The Lucky Dog. Laurel and Hardy first meet on film.
This is not a Laurel and Hardy movie. “Laurel and Hardy” do not yet exist. This is a Stan Laurel movie starring a character who is not “Stan Laurel” in which an actor called Oliver Hardy who is not “Oliver Hardy” plays a supporting role.
There is some dispute about when this movie was made. An elderly Stan Laurel gave an impossibly early date to it (perhaps because he loved Ollie so much he subconsciously wished to elongate their professional relationship). In fact, an analysis of car registrations has concluded that this film was made some time 1920-21.
Stan Laurel plays an amiable loser who is thrown out of his boarding house, befriends a dog, and undergoes a brief sequence of life-threatening adventures before getting the girl of his dreams. There is gun play. There is a dog show run amok. The central partnership is not between Stan and Ollie but between a young man and a dog. Watching early silent comedies, you note that guns, though proven emissaries of instant death, appear to accomplish little more than blackening certain parts of the body and destroying the seats of trousers.
There is something very elegant about how Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy first meet on film. They do not meet face to face, but cheek to cheek. They back into one another around a corner. As their arses touch, we, the belated Stan and Ollie loving audience, we – the people who love Stan and Ollie so much we’ve tracked down an obscure two-reel effort called The Lucky Dog, are aware that something very special is happening. The original audience would have felt nothing.
What happens next is quite elegant. Ollie (or a character played by Oliver Hardy) is mugging someone, but accidentally puts the money he’s stolen into the pockets of Stan (or a character played by Stan Laurel), who has very gently just backed into him. When he turns on Stan, he then robs Stan of the money that he himself has just stolen, with the result that Stan seems more surprised and gratified by the money he suddenly discovers he has briefly had in his possession than he is distressed by being robbed at gunpoint of it.
Oliver Hardy’s character pursues Stan for the remainder of the film, but he’s one of several antagonists. The three of four minutes where the two of them are alone on screen are of course better than the remainder of the movie.
The Lucky Dog is, of course, a film for completists. Whatever its intrinsic merits (and what are “intrinsic merits” and how can they possibly be distilled?), it is watched out of profound and committed love. The love of the completist is akin to the love of the pilgrim, who doesn’t want to miss a single step of the way.