‘Double Whoopee’ (1929) is, for my money, the best of the L&H silent shorts. Though not as iconic as ‘Liberty’, ‘Two Tars’ or ‘Big Business’, the film has a motor that never quits–a very jazz-age, syncopated almost out-of-control rhythmic thrust that I find irresistible. The art deco hotel lobby setting also helps and the cameo by Jean Harlow–not officially a cameo since nobody knew who she was when it was made–puts it over the top. Notice in these silent L&H shorts that Stan is a good bit more aggressive toward Ollie when he feels he’s being mistreated. With the coming of sound came a somewhat subtle shift in this aspect of their relationship. As quick as Stan is to react defensively in the silents, he takes a more passive stance toward Ollie’s occasional physical abuse in the talkies– until ‘enough is enough’. Stan’s eventual retaliations in the sound films are much more satisfying and, in an odd way, a bit frightening. When Stan eventually fights back, it’s the sudden awakening of a sleeping animal who, when provoked, proves to be much deadlier than its provocateur expected. Note also that Stan’s crying bit is well developed in the silent shorts but that without the ability to verbalize we don’t yet have his oral blunders–the misunderstandings, mispronunciations and, most importantly, the Cockney phrasing that marks the talkie-era Stan as a low-rent product of a very 19th century sort of London. (‘Oh…me apple!’–Not MY apple–ME apple etc.) The release date on the film–May, 1929–is well into the talkie era, which makes me wonder if these L&Hs were specifically shown in theaters not yet converted to sound or if audiences didn’t mind a silent short proceeding a sound feature. A subject for further research…though not by me.


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