In DUCK SOUP, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy – appearing here together before they officially worked as a duo – are vagrants who cause chaos in an abandoned villa. The new reconstruction by Lobster Films shows the complete version of the film for the first time.
Although released before the on-screen partnership was officially acknowledged, and without the couple’s familiar fraying-bourgeois air – Ollie sports a scrubby beard – the ultimate Stan-and-Ollie relationship is already firmly defined. Stan is dithery, timid, but ultimately the more resourceful; Ollie is dominating-going-on-bullying, confident, and generally badly mistaken. They learn with alarm that the Forest Rangers are rounding up vagrants to fight forest fires, and swiftly take refuge in a mansion whose owners are leaving on holiday. In their absence Oliver endeavours to rent out the house, while Stan helpfully disguises himself as Agnes the housemaid. Things do not end well. Although they dominate the film, the nominal star was Madeline Hurlock (1897-1989), who set out as a serious actress, was recruited as a Mack Sennett Bathing Beauty, and went on to be teamed, in turn by Sennett and by Roach, in two-reelers with comics like Harry Langdon and Billy Bevan. Here, as Lady Tarbotham, she maintains her poise against all odds. Though they enjoy the incomparable directorial guidance of Fred Guiol and Leo McCarey, Stan Laurel may well already have been exerting his influence on the concept of their films, since the story is adapted from a sketch by his father, Arthur J. Jefferson.
David Robinson, Le Giornate del Cinema muto, Pordenone 2019