Monday, October 24, 2011

Big Business

Big Business; silent comedy short, USA, 1929; D: James W. Horne, Leo McCarey, S: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, James Finlayson

California. It's Christmas time and Laurel & Hardy drive with their car, trying to sell Christmas-trees from door to door. After a few failed attempts, Hardy decides to take a more "aggressive" approach with the next customer, a bald man. Neither he is interested in Christmas-trees and shuts his door in front of them. Since their tree gets stuck in the door, Hardy rings the bell several times in order for the man to open the door again and release it. However, the man loses his patience and cuts their Christmas-tree. Laurel & Hardy decide to strike back with the same measure and start destroying his house, while he starts demolishing their car. A police officer stops them so the duo escapes.

Comedians Laurel & Hardy shot over 100 films together, of short and (much weaker) feature length format, whereas the website Internet Movie Database lists "Big Business" as their 2nd highest rated film - right after the good, but overhyped "Music Box" - that short silent comedy has a barely 20 minutes running time, yet still manages to encompass a whole spectre of their comic possibilities. Arguably, it is their best film. The story is simple - while persistently striving to sell a Christmas-tree to a reluctant man, Laurel & Hardy start such an argument with him that it escalates into an excessive spectacle of destruction in which he wrecks their car while they deconstruct his whole house (!) - turning into a surprisingly 'politically incorrect' anarchic comedy for them, some critics even going so far to perceive the absurd destruction and violence against inanimate objects as a foreshadowing of untrammelled violence in cinema later found from Peckinpah to Scorsese. Still, if the violence against Christmas-trees is ignored, "Business" is first and foremost a classic childish comedy, a gentle jab at both "aggressive sales tactics" and human weakness to restrain from escalating conflicts, entirely exploiting the potentials of the concept in such hilarious scene where the bald man (Finlayson) gets tangled and "fights" with the Christmas-trees, in the end not knowing how to destroy Laurel & Hardy's wrecked car in any possible new way, so he just lights and throws a dynamite at its rubble, whereas Laurel & Hardy again prove their chemistry when they destroy his door and his chimney.


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