The Finishing Touch (1928). Ah, the destruction of property…
Stan and Ollie are contracted to “finish” a house. And finish it they assuredly will. This film benefits from the fact that its intended original audience by this time already recognised Laurel and Hardy as a double act. Their fame as comics allows for the pleasures of anticipation, which assists the timing of many of the gags. In much of their comedy, “knowing what’s coming” is all part of the joy.
The Finishing Touch (1928) is a piece which silent movie historians regards as the descendant of two separate movies, one with Laurel (Smithy, 1924) and one with Hardy (Stick Around, 1925), but it is also the progenitor of many familiar scenarios in which Stan and Laurel, armed with all the instruments of construction, initiate a process of total destruction.
Ed. Kennedy returns as cop-antagonist while the enchanting yet ferocious Dorothy Coburn appears as a nurse determined to ensure that these two contractors do not disturb the nearby hospital. There is much shhhing in the film, especially whenever someone has just experience sudden and extreme pain and wishes to emit a violent ejaculation.
In one of the best jokes of the film, the nurse is dismissed from the scene by Stan tearing some cloth when she bends over, persuading her that her underwear is now exposed thus forcing her to walk very awkwardly to some place of refuge.
Ollie learns nothing. Time after time, he decides to carry tiny nails in his mouth and time after time some mishap causes him to swallow them. In laboratory conditions, hamsters will avoid the electric current after the second shock, but Ollie refuses to vary his modus operandus despite what looks like the agonising and highly dangerous repeated consumption of sharpened metal.
The slowest and most careful disaster involves Ollie working on the roof balanced on a plank that Stan is sawing through. The catastrophe is retarded by the circumstance of Stan being terrible at sawing wood, and even when the plank is severed Stan immediately sits down on the Ollie end to give Ollie a second’s grace. When glue and Ollie and roofing all finally tumble it is Ed Kennedy who is the real victim and is reduced to a tattered sobbing wreck of a man.
Somehow the house is sort of finished and the owner presents Ollie and Stan with $500. Unfortunately a bird lands on the chimney causing the building to start to collapse. Not unreasonably, the owner demands his money be refunded and a scramble ensues with money being passed back and forth in a circular chase scene. Finally, Stan insists on using the biggest rock he can find to lob at the outraged owner – the rock which has been holding the truck in place in lieu of brakes. Of course, the truck rolls backwards and destroys what’s left of the truck – a joke which has been looming for the entire duration of the film.
There’s much to enjoy in this film. This is, indisputably, the Laurel and Hardy who we come to know and love. Compared to later masterpieces, the reaction to gag ratio is not quite established. In films like Towed in a Hole and Busy Bodies, slightly more time is given to the absorption of pain and destruction. Less happens – but more does.
Still, Finishing Touch is a delightful way to spend 23 minutes of life. Except it’s far more than 23 minutes, because you can watch it over and over again and spot something you’ve not spotted previously.
I’ve a few notes on some other early Laurel and Hardy movies. See below…
Leave ‘Em Laughing:
Battle of the Century:
Putting Pants on Philip:
Call of the Cuckoo:
Do Detectives Think?
With Love and Hisses:
Love ‘Em and Weep:
45 Minutes from Hollywood:
The Lucky Dog: