(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)
As Scott MacGillivray ironically pointed out in his L&H biography, the pressbook credit for this movie quite accurately stated that “M-G-M’s Nothing But Trouble.” Not only does M-G-M place The Boys in a supposed comedy that is positively larded down with storyline, the movie’s supposedly “wholesome” aspects (a sad trademark of ’40s M-G-M — check out what they did to the Our Gang series) are so overdone, they end up getting downright seamy.
Stan and Ollie get hired as a butler and chef for a well-to-do couple, and in Stan and Ollie’s scripted trek from the market to the couple’s home, they manage to:
* get cajoled into refereeing a kids’ football game because the game’s teenage referee got called home by his mom, and the remaining players are too honorable to carry on without a proper ref.
* come across King Christopher, a junior royal from a mythical country who wants only to be among the “commoners” and play football.
* realize they need a steak for their dinner, causing them to steal a steak from a caged lion at a zoo they happen to pass by. Ollie rationalizes this theft by stating that his boss needs the steak worse than the lion does, though one wonders how badly a high-society couple craves a steak that has been sitting on the floor of a lion’s cage.
Eventually, Stan and Ollie lose their jobs (inspiring a lot of uncharacteristically self-pitying speeches) but inadvertently save Christopher from a death plotted by his evil prince-uncle by taking Christopher with them to the seedy mission where they spend the night. This allows Stan, Ollie, and Christopher to exchange some gooey goodnight close-ups that inspire more unseemly thoughts that any scene of Laurel & Hardy in bed together ever did.
Lots and lots of plot here, but where’s the comedy? Who knows? Even Stan and Ollie can’t find much of it, try as they do. The only thing in the entire movie that inspires any outright laughter is a Liberty-like thrill sequence at the movie’s climax — but who among us can bear to hang around that long?
And heaven knows L&H aren’t helped in any way by the supporting cast. As their high-society employer, Mary Boland giggles, flutters, and generally grates on the nerves to the point of making the audience rise as one and yell, “We want Anita Garvin!” Christopher’s evil uncle is meant to be a killer whom everyone mistakenly trusts, yet who could trust skeletal Philip Merivale? He looks like he just came off a touring company of Arsenic and Old Lace. And worst of all is simpy David Leland as the simpy king. When he tells Stan and Ollie that he’s afraid of going home for fear of being beaten, one thinks it couldn’t happen to a more deserving kid, at least in M-G-M-land.
Far more surprising than anything in the movie is finding out that Buster Keaton did some uncredited writing for it. One imagines that Laurel and Hardy wished they could have removed their own names from the credits as well.