Laurel & Hardy’s “freak endings”

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The following is another contribution to this blog’s self-designated Laurel & Hardy Month. Don’t know what we mean? Click on the above image for further elucidation!

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SPOILER ALERT – Read no further if you do not want the endings of 24 Laurel & Hardy movies disclosed!

As the uncredited writer-director of pre-1941 Laurel & Hardy comedies, Stan Laurel had an unexplained penchant for “freak endings” — finales that involved some kind of physical distortion. Nowhere in any L&H bio is it explained why Stan preferred these, but they obviously made some people uncomfortable (see the entry on Block-Heads). And seen in the modern-day era of anything-goes comedies, this might have been Stan’s only means of expressing full-tilt lunacy.

Herewith, I have listed all of L&H’s infamous freak endings. I have also included entries on L&H’s more unusual car-crash endings (which are “freak” endings of a sort — where can you find cars that do these things?) and L&H movies whose finales involved murder or suicide — strangely nonchalant wrap-ups in light of how we now regard such matters. It makes for interesting film history to at least acknowledge such things.

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Liberty (1929) – Stan and Ollie escape from a skyscraper under construction via an elevator, which crushes a cop who has been searching for them. Final shot shows the cop as a midget.

Below Zero (1930) – Stan and Ollie are thrown out of a restaurant into the snow. Ollie comes to and calls for Stan, who has been dumped into a water barrel. Ollie asks where the water went, and Stan replies, “I drank it!” Stan emerges from the barrel with an abnormally swollen belly and no way to relieve himself. (A very similar gag appeared over 50 years later in Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas’s L&H-like comedy The Adventures of Bob and Doug McKenzie: Strange Brew [1983].)

Another Fine Mess (1930) – Vagrants Stan and Ollie escape from police on a tandem bicycle while wearing a horse costume [don’t ask]. They drive into another of those tunnels where a train is just waiting to run over Stan and Ollie, who emerge at the other end, each on a severed wheel of the bicycle.

Come Clean (1931) – Ollie, annoyed at Stan (who is taking a bath while completely clothed), pulls the bathtub plug. Sound effects suggest that Stan has slid down the drain. When Stan’s wife opens the bathroom door and asks of Stan’s whereabouts, Ollie replies, “He’s gone to the beach.”

Dirty Work (1933) – Stan accidentally knocks Ollie into a tubful of rejuvenating solution created by a mad scientist. In best Darwinian fashion, Ollie emerges a chimp (but still wearing his bowler hat). Stan pleads for Ollie to speak to him; Ollie-as-chimp replies, “I have nothing to say!”

Going Bye-Bye (1934) – An escaped convict (Walter Long) has threatened to tie the boys’ legs around their necks if he ever catches him. Final shot shows him having done so, with Stan and Ollie reclining in pretzel fashion on a couch.

The Live Ghost (1934) – An irate ship captain (Walter Long again) has threatened to turn Stan and Ollie’s heads backwards if they say the word “ghost.” They do, and he does.

Thicker Than Water (1935) – The ultimate in freak endings for this, their final “official” short subject. Stan gives Ollie a blood transfusion that goes haywire. Final scene shows Stan and Ollie doing imitations of each other (with dubbed voices).

The Bohemian Girl (1936) – Stan is placed in a crusher machine, while Ollie is stretched on a torture rack. Final shot shows a shrunken Stan tearfully looking up to an elongated Ollie, with James Finlayson doing his best eye-popping take at both of them.

Block-Heads (1938) – Stan had originally proposed an ending in which their neighbor/hunter shoots and mounts them like hunting trophies. Hal Roach nixed the idea and filmed an alternate ending with extras standing in for L&H, reprising their finale from We Faw Down (1928).

The Flying Deuces (1939) – Stan and Ollie crash an airplane. Stan survives but sees Ollie ascending to heaven. Final scene shows Stan as a lonesome vagabond who comes across Ollie reincarnated as a horse.

A-Haunting We Will Go (1942) – Stan and Ollie are a magician’s assistants. Final shot shows an egg rolling toward Ollie, who cracks the egg to find a miniature, tearful Stan emerging.

The Bullfighters (1945; shown at top) – Stan and Ollie are “skinned alive” by a gangster. Final shot shows them as walking, talking skeletons.

Bonus sections

Car-crash endings:

Two Tars (1928) – Irate motorists drive after Stan and Ollie through a railroad tunnel; a train passes through and scares the other drivers back. Final shot shows Stan and Ollie emerging from the tunnel in their squashed car.

Hog Wild (1930) – Ollie’s car is smashed between two tramcars while Ollie, his wife, and Stan occupy it. A (strangely unconcerned) tramcar conductor tells them to move out of his way. Stan nonchalantly signals for a turn and drives the elongated car away.

County Hospital (1932) – Stan drives Ollie home from the hospital after being mistakenly doped up; Ollie is incapacited in the back seat with a broken leg. The car crashes. Final shot shows Stan and Ollie’s car following itself in a circle.

Murder endings:

Be Big (1930) – Stan and Ollie are caught in a lie by their wives and try to hide behind the wall in a Murphy bed. The wives pull out their shotguns and blast the bed through the wall.

Blotto (1930) – Stan and Ollie escape Stan’s irate wife via a taxi. The wife aims her shotgun, blasts the taxi, and walks toward Stan and Ollie menacingly at the fade-out.

Chickens Come Home (1931) – Stan and Ollie are caught in a lie by their wives. They run off, followed by Stan’s wife, who tests her handy hatchet with a lock of hair to make sure it’s sharp enough to work on Stan.

Laughing Gravy (1931) – Stan and Ollie drive their landlord (Charlie Hall) to commit suicide (off-screen, suggested via sound effects). Stan and Ollie bow their heads in mourning.

Scram! (1931) – The judge who sentenced Stan and Ollie for vagrancy catches them drunk and in hysterics on his bed with his wife (more innocent than it sounds). Final scene shows the judge grimacing at them, Stan and Ollie gulping and turning out the lights, and sound effects of mayhem ensuing.

Pack Up Your Troubles (1932) – Stan and Ollie are rewarded for a good deed they did with an invitation to dinner. Unfortunately, the dinner’s chef is a cook whom they got in trouble during their army stint, and he had vowed revenge. “Well, if it ain’t the snitchers — and I got my knife!”

The Midnight Patrol (1933) – Stan and Ollie are cops who have mistakenly nailed their captain as having burglarized his own house. Stan and Ollie flee off-screen, the captain fires two shots, fellow officers remove their hats, and a command is given: “Send for the coroner!”

Bonnie Scotland (1936) – (This moment occurs near the beginning of the movie rather than at the end, but it’s definitely worth noting.) Stan is informed that when he was born, his father took one look at his face and committed suicide. Ollie says he doesn’t blame Stan’s father one bit.

Atoll K (1950) – Laurel & Hardy’s film career is brutally ended.

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January 2019 = Laurel & Hardy Month!

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(Of course, every month should be Laurel & Hardy month. But now I’m getting ahead of myself.)

If you subscribe to this blog and you keep up with new movie releases, you’re probably overly aware of two things:

(1) I have been a feverish fan of the movie comedies of Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy for most of my life. When I was a 10-year-old growing up in Illinois, a local kiddie TV show broadcast Laurel & Hardy’s short subjects every Saturday morning. I became an instant fan and have never outgrown them, even though I have probably seen each of their movies dozens of times.

(2) Jan. 25 is the U.S. release date for Stan & Ollie, a new British bio-drama that depicts the later years of Stan and “Babe” (as Hardy was affectionally known off-screen), as they tour British music halls with their comedy act after their movie prospects in Hollywood dry up. Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly are earning near-unanimous raves for their performances as the movie’s title characters.

With all of that in mind, I figure it’s time for my blog’s readers to get a full-fledged education in the world of Laurel & Hardy!

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For the rest of this month, I will be posting a wide variety of Laurel & Hardy-related minutia at this blog: Reviews of biographies of the team, interviewers with their biographers, and basically just anything I can think of that connects to L&H! Naturally, once Stan & Ollie makes its way to my neighborhood in a couple of weeks, I will review that movie in due time (if not sooner).

(And this L&H tribute includes a shameless plug for all 67 episodes of my Laurel & Hardy podcast Hard-Boiled Eggs and Nuts, which I recorded last year. Listen to it for free online at https://anchor.fm/hardboiledeggsandnuts)

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So get ready to find out everything you always wanted to know about Laurel & Hardy but didn’t even know to ask!