austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

We're doing what we can

Do Detectives Think? is a silent Laurel-and-Hardy short, recently aired on TCM. It's one of their first pairings; they have't quite got the screen personas just iconically right, but they're really very close. For example, it has the wonderful bit of business where Laurel and Hardy keep putting on the wrong hats; it's a wonderful fast-shuffle bit of business that's worth seeing.

In the short they're hired as detectives to protect a judge, played by James Finlayson, whom you might remember as the person whose ``D'oh'' would inspire Homer Simpson. If you don't, then, you know him for looking like every 19th-century baseball player ever. He needs protecting from The Slasher, played by Noah Young, who played the sorts of silent comedy characters who'd be called The Slasher, often in Harold Lloyd films.

The remarkable thing about the characterizations, I think, is that Laurel and Hardy correctly spot The Slasher, who's disguised himself as a (temporary) Butler for the judge, from a picture of him in the newspaper. The setup lead me to expect they'd see the article and dramatically fail to make the connection, but they show an intelligence beyond the norm for this sort of thing.

But then they have to do something impressive to make up for an earlier scene where they're incredibly spooked by walking past a graveyard at night. Yes, yes, comical exaggeration is, well, comic, and it's easy to get at least a little creeped out by a graveyard even when you aren't superstitious, but they get to cringing and fleeing --- at one point from the shadow of a goat --- so severely and at such length I'd almost expect them to be in blackface. It's somewhat funny, but I could've done with less of that and more of their trying to put the correct hats on.

There is one really striking scene, where Finlayson, in the midst of a bath, hears The Slasher, and creeps out of the tub to see what's going on. The camera floats, almost as if handheld, and this makes for an effectively spooky, unnatural, creepy style. Cameras did wonderful things in the years just before sound anchored them to the floor again; this is a wonderfully atmospheric use of the illusion.

Trivia: The writing of Common Sense was ascribed to Benjamin Franklin and several others, including John Adams, before Thomas Paine's authorship became known. Source: Redcoats and Rebels: The American Revolution Through British Eyes, Christopher Hibbert.

Currently Reading: A Bridge Too Far, Cornelius Ryan.


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