(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)
Most of the comedy in Chickens Come Home assumes that you buy into the premise of most women being either (a) deceitful blackmailers or (b) the ones who pass judgment on Type (a). The principal females in the movie are: a hussy (Mae Busch) who comes to collect money from Ollie to keep herself quiet about her lurid past with him; Ollie’s wife (Thelma Todd), who automatically assumes the worst about Ollie when her suspicions are aroused; a gossipy old biddy (Patsy O’Byrne) who is only too thrilled to report bad news; and Mrs. Laurel (Elizabeth Forrester), who, at movie’s end, makes a cameo appearance wielding a hatchet. This is not exactly a movie to show at NOW membership drives.
The movie begins with Ollie running for mayor after having established himself and Mr. Laurel as “dealers in high-grade fertilizer” (insert your own political commentary here). Enter the scarlet woman (Busch), carrying an incriminating photo of herself atop Ollie’s shoulders in a beach-bathing-suit pose. (Amazing, what passed for a scandal in the 1930’s.) Ollie tries to bluff his way out of the situation, but of course Mae is not one to take “no” for an answer. She tells Ollie to be at her apartment at 7:00 that evening with the cash.
Ollie is hosting a campaign dinner at his home that night and sends Stan in his stead. (Unbeknownst to Stan, Mrs. Laurel has threatened to break Stan’s arm if he isn’t home for dinner that night. Ah, these zany wives!) Ollie keeps trying to break away and help Stan, but Ollie’s nosy butler (James Finlayson) can’t think of anything better to do than thwart Ollie’s moves to get some hush money. Meanwhile, Mrs. Hardy (who, in hindsight, comes off like Hillary Clinton) intimates her own suspicions to Ollie by passing him a sheet-music song to sing to the guests: “You May Be Fast, But Your Mamma’s Gonna Slow You Down.”
Mae eventually breaks into Ollie’s party with Stan in tow, leaving no choice but for Ollie to introduce them as “Mr. and Mrs. Laurel.” (For some reason, Mae the blackmailer does nothing to thwart this lie. Ah, these zany women!) Ollie gets Mae alone and threatens to shoot her if she doesn’t leave, whereupon she faints. Stan and Ollie position Mae on Ollie’s back, throw a coat over her, and try to walk “Mrs. Laurel” out of the party. The ruse backfires, of course, and the last we see of the real Mrs. Laurel, she’s sharpening that hatchet before chasing after Stan. Ah, those…
Of course, most great comedy is politically incorrect, but Laurel & Hardy’s comedy gets rather painful (for me, at least) the closer it gets to death threats from the wives.