of my favorites–only that its tone is a bit more strident, its volume a little too loud. Another curious thing is Ollie’s reaction to Stan in the car when Stan tells him to ‘step on it, Ollie’. ‘I’l step on you in a minute…and don’t call me Ollie!’ As far as I know, this is the only time Ollie ever objected to being referred to in this manner and I’ve puzzled over this for the last fifty or so years; was it the first time Stan had used this contraction of his name? And when precisely did Ollie get used to being called Ollie? Finally, this film was released without a music track–Hal Roach didn’t add the bed of famous Roach-style music to his movies for another year and a half. When ‘Perfect Day’ was re-released in 1937 the current music track was added.
L&H have been a deep and profound part of my life since I was five years old. For me their best work are the shorts made between 1926–1935 (I only recently got interested in the silent L&H’s since the team without their voices always seemed to me to be fifty-percent less who they were…but that’s not entirely true). Enjoy this trip back to the balmy, residential streets of Culver City in June, 1929…