Were it not for its historic, happenstance teaming of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy for the first time, The Lucky Dog would probably be dismissed by film historians as a Fatty Arbuckle knock-off. The film has all the plot and continuity of those Arbuckle comedies that start Fatty off in some modest occupation in Reel One and get him into women’s drag for no good reason by Reel Two.
Laurel plays a down-on-his-luck evictee and adopts a street dog primarily because the “scenarists” couldn’t think of anything better to do at the time. Hardy plays a thief into whom Laurel innocently bumps. Their first cinematic exchange consists of Hardy ordering, “Put ’em both up, insect, before I comb your hair with lead.” This far-from-subtle intertitle illustrates a desperation of the worst silent-movie kind: The belief that wisecracking subtitles will add to the movie’s wit. (Other examples in this film include “Pay your bill, it’s beginning to look like the war debt” and “If you want to be a headlight, come around when you’re lit up” — just the kind of stuff regular people always say. The real-life Hardy seemed to have learned this lesson early on, as he later stated, “The moment you’re fresh, people resent it.”)
The movie does have some worthwhile moments besides the historic one, as when Hardy the thief orders Laurel to turn around, and Laurel does a full-circle twirl a la Chaplin. But when one thinks how Chaplin himself could take a dog and make him a full-fledged co-star (in A Dog’s Life), one realizes just how far Stan Laurel had to go before becoming a comedy icon in his own right.
Trivia note: Lucky Dog director Jess Robbins later directed Oliver Hardy on the Hal Roach lot in Should Sailors Marry? (1924).