Busy Bodies (USA, 1933)

Director: Lloyd French

Starring: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Charlie Hall

Cinematography: Fleet Southwood

Music: Marvin Hatley. Alice K.Howlett, Leroy Shield

Script/Story: Stan Laurel (uncredited)

In one line: Laurel and Hardy work in a saw mill.


Stan and Olly batter each other, destroy their workplace and get their car cut in half by a giant bandsaw.


The vast, vast majority of slapstick is shite. I've just been watching Donald O'Connor doing his routine to 'Make 'em Laugh' (which has the exact same tune and scanning properties as 'Be a Clown'). If he'd have called it 'I'm a C**t' it would have been bearable, but a song entitled 'Make 'em Laugh' should at least contain something suggesting laugh-inducing properties in the many examples given by its performer. It was one of those moments where the remote could not be located and seemed to last forever.

Jerry Lewis and Norman Wisdom became famous for their slapstick 'routines' and both had a penchant for spewmaking, mawkish 'please love me' type performances. Charlie Chaplain sussed out that dumbass audiences the world over would 'fall' for such loveable characters, and the great thing about slapstick for such performers and spectators is that it's a 'universal language' and therefore doesn't require anything so sophisticated as words.

So why are Laurel and Hardy so good, and why don't they get dropped into the same shitbucket as Chaplain, Lewis and Wisdom? Well, for a start, L and H don't want you to love them. They'll play up to other characters and try to turn on the charm, but it's patently obvious to the audience that their attempts at likeability are ridiculous and are merely there as a preamble to impending terrible events. Because they don't want you to like them, they become likeable.

L and H's slapstick just works for some reason. Appalling violence is visited upon both men, but particularly on Oliver Hardy's arse. The violence is just right as well, and never veers towards the nastiness seen in the works of other comics or (for example) the strange sadism seen in Home Alone.

Busy Bodies is just brilliant, and involves excellent sight gags involving window frames, saws and hammers, planks of wood and pretty much anything else found in a saw mill. My favourite scene starts with a fight between the two men. Laurel gets in a nark and squashes a paint brush covered in glue into Hardy's face. He then has to shave  Hardy with a wood plane; this leads to another fight and Hardy hitting himself in the head with a kitchen sink which he has accidentally ripped from a wall.

Perpetually bad-tempered Laurel and Hardy regular Charlie Hall takes sides with Laurel in the fight against Hardy at one stage.

"I like you," says Hall. "You've got a kind face."

"Thanks," says Laurel as he gives Hall the use of a comfortable chair and the remnants of a cigar.

Stan then points out a giant sign saying 'No Smoking' to bullyboy foreman Tiny Sandford. Sandford batters Hall.

Laurel fights his own battles with Hardy, thank you very much. 

Everything gets destroyed, Laurel and Hardy get sacked and on their way out, their car is cut in half by a giant bandsaw.

Nobody wants to be loved. Nobody gets any love. It's a godless, existential world, and if things don't go right, it's just tough titty. 

L and H just pick themselves up, dust themselves down, and start all over again. 

Not because they're indefatigable or believe in the triumph of the human spirit against all odds. 

Not at all. 

They do so because they're idiots. 

And that's why I love them.