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Love ‘Em and Weep. Still not a Laurel and Hardy film, but say hello to James Finlayson and Mae Busch

January 19, 2017

finlayson

It’s 1927 and astonishingly, we think to ourselves (with the benefit of decades of smug hindsight), the Hal Roach studio still hasn’t figured out that Stan and Ollie belong together.  This is another Stan Laurel film in which Oliver Hardy has very little to do, other than to sit and resemble Teddy Roosevelt.  It is in fact a Laurel and Finlayson film, with Finlayson being credited as Jimmy rather than James.  The premise of this one would be remade with sound as a proper Laurel and Hardy film (Chickens Come Home), this time with Ollie in the Finlayson role.

If we want to chart “firsts” then this one deserves to be noted as the first film featuring Laurel, Hardy, Finlayson, Charlie Hall and Mae Busch.

The very great and very Scottish James Finlayson was of course, a master of the double take.  When talkies came along, he pioneered the comedic use of the word “D’Oh!” some sixty years before Homer Simpson.  He was superb at playing ludicrous authority figures, characters whose bluster is erected upon a slender, wobbly, and apoplectic foundation.  Mae Busch meanwhile is a delicious female antagonist, terrifying and sexy, elegant and violent, and a team player who implicitly understood the way in which Laurel and Hardy films are timed and cadenced.  Charlie Hall appeared again and again as an angry little man within the chronicles of Stan and Ollie, and here he’s playing the butler who would be played by Finlayson in Chickens Come Home.  It’s a small world.  A happy and violent little world.

James Finlayson plays a successful and respected citizen, but a man with a past.  Mae Busch plays his past.  This “Past” barges into Finlayson’s office, threatening to wreck Finlayson’s marriage with evidence such as the seaside photo shown above.  Finlayson’s factotum, the hapless Stanley, is dispatched to distract The Past while the Finlaysons host a dinner party.  Stanley tries taking Past out for dinner, is spotted by the local bitter gossip, and subsequently has to deal with the jealousy of his own wife.  Past crashes the dinner party, and Stan tries to pass her off as his own wife.  Past is then knocked unconscious, and in a truly extraordinary scene, Laurel escorts a strange creature made of both Finlayson and Past out of the front door, only to be confronted by his own real wife.   Death-dealing spousal retribution brings down the curtain while Ollie’s Teddy Roosevelt impression laughs and laughs before being belted by his own wife.

This is a very pleasant way of spending twenty minutes.  Stan shows off his patent high pitched crying face (you can almost hear him without hearing him).  Best of all, is the chance to watch Laurel, Hardy, Finlayson, Busch and Hall all playing together.  A core cast is being assembled.

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