Laurel & Hardy in ON THE LOOSE (1931) – A memorable cameo

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(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

On the Loose is a short subject starring Thelma Todd and ZaSu Pitts — who, if we are to believe film historians, were meant to be the female Laurel & Hardy. I’ve seen only two of their shorts (and one with Patsy Kelly replacing Pitts as Todd’s partner), but it seems to me that L&H lifted even the most mundane plots out of the doldrums by sheer dint of personality, whereas Todd and Pitts/Kelly were relegated to sitcom-type plots that played a lot on familiar female stereotypes. (Watch how quickly this short gets Todd down to her undies in the name of plot development.)

The labored story revolves around Todd and Pitts’ flashbacks to yet another of their dates with men who regard going to Coney Island as an “original” idea for a date. At movie’s end, the duo have decided to settle for a quiet Saturday afternoon at home, when who should appear at their door but Stan and Ollie. Guess where they want to take the girls. Just guess.

Other than L&H’s lively cameo, about the only other chuckles come from L&H veterans Charlie Hall and Billy (here billed as “William”) Gilbert. Otherwise, the amusement-park bits are pretty much retreads of similar scenes in L&H’s early silent short Sugar Daddies.

Thelma Todd, before dying in 1936 of a speculated murder that has never been proven, gave ample support to comics such as L&H (in their first talkie, Unaccustomed as We Are) and The Marx Brothers (memorably earning Groucho’s leers in Monkey Business and Horse Feathers). But she seems better as comic support; here in a starring role, it takes Laurel & Hardy to get a full-fledged laugh for the movie.

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