Block-Heads [1938]

The combination of choleric, combustible Oliver Hardy and mild, perpetually helpful Stan Laurel sustained dozens upon dozens of comedies, including the popular Way Out West. What makes this hour-long feature stand out is not just the physical hijinks (of which there are plenty), but the moments of surprising elegance, like a supple soft-shoe duet accompanied by what can only be called cowboy doo-wop. The plot concerns keeping the deed to a gold mine out of the hands of a greedy saloonkeeper (frequent comic foil James Finlayson), but it's just a pretext for gleeful slapstick orchestrations. Laurel & Hardy II also includes the underrated Block-Heads, another hour-long feature which starts out in the trenches of World War I and ends in a 13th floor apartment in New York; domestic strife and even lost limbs become fodder for jokes, yet the movie never feels cruel or ghoulish. It's the lightheartedness of their brutal mishaps that marks their success. Both features are from the late 1930s. An additional short from 1931, Chickens Come Home, features Hardy running for mayor and trying to squelch his past indiscretions, with Laurel as his right-hand man. No matter the circumstances, they wear bowler hats; wherever they go, madcap devastation follows. --Bret Fetzer

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