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Laurel & Hardy





Hal Roach-Pathé, 1927. Directed by Fred Guiol.  With Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, James Finlayson, Noah Young, Viola Richard, Frank Brownlee, Charles A. Bachman, Will Stanton, Charley Young.

Convicted murderer Noah Young escapes from prison, vowing vengeance on the judge (James Finlayson) who sentenced him. Laurel & Hardy, inept employees of a private detective agency, are assigned to guard him. Waylaying the judge's new butler, the killer gets into his house in that guise. Prowling the house with huge knives and swords, Young misses several opportunities to kill his intended prey, and adds the detectives to his list of victims when they continually get in his way. Eager only to avoid him, and by now totally unconcerned by their mission to protect the judge, the boys do, by a fluke, capture him after all and after turning him over to the law, leave, bowing modestly and gracefully as they exit.

The first film to present Laurel & Hardy as the team we now know so well, it introduces them as already-established workmates, clothes them in their traditional bowler hats and rather shabby suits, and gives them their head to perform as though they had been a team for years.  Hardy is pompous, selfish, scared, a blusterer; Laurel is well-meaning, dumb, equally scared, seldom aware of when he is being used by his buddy.  Several of their standard routines originate here, including their many-times repeated exchange of hats (the hats are continually dropped, picked up, passed from hand to hand, always resulting in the wrong hat on the wrong head). Although a disappointing comedy, it is an important one in that it offers their comedy style and screen personalities in full fruition (albeit served by inferior material), the two of them working together in perfect unison and harmony after only a handful of trial balloons which had made no deliberate attempt to create such a team.

The film is further helped by considerably upped production values—handsome interior sets, a generous supply of crowd players in the opening courtroom sequence, and first-class camerawork.

This latter is especially apparent in a well-designed graveyard sequence (obviously shot at night and not in the daytime with filters, as is the common practice) in which the boys are scared by their own exaggerated shadows, which seem to clutch at them from behind the tombstones. In escaping from the cemetery, the boys use a treadmill to create an illusion of greater speed, the kind of mechanical aid to a gag which they rarely found necessary thereafter.

In view of the added care that went into the production of Do Detectives Think?, it is a pity that it isn't nearly as good as one would like the first authentic Laurel & Hardy vehicle to be. It contains entirely too much scared reaction comedy, running around, pratfalls, and such old mechanical gags as a grotesque mask improbably falling on to the back of the head of one of the participants (Finlayson) while he is wearing a sheet, thus provoking much frenetic running around in the belief that he is a genuine ghost. The best gags, other than the carefully worked out graveyard sequence, are almost throwaways:  Finlayson as the judge, sentencing the fearsome killer to death and then, with a pop-eyed grimace, adding, "And I hope you choke!"; Laurel pouncing on the struggling figures of Hardy and the killer, and triumphantly placing the handcuffs on a pair of hands that of course turn out to be Hardy's; and Laurel proudly marching the finally subdued maniac into a closet, the briefly opened door showing us the sudden realization and terror on the face of Hardy, hiding within. Another worthwhile gag has Finlayson hiding submerged in the waters of his bath, while the maniac prowls the bathroom searching for him. Accidentally, Finlayson's foot removes the plug, and the water drains out—incidentally leaving a spectacularly dirty ring around the bathtub!

Although this film was never officially remade, many of the gags and specific situations in Do Detectives Think? were reused by the comedians in later films, with Going Bye Bye being the most obvious parallel.

The Films of Laurel and Hardy
by William K. Everson
The Citadel Press, 1967