With a title far wittier than anything contained with the movie, Flying Elephants is typical of the Laurel & Hardy/Pathe short subjects. It has a few laughs, but knowing that L&H have been a full-fledged team before the making of this film (in Duck Soup) and shortly after (in The Second Hundred Years), watching this half-hearted short amounts to comedicus interruptus. Laurel and Hardy are on the screen, and we know what heights they are capable of reaching, yet here they are, acting like the second-billed performers you endure before the main attraction.
The movie is another attempt to mine comedy from the Stone Age, an area already raked over by Charlie Chaplin’s His Prehistoric Past and Buster Keaton’s Three Ages. The premise is that the local king has decreed all men to be married, and there are a pair of cavemen who can’t quite cut the mustard. Hardy plays Mighty Giant, a Bluto-like character who fancies himself quite the ladies’ man. Laurel, in his attempts to milk effeminism for ever-decreasing comedy, plays Little Twinkle Star, a neanderthal who flitters hither and yon. Twinkle Star first tries to subdue a pretty girl (Dorothy Coburn, later to battle The Boys herself in The Finishing Touch). Failing at this, he eventually sets his sights on the king’s daughter–the very woman Mighty Giant is already trying to land.
The two cavemen, in their own ways, make friends with the woman’s father (James Finlayson), leading to the rare sight of Finlayson cordially introducing Stan and Ollie and shaking hands with them. (A friendly Finlayson, introducing Stan to Ollie just a few minutes before movie’s end — how many incongruities can fit into one frame?) The rivalry is conveniently ended when a goat butts Ollie off a nearby cliff, but then a bear chases the remaining trio for a final fade-out.
That’s about it. Stan has a nice piece of pantomime when he shows Finlayson how skillfully he can catch a fish, and Ollie’s bluster provides a glimpse of his future condescending treatment of Stan. Other than that, the movie plays to all of their weaknesses. It’s easy to see this in hindsight, of course, and it’s not quite so painful to watch when you know that better things are on the horizon.