Laurel & Hardy in TIT FOR TAT (1935) – Pom-pom!

TitForTat

(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

Tit for Tat spotlights the best and the worst of Laurel & Hardy at this point in their short-subject canon. Their status had grown to the point that one of their last short subjects could sport an elaborate set, including an electrical shop run by The Boys whose windows’ lettering looks like Art Deco. On the other hand, the fancy setting served only for some predictable, reciprocal slapstick, some of it funny, but not much of it terribly original.

The movie begins on opening day of the shop, with Stan causing continual frustration to Ollie via a sidewalk elevator than Stan keeps using while someone is using the sidewalk above. When Ollie decides to say hello to their business’s next-door neighbor, the neighbor turns out to be Charlie Hall and Mae Busch. Stan and Ollie had earned Charlie’s undying enmity when they innocently got Mae drunk (in Them Thar Hills [1934]), whose memories Mae rekindles when she sings a bit of “The Old Spinning Wheel” and Stan replies, “Pom-pom!”

Charlie refuses to let bygones be bygones, so Ollie elects not to speak to him from now on. Unfortunately, thanks to Stan’s machinations with the elevator, Ollie ends up outside Mae’s second-story window. (When Stan asks Ollie what he’s doing up there, Ollie replies with sarcastic aplomb, “I’m waiting for a streetcar.”) Mae helps Ollie through the window, and Charlie happens to overhear his enemy coming down his stairway and saying, “I’ve never been in a position like that before!”

Eventually, of course, this devolves into the tit-for-tat routine that served as the climax of the first film and now serves as the “story” for this second film. The funniest bit is provided by the punctuation to each new humiliation, as Stan and Ollie hang a “Will Be Back Soon” sign on their door and completely ignore a diminutive man (Bobby Dunn) who is handily shoplifting their goods.

Pretty soon the entire street is drawn into observing the battle, including a policeman (L&H veteran James C. Morton) who seems more of an ending than a character. (By contrast, witness Tiny Sandford’s policeman in Big Business who humorously takes notes as though he’s about to enter a war.) Charlie reluctantly shakes hands with Ollie, the little man drives away his haul in a moving van, and the policeman eats an alum-covered marshmallow that Charlie had intended as a revengeful snack for The Boys. Fade-out.

It seems a pity that the movie’s elaborate set-up leads only to the kind of tired routine that L&H impersonators do when they can’t think of anything better. Ironically, this led to Tit for Tat earning The Boys a short-subject Oscar nomination. Go figure!

TRIVIA NOTE: John McCabe’s 1975 plot-synopsis book on L&H quotes an unnamed source which claims that Frank Tashlin contributed gags to this and a couple other L&H shorts. As Tashlin was still earning his stripes as a Looney Tunes cartoon director in 1935, this seems unlikely.

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