BLOCK-HEADS (director: John G. Blystone; screenwriters: Felix Adler/Arnold Belgard/Harry Langdon/James Parrott/Charley Rogers; cinematographer: Art Lloyd; editor: Bert Jordan; music: Marvin Hatley; cast: Stan Laurel (Stan), Oliver Hardy (Oliver), Patricia Ellis (Mrs. Gilbert), Minna Gombell (Mrs. Hardy), Billy Gilbert (Mr. Gilbert), James Finlayson (Man on stairs), Patsy Moran (Lulu); Runtime: 55; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Hal Roach, Jr.; MGM; 1938)
“The gags were immensely funny and were sustained throughout.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
This film is considered by many as the last great Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy feature, though in my opinion the ones the comedy duo made for MGM without Roach, A Chump at Oxford (1939) and Saps at Sea (1940), were both almost as funny. Block-Heads is a remake of the 1929 silent Unaccustomed as We Are, and the boys use many of their fine-tuned old vaudeville routines. John G. Blystone (“Swiss Miss”), who died at age 45 of a heart attack just two weeks before the film was released, directs and a host of writers turn in the screenplay. It’s produced by Hal Roach, Jr., who was with the boys for 12 years but their relationship had become strained. The boys objected to Roach interjecting music into their features, which they believe were dull spots. It was thought that this would be the boys last film together, as Roach fired Stan for going on an unauthorized vacation after refusing to show for a re-shoot of the closing scene (forcing Roach to use a double). Ollie was teamed with silent screen comedian Harry Langdon for the next pic. That failed to work out, and about seven months later Stan patched up his differences with Roach and the boys were teamed together for nine more years.
In France during WWI, dough-boys Oliver Hardy and Stan Laurel bid each other goodbye. Twenty years after the end of WWI, Stan still hasn’t been told the war is over and is still guarding his foxhole. Stan is returned to civilization by the pilot he shot down. Back in his hometown, Stan checks into an Army home. Meanwhile Ollie has married a harpy wife (Minna Gombell), who rails at him for forgetting their wedding anniversary. Borrowing his wife’s car to shop for a gift, Ollie stops off in the lobby and reads about Stan in the feature newspaper story as ‘the soldier who did not know the war was over.’ Ollie then rushes to the National Soldiers Home and finds Stan is sitting outside in a wheelchair, and mistakenly thinks Stan is missing a leg. He carries him to the car and is determined to have wifey cook his old pal a home-cooked meal–a juicy steak smothered in mushrooms, even though he’s upset that Stan didn’t tell him he has two good legs. At the building, it becomes a trial to just get to Ollie’s 13th floor apartment and when there, the duo incur the wrath of Mrs. Hardy and she storms out of the place. After the boys blowup the kitchen trying to cook for themselves, they are helped in the cleanup by pretty next-door neighbor Mrs. Gilbert (Patricia Ellis). But a hot-tempered Mrs. Hardy returns, and the boys hide Mrs. Gilbert rather than chance Mrs. Hardy getting the wrong idea. It ends with big-game hunter Mr. Gilbert (Billy Gilbert) returning from a hunting trip to Africa and the jealous hubby chasing the boys with his high-powered rifle down the stairs into the street.
The gags were immensely funny and were sustained throughout; their straightman comic timing is impeccable; and their innocence and good-nature make their comedy seem timeless.
REVIEWED ON 6/24/2007 GRADE: B+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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