The Finishing Touch is for me the best film the boys had made up to this point. It is Stan and Ollie at their best – with a job to do. No need for complex plots or witty dialogue/title cards – this is what the boys are great at. It’s why ‘The Music Box’ won an Oscar and why ‘Towed in a Hole’ is so loved by L&H fans across the world (to name but two). They are such simple ideas – set the boys a task and watch them make a complete hash of it, but in a way that only they can.
The Hal Roach Studios’ gag men must have been exhausted after making this film as it’s just so thick with gags. They’re often not large and elaborate but they’re all quality. They start in the very first seconds of the first scene and they just keep on coming. I’d love to put a gagometer on this film and see just how many gags and laughs they managed to squeeze into this short.
Whilst researching the background to this film it seems that one of my usual and indispensable sources, Randy Skretvedt’s ‘The Magic Behind the Movies’, is surprisingly dismissive of ‘The Finishing Touch’. Before I go any further, I will just clarify that I am in awe of this publication and it’s respective author and will immediately bow down to his superior knowledge on anything L&H related. However, I find it surprising that this particular film isn’t afforded more praise. Mr. Skretvedt suggests that the film “isn’t as memorable as the films which preceded it”, and describes it as “a pleasant enough little picture“. I couldn’t disagree more, especially with the first point. When I think of Laurel & Hardy, this is one of the films that spring immediately to my mind. It’s all subjective of course, or maybe my demands from a comedy are just pretty infantile, who knows?
I don’t see the point in describing films frame by frame, as the point of these blogs is to encourage readers to discover the films for themselves, and in any case, there really is too much to describe in this one to do it justice.
The boys play a team of ‘finishers’ employed to complete a house build project that has fallen behind. The building site is located directly next door to a hospital/aquarium (sorry, that should be Sanitarium). A no-nonsense nurse at the hospital, played brilliantly by Dorothy Coburn, demands absolute quiet from the builders and sends across street cop Edgar Kennedy to enforce her wishes (“If you must make a noise, make it quietly!”). We then have the boy’s attempting to tip-toe around the building site and construct a house without making a sound – so ridiculously farcical and just so funny!
All the players are at their best in this film and if you’re only ever going to watch one silent Laurel & Hardy comedy, you could do a lot worse than choosing this one.
Glenn Mitchell in ‘The Laurel & Hardy Encyclopedia‘ informs us that this film has its roots in two of the boys’ earlier solo pictures, namely Stan Laurel’s 1924 short ‘Smithy’ (made at the Hal Roach Studios and featuring James Finlayson) and Babe Hardy’s 1925 comedy with Bobby Ray, ‘Stick Around’. Whilst ‘Smithy’ does have many things in common with ‘The Finishing Touch’ (I counted about four identical gags, not including the building site setting), I couldn’t find any real resemblance with Ollie’s ‘Stick Around’. I agree more with Simon Louvish in his ‘Stan and Ollie: The Roots of Comedy’, who mentions, along with ‘Smithy’, Stan’s 1923 short ‘The Noon Whistle’ (Stan’s first-ever film with James Finalyson, made again at Hal Roach Studios). Both these two films have the exact same (and in my opinion ‘memorable’) gag that sees Stan carrying an endless plank of wood – from both ends!
Whatever stance you take on this movie’s ancestry, ‘The Finishing Touch’ is by far and away the finished article. It takes the best bits from the aforementioned earlier solo comedies, adds many, many more quality gags alongside and provides the perfect silent slapstick comedy (at least for me anyway).
So, what side of the fence do you sit on? Do you like ‘The Finishing Touch’ or do you think it’s weak in comparison to the boys’ earlier silent shorts? Join in the discussion by clicking the box below.