So, early on when I decided to start catching up with the Laurel and Hardy reviews, I happened to catch this on TCM and hated it. Watching it again, I tried to go in with the thought that it couldn’t have been as bad as I remembered. I was right; it wasn’t as bad as I remembered. It was worse.
The opening seems promising enough. We get a decent exterior shot and the sequence of Laurel and Hardy trying to find each other is pretty good. This is the last time you’ll see me say anything good about this short. While I can sort of see what they’re going for with the incomprehensible conductor shouting out the train’s destinations, it kind of comes across as hypocritical considering the sound quality makes it hard to hear some of the other actors as well. If you want a better version of this gag, see the beginning of CITY LIGHTS.
Then we actually get on the train and this is where things really go downhill. The short is trying to depend on the humor of crowding in trains, which can be a problem in real life, but doesn’t necessarily make for good entertainment. Already the short is beginning to feel too boxed in and we’re not even to the worst part yet.
So then we get to the berths and Stan and Ollie try to get into the berth. As mentioned before, A PAIN IN THE PULLMAN also tried this idea, but to much better effect. The reason for this is that A PAIN IN THE PULLMAN relied on more than just trying to get on the upper berth. There were supporting players who were there to react to the Stooges’ antics and Bud Jamison’s impatience also helped to carry the scene. Here, it’s just Stan, Ollie, and the sound of a crying baby, which gets real annoying, real fast. It also doesn’t help that it briefly cuts to a shot of the fight between the other passengers. That shot makes you wish you were watching that instead of Laurel and Hardy awkwardly falling off the berth repeatedly.
Then we get to the worst part of this short, the actual upper berth scene itself. This takes the whole boxed in idea to a new level. The camera is way too close to them, to the point that you can’t even tell what they’re doing half the time anyway and the other half, as mentioned before, just makes you feel claustrophobic. For some reason, they thought having Laurel and Hardy trapped in such a confined space was such a good idea that they tried to milk the gag for all it was worth (or in this case, all that it wasn’t worth). It goes on...and on...and on...and on! I was constantly wishing for it to just move on to something else and when it finally is over, the short ends. Instead of focusing on them losing everything on their trip to Pottsville, why couldn’t we have just started them in Pottsville and have them perform their vaudeville act? I know the technology wasn’t entirely there yet, but it would have been much more tolerable than this.
I know it seems wrong to be so harsh on such an early sound output, but UNACCUSTOMED AS WE ARE was also an early sound output and that short had a much better understanding of how to use Laurel and Hardy’s physical talents. It understood that they needed space to work with and it gives it to them, yet it’s still able to work within early sound’s limitations by keeping the camera in place.
As you can tell, I despise this short. So far, this is the worst Laurel and Hardy film that I have ever seen, and that’s including ATOLL K! All I can say is, stay way away from this short at all costs!
2 out of 10