The famous comedy duo
Laurel and Hardy made many excursions into the horror movie genre. The
Missing Link explores these films and their impact on their careers.
Laurel and Hardy
The Comedy of Terrors
Habeus Corpus The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case The Chimp
Oliver the Eighth Babes in Toyland
The Live Ghost A-Haunting We Will Go
It is a generally well regarded fact that Laurel and Hardy are now more popular than
they were in their heyday. Sadly neither of them lived long enough to feel the warmth and
affection from their fans all over the world today. Their unique partnership in the
history of the cinema endures through the consistently high sales of their films on video,
merchandising and the vast membership of their appreciation society "The
Sons of the Desert".
In keeping with the intentions of the we will focus our attentions on the handful of shorts and features that
contain varying degrees of horror film trappings.
It seems that everyone who worked in Hollywood during the first forty years of the film
industry, popped their heads into a Laurel and Hardy film. For genre enthusiasts, Charles Middleton, best known to us as Ming the
Merciless, appeared in BEAU HUNKS, PACK UP YOUR TROUBLES, FLYING DEUCES and THE
FIXER-UPPERS. The exceptional Peter Cushing appears as an extra in A CHUMP AT
OXFORD. Harry Earles, remembered as Hans the midget in Freaks, took a role in SAILOR'S BEWARE.
Carroll Borland is cast as a bridesmaid in ME AND MY PAL. Even Boris Karloff appears as "The Tiger" in the French
version of PARDON US. Also spotted in the films are Lionel Belmore, Elisha Cook Jr., Forrester Harvey, Ralf Harolde,
George Kotsonaros to name but a few. All of them must have enjoyed the experience.
Laurel and Hardy were certainly not the first to use the horror genre as a means for
comedy. Harold Lloyd's HAUNTED SPOOKS (1920) and Buster Keaton's THE HAUNTED
HOUSE (1921) preceded them.
If you discount DO DETECTIVES THINK? with its graveyard sequence and FLYING
ELEPHANTS set in the Stone Age, Laurel and Hardy's first true effort
in the horror comedy genre would have to be HABEUS CORPUS (1928).
Vagabonds Stan and Ollie arrive at the doorstep of an eccentric
scientist named Professor Padilla who persuades them to exhume a corpse from the local
cemetery for use in his experiments. The script mentions that he is trying to transfer the
brain of one body into another, but the film leaves the experiment unexplained. Padilla's
servant, Ledoux, informs the police of his master's nefarious deeds while in a scene
filmed at a real cemetery at night, Ollie attempts to climb over the wall, but much to his
own chagrin, he falls through it instead. In the meantime Ledoux clambers into the body
bag and plays dead to give Stan and Ollie a real scare when they think that the corpse has
returned to life.
Directed by James Parrott, Charlie Chase's brother, and supervised by Leo McCarey, who was
involved in many of the duo's best films, HABEUS CORPUS was the first film to
realise Laurel and Hardy's potential as a team.
Charley Rogers as Ledoux, also collaborated with Stan on many of their scripts and became
a life-long friend to them both. Also of interest is Richard Carle as the mad Prof.
Padilla who later appeared in the spooky comedy thriller The Ghost Walks (1934).
The release of HABEUS CORPUS was witheld for a few months as the soaring interest
in sound films began to influence the Roach studios. To meet this demand halfway Hal Roach
added music and sound effects before the film's general release. Sadly, all the sound
discs remain lost, leaving the film in an entirely silent form today.
Long after the transition to sound had been made, Laurel and Hardy
appeared in THE LAUREL-HARDY MURDER CASE (1930), not "The Laurel and Hardy
Murder Case" as some prints suggest, a three reeler that directly parodies the
haunted-house thriller that found succes with The Bat
(1926) and The Cat and the Canary (1927).
Fishing for their dinner at the dockside, Ollie spots a news item that announces the death
of the wealthy Ebeneezer Laurel and leads him to believe that Stan may be heir to $3
"Three million dollars! Is that as much as a thousand?"
Ollie replies, "Why man alive, it's twice as much!"
The duo arrive at Ebeneezer's creepy mansion to be told that the wealthy man had actually
been murdered and all his relatives are now suspects. During the
night every conceivable thing manages to send Stan and Ollie into a frenzy of panic. Stan,
as ever, instigating most of it.
After tumbling down a flight of stairs as only Stan and Ollie can, they then have to
contend with a wholly unrealistic bat. Later it is learned that the culprit, dressed as a
housemaid, is after the inheritance. Aided by the butler, he tells Stan and Ollie that
they are wanted on the telephone, but every time the receiver is lifted the chair tilts
back reminiscent of the way Sweeny Todd disposed of his victims. The boys manage to
overcome the culprit just before the final scene shows that their adventure was all a
dream. The boys fight on the dockside only to end up in the water with a resounding
THE LAUREL-HARDY MURDER CASE, a title fashioned after THE CANARY MURDER CASE
of 1929, is replete with spooky trappings including a howling wind, a wailing cat, white
sheets, screams and a wonderful picture of a skeletal demon.
During production, Stan's wife Lois gave birth to a premature baby who died only nine days
later. Many have seen this as the reason that this is a rather dull and unamusing entry to
their film work, but although it must have affected Stan, his character is no more
morose than what is required of the film's locale.
Three other versions were filmed simultaneously for foreign markets. In France it was
known as FEU MON ONCLE, in Germany as DER SPUK UM MITTERNACHT and NOCHES
DE DUENDES in Spain. All these versions are a reel longer than the American release as
they used a sequence on a train from BERTH MARKS to pad it out.
One other of Laurel and Hardy's films worthy of
mention in this context is THE CHIMP (1932). The creature of
the title named Ethel is portrayed in a gorilla suit by Charles Gemora, a Filipino who first came to Hollywood as a sculptor
for Universal later to become a skilled make-up artist for Paramount. As a gorilla he
appeared in Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932) and
Phantom of the Rue Morgue (1954). He also created and appeared as the Martian for War of
the Worlds. Gemora died aged 58 in 1961 of pneumonia.
DIRTY WORK (1933) is actually more of a science fiction parody
than anything else. The animated titles begin by
bubbling from one to the next in a laboratory beaker before chimney-sweeps Stan and Ollie
arrive at the house of Professor Noodle. The butler makes the mistake of
allowing them both in while remarking that they will find the fireplace "standing
against the wall". Inserted between shots of the genial, but thoroughly insane
professor perfecting his rejuvenation formula, Stan and Ollie systematically decorate the
house with soot, and generally destroying any object in their way. The peak of their
anarchy occurs when Stan tussles with the brush in the fireplace and accidentally pulls
Ollie down the chimney that breaks apart under the strain of his girth. Ollie appears in
the fireplace amongst a haze of soot as bricks plummet down the chimney and onto his head
one by one.
Professor Noodle proceeds to demonstrate his formula to Stan and Ollie when he places a duck into a tank and adds a drop of his solution that
changes the animal into a young duckling. A little more is added and the duckling reverts
to an egg. Determined to try the experiment on his butler Jessop, Noodle leaves the room.
Inevitably Stan accidentally knocks Ollie into the tank with a whole phial of the formula.
Ollie emerges as a chimp, complete with a bowler hat on his head remarking "I have
nothing to say!"
Directed by Lloyd French, who had worked as an assistant director on many of the earlier
Laurel and Hardy comedies, does a superb job blending traditional sight-gags with some
equally amusing dialogue in this excellent comedy short.
Professor Noodle is played by fine character actor Lucien Littlefield who had appeared in Paul Leni's mystery thriller The Cat and the Canary (1927) and later takes a substantial part in Scared Stiff (1945) with Jack Haley.
Made after what is commonly regarded as their best feature, THE
SONS OF THE DESERT, their last excursion into three-reeler territory is THE PRIVATE
LIFE OF OLIVER THE EIGHTH (1934). Maybe not as satisfying as their last two attempts,
this is nevertheless an entertaining and delicious blend of horror comedy.
shop proprieters Stan and Ollie answer an advertisement from a wealthy widow who is
seeking a husband. Ollie hides Stan's letter in reply under his hat while giving the
camera one of his famous "forgive-me" looks, and posts his response. Once he
receives the favourable reply, Ollie impetuously gives Stan the shop to take up his
natural social position. When Ollie arrives, Jitters the butler,
(played by gag writer Jack Barty), who is one sandwich short of a picnic so to speak,
introduces him to his future wife when Stan suddenly bursts into the house demanding to
know why Ollie failed to post his letter and that he claims half of everything Ollie gets.
The boys are then served an invisible meal by Jitters who calmly explains that his
mistress is insane and that they will be lucky to survive the night without having their
throats slit. The woman was once jilted by a man named Oliver and she
has vowed to kill any man with that name. Ollie is the eighth. She enters the room
brandishing her favourite kitchen knife and presses the blade against Ollie's throat who
suddenly awakes from his dream to find himself in the barber's chair.
Five days into filming in December, personal tragedy once again befell Stan when he
learned that his brother Everett died of heart failure during an anaesthetic in the
dentist's chair. The poignancy of Ollie's final scene in the barber's chair must have
Filming was eventually completed in January of the new year.
Mae Busch who takes the part of the homicidal widow, was a stalwart of the Laurel and
Hardy films and featured in fourteen of their best comedies. Like many girls trying to
find work in Hollywood, Mae was a former Mack Sennet bathing beauty and had previously
appeared in Lon Chaney's The Unholy Three (1925).
...OLIVER THE EIGHTH also has one of those terrific "Tell me that
again..." sequences when Stan surprises everyone with a sudden spurt of logic,
however, when he is asked to repeat his statement, he is right back as his old self
managing only to mumble some unintelligible variation of the original.
BABES IN TOYLAND, also known as MARCH OF THE WOODEN
SOLDIERS was finally completed in November of 1934. Hal Roach's story written in 1933
was rejected by Stan who did not like the treatment or the characters Simple Simon and the
Pie-man to which he and Ollie had been assigned. Hal Roach washed his hands of the whole affair and told Stan to make it as he wanted. From that point
on Stan's relationship with the producer was kept strictly on a business level. To his
dying day Roach claimed it was "a lousy picture".
Stannie Dum and Ollie Dee are employees of the Toyland toy factory when the evil Silas
Barnaby played by a 25 year old Henry Brandon in his first screen appearance, threatens to
throw Mother Peep out of her home in a giant shoe and into the gutter. Stannie and Ollie
ask their employer for the money, but are curtly refused and told to get on with the order
for 600, one foot high wooden soldiers. However, in Stannie and Ollie's capable hands the
order becomes 100, six foot high soldiers. Unable to find the money for Silas, the evil
moneylender claims Mother Peep's daughter Bo as his bride. When Stannie and Ollie foil the
schemer's wicked plans, Silas stirs up the monstrous inhabitants of Bogeyland to attack
Toyland. The day is saved when Stannie and Ollie use the giant
wooden soldiers they made to drive back the invaders.
BABES IN TOYLAND is considered the best of the three operettas that they made and
also ranked as one of Oliver's personal favourites. After a Walt Disney remake in 1961,
the original rarely appeared anywhere and then only in a butchered form with most of the
songs cut out and a trimmed sequence showing the monster invaders as it was deemed too
grim for children.
In an interview Henry Brandon revealed that "the fimakers were planning to have me
stuffed into a cannon by Laurel and Hardy, set it off, with bits and pieces of my body
spelling out The End!"
Stan later regretted that the film was not made in colour, as the lavish and elaborate
sets were painted in bright children's storybook colours. This is one film that would
actually benefit from the computer colourising process!
Amid all the characters is none other than Mickey Mouse who seems to be played at times by
a monkey in a suit and possibly by a midget. Unrecognisable as one of the Three Little
Pigs is Angelo Rossitto who is remembered for many portrayals
in the horror genre including Freaks.
Adding to some of the problems encountered during production, the cast and crew suffered
from a spate of accidents. Stan fell and damaged some ligaments in his right leg which
left the directors Gus Meins and Charley Rogers having to shoot around his scenes for a
few days, as well as when Kewpie Morgan, a rotund actor who portrays Old King Cole,
ruptured his stomach muscles when he had to laugh almost continuously for two days during
Although BABES IN TOYLAND did well at the box office, Hal Roach was still adamant
in his opinion.
Directly after BABES IN TOYLAND, Laurel and Hardy made THE
LIVE GHOST (1934), one of their last two-reel comedies as the Roach studio
concentrated on features as required by cinemas who showed two films in one sitting. This
usually comprised of a B-Picture backing up a mainstream release. This came to be known as
the "Double Feature". Hal Roached believed that if he had made Laurel and
Hardy's comedies in 4 reels, they would have played at the top of the bill with feature
status. However, this "features only" policy was already looming when
filming began for THE LIVE GHOST.
During a lunchbreak from the fish canning factory, Stan and Ollie are approached on the
waterfront by the captain of a ship who is looking for a new crew to set sail the next
day. Stan and Ollie refuse his offer, but help him to
shanghai a crew from the local saloon at a dollar a head. Stan goes in and dares a patron
to hold an egg in his mouth without breaking it. The patron obliges only to receive a
whack on the chin by Stan who runs outside where Ollie "pans" Stan's pursuer
unconcious leaving the captain to take him away to the ship. Predictably, everything goes
wrong when Stan "pans" the captain who promptly adds the boys to his pile of
On the ship Stan and Ollie discover the reason for the captain's difficulty in obtaining a
crew, the vessel is rumoured to be haunted. While the others are all on shore
leave, Stan and Ollie believe that they have shot their cabinmate. To conceal the crime
they weigh the man down and chuck him overboard. The man played by Arthur Houseman, a fine
character actor who specialised in portraying drunks, clambers back on board and then
falls into a vat of whitewash. Stan and Ollie mistake the man for a "ghost". Sickened by the rumour of a ghost, and having previously promised that any
man who mentioned ghost again he would "take his head and twist it around",
the captain carries out his threat.
Despite a seemingly hurried finale, this is considered the classiest entry to Laurel and
Hardy's comedies of terror with its impressively sleazy waterfront saloon and fog
enshrouded ghost ship.
The oppressive captain is played by Walter Long (1879-1952), who had spent many years in
Hollywood since 1909 portraying villains and appears in black-face for D.W. Griffith's BIRTH
OF A NATION (1915). He later became a popular adversary to Laurel and Hardy, but
surprisingly only appears in five of their films which includes their cameo appearance in PICK
A STAR (1937). It seems that Long's only horror genre film was the gorilla feature
strangely titled Go and Get It (1920).
Also amongst the cast of THE LIVE GHOST is Leo Willis, playing the part of a heavy
as he did in many silent and sound films, and the diminutive Charlie Hall, a character
actor born in Birmingham who emigrated to America in 1918. Through a long friendship with
Stan, he appeared in no less than 47 Laurel and Hardy films. He also managed to find time
to appear in features including the seminal The
Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939). Charlie died in 1959, aged 60.
As completists we have to include a word or two about the woeful A-HAUNTING
WE WILL GO (1942). Long past their prime, Laurel and Hardy signed an agreement with
Twentieth Century Fox for the budgets and expertise a large studio could offer.
Unfortunately what was missing in the recipe for success was skilled technicians who knew
something of the art of comedy. Fox's prime output were polished musicals and dramas,
which when added to the fact that comedy had changed into brash wisecracking comedians who
did not, and could not engage in the subtler forms of light entertainment, things began to
go pear-shaped for the duo. This form of comedy was exemplified by Abbott and Costello who
tortured audiences with 25 films made throughout the Forties.
Assigned scriptwriters at Fox thought they knew how to make Laurel and Hardy
"funny", supplying them with quick sharp dialogue that was completely out of
keeping with their established characters. Without the freedom to express themselves
within the confines of the script, vital elements of Laurel and Hardy that audiences had
come to appreciate were gone.
A-HAUNTING WE WILL GO was directed by Alfred Louis Werker who was more adept at
churning out routine dramas than comedy films.
Stan and Ollie are conned into escorting a coffin that actually contains a gang leader who
is eager to collect an inheritance once they reach Dayton, Ohio. En route the coffin is
inadvertantly switched with a prop coffin used by Dante the Magician, whereupon Stan and
Ollie end up as assistants to the illusionist.
Laurel and Hardy's lack of enthusiasm is evident, and seemingly they lost heart in the
whole affair. Ironically the film received favorable reviews by the same critics who were
less than charitable with their earlier endeavors.
Among the cast is Willie Best and Mantan Moreland who both specialised in portraying the
"panicking black", an essential element at the time for any spooky-house comedy.
Willie Best had previously appeared in a
similar role for The Monster Walks (1932)
billed as Sleep'n'Eat, The Ghost Breakers (1940), The Smiling Ghost (1941) and The Body Disappears (1941).
Mantan Moreland, who worked tirelessly until his death in 1973, appeared in King of the Zombies (1941), The
Strange Case of Doctor RX (1942) and Revenge of the Zombies
(1943) amongst others. All his appearances in these films were similar, usually he would
stare wide-eyed at the cause of his fright and occasionally exclaim "feet...do
Laurel and Hardy had to endure seven more features in this restrictive fashion, but by
this time the magic had long since gone.
Although like all film comedians, they made several "clunkers" during their
career, all of the Laurel and Hardy films have some element to find pleasure in. Their
performances as a team are invaribly a joy to watch while their gestures, mannerisms and
reactions are just a few of the many ingredients that have made them endure in the hearts
of millions of fans for so long. It seemed to some that the whole world was against them,
and as reality tried to grind them down their only sustenance was each other. However,
these sweet gentle men would always bounce back for the next challenge, and that was Stan
Laurel and Oliver Hardy's most endearing quality.
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