Laurel & Hardy in COUNTY HOSPITAL (1932) – Half of a great comedy

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(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

The first part of County Hospital is prime Laurel & Hardy. Ollie has a broken leg and is laid up in the hospital — happily laid up, as he tells his doctor (Billy Gilbert) that it’s the first decent rest he’s had in ages. That, of course, is before Stan arrives to visit Ollie, after which Stan has knocked Ollie’s doctor out of the top-floor window and nearly killed him, and completely destroyed Ollie’s hospital bed after first hanging him above it like the sword of Damocles. Exasperated beyond measure, the doctor orders Ollie out of the hospital.

The dialogue and by-play between L&H (Stan brought Ollie some nuts, knowing that Ollie can’t eat them, because candy was too expensive), and the thrill sequence with Dr. Gilbert dangling from the window, is truly wonderful stuff. But the comedy takes a distinct downturn when Stan accidentally sits on a needle filled with anesthetic. After the nurse removes the needle, she casually informs her boss that Stan will sleep for a month. (And she lets Stan leave the hospital on that basis. Nowadays, that would be plot enough for an episode of some TV legal drama.)

Ollie, unaware of Stan’s condition, tells Stan to drive him home. This could have made for some great thrill comedy, if it had been done properly. Unfortunately, what it does is show Stan and Ollie in a prop car in front of some very obvious back-projection of a busy city street. Ollie does his best to react to the footage as though he’s really in danger, but all it does is remind us of the lesser educational films we once saw in driver’s-ed class. (At one point, the prop car spins in a complete circle while the street footage stays in the same perspective!) Also, the music in this scene is lifted from L&H’s later (1936) film Our Relations, so apparently this score was tacked-on for a County Hospital re-release. One can only imagine how much drearier this sad footage already was without the music.

Eventually, of course, the car crashes (off-screen), and an irate cop tells Stan to get the car off the road. But the car is now bent at a right angle, so that when Stan tries to drive away, he follows himself around in a circle — much like a movie that begins promisingly and then ends up chasing its own tail.

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