(WARNING: Major spoilers abound)
It’s inevitably the more looked-down-upon Laurel & Hardy shorts that yield the nicest surprises. “A fairly pedestrian little picture,” sniffs Randy Skretvedt about The Fixer Uppers in his book on the team. But while this is hardly a reputation-cementing flicker on the lines of Big Business or The Music Box, it has some funnier-than-usual dialogue for an L&H picture, and it yields a fair amount of laughs.
Stan and Ollie are greeting-card salesmen, a job they carry out as competently as they do most of their vocations. (Ollie’s dignified reading of the card’s couplets is almost the high point of the movie. I won’t spoil the punchlines by quoting them here. If you’re curious, check out the greeting-card section at the Way Out West on-line Tent; most of them are posted there and can actually be E-mailed to very indiscriminate friends.)
Stan and Ollie’s first customer is Mae Busch, which ought to send up warning flags right there. It turns out she feels neglected by her husband and wants to involve Stan and Ollie in a scheme to make him jealous and rekindle their romance. (She wants to use Stan and Ollie in a ruse to make her husband jealous? Warning Flag No. 2.) Her lessons in passionate kissing (particularly with the usually asexual Stan) are another highlight of the movie.
Pierre, the irate husband (Charles Middleton, later to give The Boys a hard time at the Foreign Legion in The Flying Deuces) catches Ollie and the woman in what used to quaintly be called “a compromising position,” and the scheme works too well — he challenges Ollie to a duel at midnight and exchanges cards with him (Ollie’s is a greeting card, of course).
Ollie drowns his sorrows in beer until Stan, in another of his rare bright moments, points out that Pierre can’t possibly find Ollie if he runs away. After Ollie chastizes Stan for not pointing this out sooner and saving him some grief, he phones Pierre to tell him off. Stan adds for good measure, “Say, listen, if you had a face like mine, you’d punch me right in the nose, and I’m just the fella that can do it!” Stan and Ollie celebrate by getting snockered and passing out. Some helpful cops find Pierre’s card on Ollie, assume that the card bears Ollie’s home address, and are kind enough to deliver Stan and Ollie to Pierre’s home and tuck them into bed so that Pierre can discover them there.
Pierre’s wife tells Ollie to play dead when Pierre shoots him — the gun is full of blanks. Ollie does his dropping-dead fall with his usual flourish, and all appears to be well, until Pierre tells his wife that he now will chop the body into little pieces. Stan and Ollie hastily beat it out of the apartment. Ollie hides in a trash can; Stan later knocks on the can to give Ollie the all-clear, but Ollie has unfortunately been taken out with the trash by the local sanitation department (at midnight??).
Jackie Gleason once said there are three stages in a comedian’s career. The first stage is when the audience can’t predict what the comedian will do; second is when the audience can predict it but enjoys the predictability; and third is when the comedian is so predictable that the audience is turned off. The Fixer Uppers finds Laurel & Hardy firmly lodged in Stage 2 — no great surprises in the act, perhaps, but still great fun to watch.