(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)
There’s something about Walter Long and seediness that just go together. In Any Old Port and the later The Live Ghost, Long comes off as so snaggle-toothed and unscrupulous, he seems to bring his own ugly surroundings with him to dress up the set.
Here, Long is the proprietor of a rundown hotel. His very first scene shows him trying to “marry” his bedraggled servant girl (Jacqueline Wells), whom he picked up from God knows where. One is sorry that Stan and Ollie even have to sully their innocent hands on his registry book (though this does allow for Stan and Ollie’s always-reliable signing-the-book routine). Eventually, they help the girl escape Long’s gnarly clutches.
The film’s second half always leaves me uncomfortable. Ollie runs into an old friend (Harry Bernard) who is now the proprietor of a fight ring and says he’ll throw some money Ollie’s way to participate in a boxing match. Ollie then goes off with Stan to a fancy restaurant and orders an elaborate meal. When Stan tries to do the same, Ollie blithely tells Stan he can’t eat because he’s the one who will be boxing that night. Stan’s usually comical cry doesn’t win much laughter in the face of Ollie’s callousness.
It only gets worse when it turns out that Long is Stan’s opponent. Despite some clever gags by Stan reminiscent of Chaplin’s similar turn in City Lights, one can’t help but feel for him rather than laugh at him (especially when Ollie re-emphasizes his lack of sympathy for Stan in his final line of dialogue).
There are times (as in his addressing Stan as “stupid” in The Music Box) where Ollie’s bullying goes beyond condescending to downright brutish. Unfortunately, the last half of Any Old Port is one of those times.