Laurel & Hardy in HABEAS CORPUS (1928) – When a body meets a body

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Habeas Corpus is a pleasant reminder of the days when black cats and preying bats were all it took to scare movie audiences. And if it isn’t Laurel & Hardy’s greatest short by any means, it’s at least far more tolerable than The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case.

Still, the movie is a bit creaky in terms of plotting. Through the usual befuddled circumstances, The Boys are hired by a crazy scientist (Richard Carle) to fetch a corpse from a nearby graveyard so that the scientist can use it for his experiments. In a wayward bit of plotting that presages L&H’s later half-baked Fox scripts, the scientist is nabbed by the police early on.

Meanwhile, the scientist’s butler (L&H vet Charley Rogers) is really a detective in disguise, and his boss tells him to continue keeping an eye on The Boys. Why, exactly? It’s obvious that The Boys are innocent pawns in the scientist’s plan; wouldn’t an “inside” detective be more likely to tip The Boys off instead of waiting to catch them doing something stupid? It seems that L&H are purveyors of what film critic Roger Ebert calls “the Idiot Plot,” where the story would be over in two minutes if the main characters acted like real people instead of plot devices.

Still, there’s some funny stuff along the way. The movie’s most famous bit (later cribbed for L&H’s Fox feature The Big Noise) is when Ollie slides up a street post to read the sign at the top, only to find that the sign reads “Wet Paint.” And for a pretty average script, L&H perform pretty enthusiastically. This is an L&H movie where the performances put across what the script doesn’t.

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