The best, most memorable comedy is often based on a simple premise or formula. That’s especially true of classic comedians, masters of laughter like Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd or Laurel and Hardy who regularly took common situations or scenarios and turned them into madcap adventures. The topic of this post is one of those instances where a couple of guys are simply trying to get a piano up a stoop. But when the guys are Laurel and Hardy and the “stoop” is a daunting 147-step stairway, hilarity is sure to ensue.
James Parrott‘s The Music Box (1932) stars Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy as Stan and Ollie, two guys who pool their savings together (a total of $3.80) and start their own business, the Laurel & Hardy Transfer Co.
The first job the boys’ moving company gets requires them to deliver a piano purchased by a woman (Gladys Gale) as a surprise for her husband. Stan and Ollie put the music box on their truck without much of a hitch, but for all intents and purposes that’s the last you’ll see of a ding-free instrument. If you want no details then stop here – you will stumble across spoilers ahead.
The boys arrive in the vicinity of the address where the piano is supposed to be delivered, 1127 Walnut Avenue, but they can’t seem to find the house. They ask the postman who’s nearby for directions.
I would’ve quit right there, but Stan and Ollie are diligent and determined so upward they proceed to get the music box to its destination. Needless to say, the endeavor doesn’t go smoothly. The piano with Ollie in tow takes several tumbles down the long staircase. At one point the mishap occurs because a woman with a baby carriage wants to get by. Figuring out no way to allow the carriage the right of way the piano ends up back where it started. Making matters worse the stinker of a woman laughs, which results in her getting a deserved, swift kick…
Not one to accept a kick without payback, the woman punches Stan, who in turn punches Ollie. Clearly the frustration is growing in the new moving men, but they’re just getting started with the music box. It’s still at the bottom of the stoop!
Next the boys get a visit from the policeman the woman complained to, who now wants to have a talk with Ollie just as he and Stan have the piano a good way up the stairs again. So there it goes – back down to the ground. But Stan and Ollie persist.
“Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
Yet another attempt and the same amount of progress – they’re about half-way up when they encounter one Professor von Schwartzenhoffen (played by an uncredited, but terrific Billy Gilbert) who’s on his way down the stairs. The Professor is in a terrible mood and demands that Stan and Ollie get out of his way. When Ollie politely suggests that he should simply walk around them the Professor goes into a rage…
“Walk around? Me? Professor Theodore Von Schwarzenhoffen? M.D., A.D, D.D.S, F.L.D, F.F.F und F should walk around? Get that thing out of my way! Go on, out of the way!”
Well, the result…the piano stumbles its way back down to the street. And…up again they heft the thing until FINALLY Stan and Ollie make it to 1127 Walnut Avenue–only to learn from the postman that they could’ve driven their truck right up to the house. Well, no worse for wear the duo still have some work to do. And plenty of obstacles to overcome. First there’s a fountain they manage to fall into, and then there’s the mayhem inside the house that keeps things lively.
The final fine mess in The Music Box happens after Stan and Ollie have the piano where it’s supposed to be. That is, after they’ve all but destroyed the place. The owner of the house shows up, and guess who it is? Professor von Schwartzenhoffen–the guy from the stairs who’s still in a hell of a mood. Unaware that his wife bought him the music box as a gift, von Schwartzenhoffen begins attacking the music with an axe. It turns out he hates pianos!
The Music Box, a Hal Roach Production distributed by MGM, made history when it won the first ever Academy Award for Live Action Short Film. But that has nothing to do with why I enjoy it so much. This short film in all its simplicity shows Laurel and Hardy at their best. And Laurel and Hardy at their best make for treasures to watch over and over again. With usual flair and dramatics the two spar in the familiar, lovable fashion all fans appreciate while also being at the top of their slapstick game. Their (understandable) exasperation and the difficulties they encounter while attempting to get the music box delivered make for non-stop entertainment –one long, 29-minute gag performed by the best in the business. Goes to show that for great comedy you need nothing more than Laurel, Hardy and the biggest stoop you’ve ever seen in your life.
Editor’s Note: For any of you out there who have been inspired by Aurora’s review to try to replicate Stan and Ollie’s feat, the outdoor steps featured in The Music Box are still tempting climbers to this day in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, near of all places Laurel and Hardy Park. The public staircase in located at 923-925 Vendome Street, near the intersection of Del Monte Street, and links Vendome with Descanso Drive (at the top of the hill). Look for a commemorative plaque with the boys’ images on one of the steps, and good luck.
Aurora is a classic film fan and blogger. By day she works in higher ed. administration and teaches mass media. By night she watches movies. You can read more about what she watches at Once Upon a Screen.