Laurel & Hardy’s track record in “talkie” shorts isn’t as consistent as in their silent films, but Busy Bodies surely tops the list of their best-ever comedies. “Laurel & Hardy in a workshop” is about all you need to know in order to smile in anticipation.
The movie’s most inventive scene comes when Stan — in retaliation for Ollie hitting him on the head with a saw — knocks Ollie into a wall with a glue-filled paintbrush. The brush sticks to Ollie’s chin, giving the appearance of a huge goatee with a wooden handle. Stan, having gone from anger to helpfulness in the blink of an eye, uses workshop tools to transform himself into a barber to “shave” Ollie’s beard. Chaplin couldn’t have done it any better.
This eventually leads to a stupendous physical-comedy climax that looks as though it provided the template for most of Blake Edwards’ Pink Panther comedies. (Babe’s wife Lucille Hardy once told of the sympathy she felt when she first saw Babe’s black-and-blue physique, which he said came from the elaborate pratfalls he’d endured in his movies. A majority of them probably came from this film alone.)
There’s also a moment of genuine emotion — fleeting, but it’s there for anyone who looks — when Ollie thinks that Stan has deserted their friendship to score points with a co-worker (Charlie Hall) who has been harassing Ollie. For all of Ollie’s bluster and condescension towards Stan, it’s moments such as this that make us realize how much Ollie needs his friend.
Unlike some of L&H’s sound shorts that offer nice gags here and there and then sputter for a while, Busy Bodies, as befitting its assembly-line setting, fits together perfectly from start to finish.