Sunday, October 7, 2012

Laurel and Hardy's The Big Noise -- not as bad as you think

The Big Noise

by Doug Gibson

"The Big Noise," a 1944 Laurel and Hardy feature from Twentieth Century Fox, directed by Malcolm St. Claire, is generally panned by Laurel and Hardy enthusiasts. In fact, it was listed as one of the "50 worst films" in the Medved brothers book that was popular 30 years ago. But that's all nonsense. "The Big Noise" is not a great film but it's a passable way to spend 74 minutes with a classic comedy team. It's certainly not among Laurel & Hardy's best films. To see those, buy the Hal Roach feature "Sons of the Desert" and the Roach short "The Music Box." But in "The Big Noise," the boys' genius still works at times.

The plot involves Stan and Ollie as bumbling janitors working in a private detective's office. A scientist named Alva Hartley (Arthur Space) calls the agency asking for detectives to guard his bomb, called the Big Noise. The bomb is so powerful it can win World War II for the allies (how prophetic!). L&H want to be detectives, so they pose as such and take on the assignment. Next door to the Hartley live a pack of criminals, who want to steal the bomb and sell it to the Nazis. Somehow a pretty young lady (Doris Merrick) is also there (she's innocent of the plot) and Hartley takes a small fancy to her.

Eventually Laurel and Hardy take off with the bomb with the crooks in hot pursuit. Incredibly, the whole shebang ends in the ocean!

This is just an OK film. L&H fans will be more tolerant. Those unaccustomed to the pair should watch a better entry. The boys were starting to age in 1944 and the physical hijinks suffered. There are funny scenes, though, of L&H trying to relax in a bedroom with beds that come out of the walls and tables that rise out of the floor. A scene where the pair eats food in pill form is flat and unfunny, though.

One scene that works is the pair trying to sleep in a Pullman train compartment. Another unfunny part of the film is an annoying brat in the Hartley house who plays pranks. He's played by child star Robert Blake, who later gained fame as an actor and then earned notoriety after being accused of murdering his wife (he was acquitted). Also, Veda Ann Borg overacts as a chunky matron who has eyes for Ollie. One trivia bit in the film is that Stan, on his accordion, played the popular song "Maisey Doats." According to the film's press book, the pair deliberately cut back on wasteful gags to help with the WWII effort.

To sum up, it's an OK way to kill 74 minutes and should be watched by completists, but there are better L&H outings. Again, though, it's not as bad as you might think.

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