Laurel & Hardy’s THE MIDNIGHT PATROL (1933) – Keeping the world safe for burglars

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(WARNING: Spoilers abound!)

Pink Panther director Blake Edwards has long acknowledged his debt to the comedy of Laurel & Hardy. A movie such as The Midnight Patrol makes that debt abundantly clear. It’s an extremely short line from Laurel and Hardy as bumbling cops to Peter Sellers as bumbling Inspector Clouseau.

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The first part of the movie mainly demonstrates how polite Stan and Ollie can be to lawbreakers. A gang tries to steal L&H’s spare tire, and Stan threatens to give them a ticket if they do it again. Ollie catches a safecracker in the act and then humbly tries to fit a court date into the safecracker’s personal schedule. If L&H were any more polite, they’d break into a bank and loan the bad guys some money.

The second part of the movie is mostly a reprise (albeit a very funny one) of their breaking-into-a-house routine from Night Owls. Stan and Ollie get a report of someone breaking into a house; ignorant of the irony of the situation, they do their best to break into the house and catch the burglar. Much of the proceedings takes place in an elaborate front-yard pond, all the better to nearly drown Ollie. (A prime comic moment occurs when Ollie, having been batted around by Stan while attempting to break the front door open, installs Stan at the back of their battering ram, “In case you forget which end you’re at!”)

Their success at breaking into the house (and mostly destroying it) is short-lived. Turns out the “burglar” was the police chief, and it was his own house. (Quite a staff they have — not bad enough to hire Stan and Ollie as cops, they take tips about people breaking into their own houses.) The movie comes to an abrupt end with one of Laurel-the-writer’s light-hearted suicide gags: The chief shoots Stan and Ollie (off-screen) and says, “Send for the coroner!”

Other than the dark finale, The Midnight Patrol is Laurel and Hardy at their underrated best — no great surprises in the act, but utterly delightful in its inevitability.]

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