To see us through the holidays and to celebrate the joyous occasion of saying goodbye to this bizarre year, I will be posting a silent Laurel and Hardy comedy every day through January 1. I’ve loved L&H since I was a child but never took much interest in the silents since, well, you couldn’t hear there very distinctive voices. And I admit that something important in their comedy is missing without Stan’slow-rent English accent and Ollie’s overly formal southern intonations. But a few years ago I finally delved into their silent canon and there is much to enjoy and, in some ways, more to be fascinated by. For although they’re not usually idnetified strictly as physical comedians, the silence imposed upon them by the then available technology forces us to reckon with them as such. Beyond that, though, is the curious fact that their characters are fully formed (though not quite as sophisticated as they would become) and they convey this sheerly through facial expressions that are versatile and telling.
Above is ‘Their Purple Moment’, a 1928 short with ‘synchronized music score’ (in other words–no live pianist in the theater), and below is a nice little reel that an enterprising L&H fan put together showing before/after shots of the Los Angeles locations the film was shot at. Note that the ‘supervising director’ was Leo McCarey, later to direct ‘The Awful Truth’, ‘Going My Way’ (showing on TCM as I write this) and other classics. And the photography was by George Stevens, who I wrote about at length last week. Stevens always credited his penchant for deliberate pacing in comedy and slowly building tension to Stan Laurel’s techniques (Laurel was very much involved in the creative process of the filmmaking). Enjoy!