By 1921 both Stan and Ollie had a string of solo films, released by various movie studios, behind them. Ollie in particular appeared as the villain (or ‘Heavy’) in possibly hundreds of short films and was well seasoned in the movie business by the time he appeared in his first film with the young British comic that would become his comedy partner for the rest of his life.
Whilst on the whole The Lucky Dog is your average standard knockabout bit of slapstick and certainly of it’s time, it definitely has a prominent place in movie history as the very first film Laurel and Hardy appeared in together.
For many years there had been much doubt as to the exact age of this film, with prominent authors John McCabe and Randy Skretvedt both stating alternative years, the former stating 1918 in his book ‘Mr. Laurel & Mr. Hardy’ and 1916 or 1917 in ‘Babe: The Life of Oliver Hardy’, while in his early editions of ‘Laurel & Hardy: The Magic Behind the Movies’, Randy plumped for 1919.
Dave Wyatt, writing in the Summer 2004 edition of ‘Bowler Dessert’ (Number 63), presents some very interesting and definitive research, that finally put an end to all the uncertainty regarding the filming of this historic picture.
Wyatt draws attention to an article originally written for an Italian magazine entitled ‘Griffithiana’ from October 1996, by Bo Berglund. It was the fleeting appearance of a car licence plate (the car that knocks Stan into the tram) that identifies the film had to have been made after January 1920. This information, combined with Stan’s vaudeville tour dates and Ollie’s shooting schedules, meant that ‘The Lucky Dog’ had to have been filmed, late January or early February 1921.
The same article also sheds some light on where the film was made, by piecing together letters painted on a fence in a number of shots in the same scene, with Stan and the tram. Although not all of the letters are visible, the researchers were able to make enough out to piece together the words: LOS ANGELES OSTRICH FARM. Dave Wyatt goes on to say that this Ostrich Farm was located on Mission Road in L.A., very close to Selig Studio, which became the studio of Louis B. Mayer, making it very likely that this was the studio where ‘The Lucky Dog’ was made.
The film is billed as a Stan Laurel feature with Oliver Hardy playing the typical supporting role as a heavily mustachioed villain.
To watch The Lucky Dog, CLICK HERE
The film, although looking fairly ‘primitive’ for 1921, contains some good bits of comedy, very slapstick in nature for sure, but there are some memorable scenes. In particular, early on Stan has a couple of potentially back-breaking stunts, first involving a tram and then moments later a motor car. I think these pieces of action really illustrate the skills that Stan must have learned as his bread and butter, during his years as a music hall comedian with Fred Karno’s troupe.
In addition to this, we’re treated to the first bits of ‘business’ between our two heroes. The first involves Ollie putting a stolen wallet into Stan’s pocket, instead of his own by mistake. The following altercation and chase sequence with dog in tow is a good bit of fun. Then, towards the end of the film there is another scene which gives teasing glimpses of the boys’ on-screen magic, where Ollie is trying to shoot Stan in the head, but without much luck and then Stan convinces Ollie to let him take a look at the defective weapon. As you would expect, more chaos follows.
I think the dog actually deserves some credit in this film, as it plays its part very well and is the cause of a few chuckles. On the subject of the dogs, I couldn’t help but think it a little odd how casually the lady takes losing her ‘thoroughbred’ pet only to be overjoyed with Stan’s gift of his mutt as a replacement. But hey-ho, perhaps best not to think too deeply about these things!
It’s fair to say that the boys themselves are easily recognisable, but their characters couldn’t be farther from the Stan & Ollie that we have come to know and love. There was clearly some way to go before the potential of the team would be realised.
For an early ‘pre-teaming’ film, The Lucky Dog is watchable, reasonably enjoyable and is about as historically important a film as you can get.
But what do you think? Do let me have your comments below.