(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)
For decades, until Laurel & Hardy biographer Randy Skretvedt set the record straight, Putting Pants on Philip was hailed as “the first official Laurel & Hardy movie.” Actually, it falls somewhere between their bonafide “team” efforts and their lackadaisical Pathe releases. Laurel & Hardy are certainly the main headliners in this movie, but the short hardly coincides with Stan and Ollie’s later “us against the world” viewpoint.
In fact, at the risk of reading too much into it, Putting Pants on Philip has an awfully ethnocentric spin to its comedy. Hardy plays Piedmont Mumblethunder, a respected local man who worries about protecting his reputation. Unfortunately, said reputation suffers as soon as Piedmont has to meet his Scottish nephew Philip (Laurel) at the dock and teach him American ways.
Thus, Hardy is brutally condescending to Laurel for the entire movie — not in the usual “Let me protect you” Ollie way, but more like a dog scratching away at an annoying flea. In fact, a good part of this movie’s viewpoint consists of, “Look at the silly foreigner!”, as crowds of passers-by apparently have nothing better to do than follow a Scotsman around town and laugh at his kilt. Imagine Laurel in blackface instead of in a Scotsman’s garb, and you start to see that this kind of comedy leads to a dead-end street.
Then there’s Philip’s supposedly quaint quirk of losing control of himself every time he sees a pretty woman. And wouldn’t you know it, the same short-skirted woman (Dorothy Coburn), who wants only to avoid Philip’s leers and chases, nevertheless manages to walk right by Philip about a half-dozen times.
Then there’s the non-ending. Hardy falls into one of those ubiquitous six-foot mud puddles so beloved on the Hal Roach lot, and then the “End” title pops up. Well, I guess that taught him never to fall into a mud puddle again, didn’t it?
At least after this, Laurel & Hardy’s comedies, for better or worse, put them together as a team against the world, rather than against each other. (Well, there’s still Early to Bed, but let’s not get into that right now.