(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)
As seems to befit Laurel & Hardy’s final “official” short subject (they later did The Tree in a Test Tube while on a lunch break at Twentieth Century-Fox), Thicker Than Water meanders all over the place, as though L&H had better things on their minds. It switches from a domestic setting to a city auction house to a hospital as nonchalantly, and with as much logic, as a Stanley eye-blink.
The first scene shows Ollie at the behest of the latest shrewish Mrs. Hardy (Daphne Pollard, who is offered Ollie’s finger to kiss and instead bites it). Stan is the Hardys’ boarder, and naturally Mrs. Hardy is none too happy about it. Mrs. Hardy commands Ollie to do the dishes while she goes out, and Ollie, having no dog to boss around, orders Stan to stay and be as miserable as he is. This results in a somewhat belabored scene where Stan and Ollie do their best to clean the dishes, with the inevitable disastrous results.
Mr. Finlayson (James Finlayson, of course) comes to collect the monthly payment for the Hardys’ furniture. Mrs. Hardy had thought it paid already, and her inquiry to Ollie results in an Abbott-and-Costello-like verbal fight, with Ollie saying he gave the money to Stan to deposit, Stan saying he gave it back to Ollie to pay for his rent, etc., etc. When the matter is finally straightened out, Mrs. Hardy belittles Ollie some more, Stan challenges Ollie’s manhood(!), and Ollie vows to take money out of the Hardys’ joint account to show Stan (not Mrs. Hardy, mind you!) who’s boss. The scene ends with the movie’s cleverest touch: Stan leaving the Hardys’ apartment and “pulling” the movie screen forward to the movie’s next scene.
Stan and Ollie’s curiosity draws them into an auction, where they end up bidding on behalf of a woman who is short of cash and needs to rush home to get some more. (As befits the movie’s haphazard logic, the woman is never heard from again.) Ollie is thus forced to buy the clock on which he and Stan had bid (against each other!). They lug the clock home and then decide to put it down in the street(!) to take a rest. Busy street, large clock, apathetic truck driver — you do the math. When Mrs. Hardy comes home and discovers what has happened, she knocks Ollie out with a frying pan nearly as big as she is.
Ollie’s injury results in him needing a blood transfusion (just like most concussions, right?), for which Stan becomes the unwilling donor. (Stan seems to have bad luck in hospitals — witness his being on the wrong end of a needle in County Hospital.) The transfusion goes wrong, and some of Ollie’s blood must be pumped into Stan to balance the procedure. The final result is an appropriate closing image for L&H’s short subjects — Stan-as-Ollie, complete with mustache and condescending gloat, followed by Ollie-as-Stan, head-scratching and crying all the way.
There are worse short subjects in the Laurel & Hardy canon, though none with so many promising ideas so half-baked. Thicker Than Water almost seems a poorer farewell for Stan and Ollie (in short subjects) than does The Bullfighters (for their Hollywood movies).