Laurel & Hardy

24. Early to Bed (1928)

Well, I hate to say this, but I have a huge problem with this film!

Let me explain. It’s 1928 and the Laurel & Hardy team is now well established. Their films are no longer being distributed under the ‘All-Stars’ banner, the series is now labelled as out and out ‘Laurel & Hardy’ comedies. The Stan and Ollie characters are well defined, instantly recognisable and gaining in popularity with each new film released by the Hal Roach Studios. With classics such as ‘The Finishing Touch‘, ‘The Battle of the Century’ and ‘You’re Darn Tootin’‘ under their belt, it’s pretty obvious that at this point the boys and the studio had got it sussed! The formula had been perfected and it’s plain sailing from here on in – right…? Then along comes ‘Early to Bed’…

From the outset, it’s probably worth noting that this film was (unsurprisingly) the one and only L&H film, indeed the only Hal Roach film directed by Emmett J. Flynn, whose previous work consisted mostly of westerns or costume dramas.

The film starts fairly typically, with the boys and a cute dog sitting on a park bench. Stan has a perfect vacant expression – the lights are on, but no-ones at home. Ollie opens and reads a letter which contains a revelation that he is now rich having inherited his uncle’s fortune. Stan, at first happy for his friend, then bursts into tears, wondering what will now become of him, given his friend is off to live a new life. Ollie shows concern, gives it some thought and declares that he will take Stan with him to be his butler.

All fine so far! Pretty standard fare in the first couple of minutes – but for me, it’s downhill from here.

early to bedThe rest of the film sees butler Stan trying to get his drunken master Ollie to bed at 3am, following his night out on the town. My first issue is the sudden change in the relationship between the boys. Okay, so we know that Ollie was making Stan his butler, in order to keep the friends together, but Stan is now deferential and addressing Ollie as ‘Sir’, and that just doesn’t sit comfortably.

Secondly, Ollie’s drunken behaviour towards Stan, I just find abhorrent. It begins fairly playfully at the door, as Ollie plays a practical joke on Stan and shuts him out, but it quickly falls into very tiresome and cruel treatment of his long time friend. Having said that, Ollie’s performance is very convincing and does therefore show Hardy’s skills as an actor – indeed it’s also quite pleasant to see Ollie looking all dapper, with his hair slicked back, something we only usually see in private photos and at award ceremonies etc.

If Hardy’s acting performance is convincing, so too then is Laurel’s. I couldn’t help but feel massive sympathy for Stan’s character, as his cries and complaints seem to come truly from the heart and eventually he tells Ollie that he is quitting his position and will leave in the morning, breaking their friendship for good. I couldn’t help but feel very glad at this – to think that I would celebrate Laurel & Hardy parting ways is unthinkable, but kind of confirms to me just how off the mark this picture is.

early to bed2I initially considered that maybe a lot of my displeasure with the film is down to my own personal dislike of the way people can behave when they’re drunk, but then the thought struck me that I find Arthur Housman, the famous L&H drunk, hilarious and really enjoy his performances. I also enjoy other drunken scenes in the boys’ films such as Blotto (1930) (granted the boys had convinced themselves they were drunk, making it all the funnier), Them Thar Hills (1934), Scram! (1932), Fra Diavolo (1933) etc, etc. So, I can’t say this is solely down to my personal prejudice against drunkenness, this is more about the changes in character and ceaseless cruelty inflicted by one friend on another – in particular these two individuals that I have a real fondness for myself.

further perilsThere are a small few decent gags throughout, which I feel are better seen as part of the compilation movie ‘The Further Perils of Laurel & Hardy (1967)’, as they are disassociated from the context of ‘Early to Bed’. The film does seem to be picking up a little towards the end, notably during the chase of destruction sequence through the house, as Stan attempts to get himself fired by breaking every Hardy possession in sight, followed in hot pursuit by Ollie.

The finale is also pretty strange and leaves a sour taste, as after all the cruelty, fighting and chasing, Ollie seems to have had a change of heart and offers the open hand of friendship, seeking to forgive and forget, which Stan takes with his usual childlike smile, only to be pushed backwards into a fountain by Ollie, who we see laughing insanely once again as the camera fades to black.

Early_To_Bed_1928That’s just not right. That’s not Laurel & Hardy, not to me anyway. I was keen to see what the L&H aficionados made of this film and find it interesting that the, usually informative description given for each film in the DVD booklet, give this film about two lines of not very much.  Simon Louvish in his ‘Stan & Ollie: The Roots of Comedy‘ doesn’t even make a single reference to the film at all, whilst Glenn Mitchell’s ‘The Laurel & Hardy Encyclopedia‘ addresses it a little more- but then by its very ‘A to Z’ nature, it kind of has to.  Mitchell’s brief synopsis points out that the film has a “mixed reputation” and his use of words like “unsettling” and “unnecessary vindictiveness” along with his suggestion of viewing the gags in isolation, confirmed my own views (somewhat to my relief).

As always, the best source of information on this film (and indeed on all the L&H films) is once again Randy Skredvedt’s “Magic Behind the Movies: Ultimate Edition“. It appears that, along with Glenn Mitchell, my views also mirror those of Randy’s – so I feel that I’m in good company here. However, Randy Skretvedt does go on to say that some Laurel & Hardy scholars, namely Charles Barr and Richard W. Bann rate the film very highly – which is a mystery to me, but just goes to show, it takes all sorts and you have to draw your own conclusions.

On that note, I’ll happily leave ‘Early to Bed’ behind and move on, with a sense of relief and higher expectation to the next picture that the boys made – ‘Two Tars’, hoping it will take away the uncomfortable memory of watching a Laurel & Hardy movie and looking forward to the title card that reads ‘The End’.

I’d love to hear your take on ‘Early to Bed’. Can you convince me to like it…please??

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24 thoughts on “24. Early to Bed (1928)”

  1. Well, to be honest I can see your point even though I personally have no problem with this movie… I think that their characters weren’t really established by then, In Two Tars they act a bit like bullies which is a little out of their usual characters… In my opinion the true Stan and Olie characters reached their full development in talkies because the dialogs, the voices, each ones characteristic lines became part of them and gave a wider field for humor. Before that, they had to rely mainly on physical humor and they probably had to experiment in order to come up with something original in each movie. But even in the talkies, their films are full of inconsistencies. There’s a complete lack of continuity even though the characters seem to be the same. Their marital status, family relations and status are always different and the only sense of continuity is in Tit for Tat as a sequel to Them Thar Hills. Even the relations between them and their regular co-stars make absolutely no sense since Ed Kennedy, Finlayson, Mae Busch etc are always appearing in different roles in the boys’ lives from film to film…. To make a long story short, I can see your point and I agree with you but I can live with that and all their other inconsistencies because I really love them!!

    1. Thanks John, you make some good points here, especially that the characters weren’t fully developed until the talkies. I would certainly agree with that, so much of their memorable and much loved comedy is in their voices and the dialogue. Imagine the Marx Brothers without dialogue…it would be incredibly physical and quite harsh, I would suspect. The worst element is to see Stan so abused by his friend. Perhaps if put into context and we’re seeing this film when it was released in 1928, without all the preconceptions and knowledge of all the films that were to come, I probably wouldn’t have batted an eyelid and accepted it as some good old fashioned knock-about comedy. Always good to step back and put the films into context. Thanks for commenting John.

    1. Thanks for comment Patricia. It’s a good question. The films were being produced pretty thick and fast during the silent period, so I don’t think ‘Early to Bed’ was rushed through anymore than any of the other films and so can’t really be to blame.
      The main reason I can see is simply a different director. He never returned to direct the boys afterwards either. That would make sense, although if Stan was so influential at the Roach studio, you’d think he would have been cautious to go against the momentum their characters were building.
      We should also bear in mind, this was quite an early silent short and so to a 1928 audience, this might have just been more good knockabout fun, and not as startling as it is to us today,given what we know from the rest of the boys’ 30 year career.

  2. This is my least favorite of the boys’ films for Hal Roach. It might have worked if Stan had gotten the inheritance and made Ollie his butler, thus undermining Ollie’s assumption that he is smarter, better, more important. This is what they did in the “Lord Paddington” scenes of “A Chump at Oxford.” As it is, Ollie’s antics just seem cruel and unfunny to me.

    1. Thanks for commenting Bobby. I’ve never really linked the two films before, but I see where you’re coming from. I would argue though that the reason ‘Chump’ is not as offensive, if that’s not too strong a word, is that when Stan transforms into Lord Paddington, he becomes somebody else entirely and sees Ollie as something of a stranger, whereas, Ollie is still Ollie in Early to Bed, being downright cruel to his pal. All makes for good discussion though, thanks for visiting the blog.

  3. I agree that Ollie being so cruel to Stan and basically being a jerk is unsettling. I feel for me is what would happen if Ollie really did get money. Maybe he would be a jerk. and Stan would be heartbroken like we see, so for me its a “What if” film. Almost one of those crazy “Alternate universe” things, which a lot of their movies do, like the devil’s brother, bohemian girl, babes in Toyland, etc. and some dream shorts, Oliver the eighth and Laurel and hardy murder case… Truthfully I thought it was controversial because Ollie “Wanted to paly” and wrestle with Stan and Stan trying to get him undressed for bed.

    The sad scene for me was Stan made him a birthday cake and Ollie Didn’t notice or spend time with Stan on Ollies birthday. Ollie just got drunk.

    I did think it was sweet that Ollie seemed kind of concerned when he upset Stan and tried to comfort him, but quickly went back to being a jerk…

    The funniest part was when Stan starts messing up the house and he falls into the cake and Ollie thinks he has rabies, and Stan says he wants Warm blood. Thats hilarious. But yeah, not one of my favorites, its hard to watch, but has its funny parts…

    so…. 3/10

  4. Crikey you seem traumatised by this film! I can see your point but it didn’t seem THAT different to me – there’s plenty of films where they do awful things to each other – in Leave ’em laughing they punch each other in the face – that was more cringy to me. In One Good Turn Stan gives Ollie a right going over. This to me was obviously just high spirits from Ollie – in fact Stan comes across as a right sourpuss – criticising Ollie’s drinking and sending him to bed! And Stan gives as good as he gets in the fountain part. Having said that its not actually that funny though.
    Hope you have recovered by watching Way Out West under a blanket with a nice cup of tea?

    1. Thanks Geoff, ha ha, yes I suppose I do come across somewhat traumatised. To be honest, I can handle the physical, cartoonish violence like the punches in the face and smashing dinner plates under the chin etc, but there’s something deep within me that really doesn’t like the sort of drunken bullying of a minor as played here by Babe. I admit, I’m probably over thinking, or probably over feeling it too much. I think I identify with Stan in this film a little, certainly from my youth, when I would be the only tea-total guy out on the town. And I hate to see Stan and Babe’s special friendship affected in this way. I think I probably need a slap in the face, rather than hide under a blanket…although that does sound good, especially the cup of tea part.

  5. It makes sense that as a Laurel and Hardy fan you can’t find this film funny for sentimental reasons, though if you somehow imagine they’re not them but just two talented comedians, it’s actually a good one. Let’s not forget that their dynamics sometimes changed from friendship to rivalry in later films, notably One Good Turn and A Chump at Oxford, and nobody had a problem then. Still, a film where the only thing we’re watching is Ollie being unreasonably cruel to Stan is almost painful.
    If you want to really find a redeeming value in Early to Bed, you can combine the fact that it’s the last film where the boys are not the boys (quite the opposite), but also one of only two films in which there is no cast but them (the other being Brats, where the play dual roles). So, it’s probably the least Laurel and Hardy film (disregarding their very first films when they just appeared together without being a team) but also, technically, the most one! Under this light, one could see it as a pact, bidding a final farewell to their early, different, often antagonistic personas and making way to the boys we know and love; best pals (with few exceptions) dominating the screen. To sum up Early in Bed in a single phrase: “Laurel and Hardy’s solo careers are dead. Long live Laurel and Hardy!”.

    1. What great comments Tony! Thanks for taking the time to share them. You make some very good points here and I will certainly try to bear them in mind the next time
      I force myself to watch it. 😀👍🏻

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