‘Wrong Again’ is one of those films that I hadn’t watched in ages and I’d forgotten just how good it is! If you haven’t seen it before, or if it’s been a while, I encourage you to watch it – it’s classic Laurel & Hardy!
Filmed at the end of November 1928, ‘Wrong Again’ was the boys’ second release of 1929 and what a start to the year it had been. Following the fantastic thrill comedy, ‘Liberty‘, with its dramatic location set and hair raising action, was always going to be a tall order (no pun intended), but Leo McCarey, in the director’s chair once again and for the third time in a row, pulled it off with some style.
The Laurel & Hardy team were riding high and Stan and Babe were enjoying the most successful time of their careers to date. However, away from the studio, the boys’ personal lives were quite contrasting at this point in time. Ollie’s marriage with Myrtle was becoming very strained, due to her ongoing problems with alcohol. Babe hated to see his wife in this way and began spending more and more time away from the marital home, choosing to spend his time (and money) at the race track gambling on the horses, or pursuing his favourite past time, golf. In just a few months time (July 1929) Myrtle would sue Oliver for divorce.
For Stan, however, this was a seemingly golden time. As Simon Louvish describes, he’d recently moved into a new swanky ‘colonial-style’ pad at 718 North Bedford Drive, Beverly Hills, with his wife Lois, their one-year-old daughter (also named Lois) and Lady, a beautiful St. Bernard that would often accompany him to the studio.
And it’s an animal that the boys’ latest venture on-screen is centered around, although on this occasion it was not a dog, but a horse.
One thing that I love about ‘Wrong Again’ is that there’s no slow build-up to the good stuff. We’re straight in there with a string of fantastic gags.
The first sees Ollie shower a well-dressed gent in hay from out of the horse’s stable and then proceed to act very embarrassedly with childlike innocence, in a way that only Ollie can. Next, Stan gets squashed between the door frame and the body of a horse that Ollie is reversing into the stable, and Stan gives Ollie a great look as if to say “You did that on purpose!”. There then follows a routine with a bucket than Stan is trying to fill up with water from a hosepipe, but only succeeds in firing water at his own backside. Ollie grabs the bucket and takes over the filling, only to find the bucket has no bottom and so throws it across the stable yard in a fit of peak. Across the yard, a guy is waiting with a horse and trap and the flying bucket duly hits the trap’s wheel, knocking it off completely. It’s a delightful and laugh-out-loud funny start to the film, drawing you right into their world immediately.
Once again, the plot is simple. When the boys overhear that a local millionaire has been robbed and his prized ‘Blue Boy’ has been stolen, they instantly think that their luck is in, mistaking a horse named ‘Blue Boy’ for the actual stolen Gainsborough painting of the same name. A plan is hatched to deliver the horse to it’s ‘owner’ and claim the sizeable reward. And, wouldn’t you know it, just as this is happening, the cops seize the pilfered painting and arrest the low down dirty thieves that stole it. A quick call to the millionaire passes on the good news and the said millionaire happily awaits the imminent return of ‘Blue Boy’.
The remainder of the film is classic farce, whereby after talking at cross purposes, the boys are instructed by the wealthy owner (Del Henderson), who has not seen the horse, to bring Blue Boy into the house and put it on top of the grand piano.
There are some lovely moments of silent dialogue between the boys, as Ollie relates their instructions and Stan’s disbelief is really engaging. So too is the discussion inside the mansion, when the boys are waiting for the owner to come downstairs and Ollie explains to Stan that “These millionaires are peculiar – They think just the opposite to other people”. Once Stan grasps this concept, he is then able to accept anything unusual that happens for the remainder of the ‘delivery’.
We’re treated to some super comedy moments as the boys attempt to get the horse on top of the piano. Whilst doing this the front standing leg of the piano is knocked away and to try and keep the whole thing from crashing down, Ollie ends up on all fours, supporting the weight of both the piano and the horse on his back. This is a technically brilliant gag and I can only imagine there must be some mechanics off-camera that support the unseen end of the piano, in a sort of see-saw fashion, that takes the actual weight and lowers and raises the piano according to Ollie’s actions. However they achieved it, the overall effect is wonderful, with Ollie struggling to lift it on his back, whilst Stan tries to help but keeps stepping on his face or leaving him totally alone, while he retrieves his hat. The whole thing is ridiculous and hilarious in equal measure.
Glenn Mitchell in the Laurel & Hardy Encyclopedia suggests that Leo McCarey himself was responsible for creating the storyline for this film. Mitchell states that while McCarey was at the dentist’s one afternoon, to distract himself from the pain, he devised a story around the copy of Gainsborough’s ‘Blue Boy’ that adorned the surgery wall. Randy Skretvedt also mentions this story but provides another similar account that McCarey had given in a 1968 interview, that claimed the painting was on his own wall at home and he used it to inspire him to create a storyline when Stan and the rest of the team at the studio were very short of ideas.
The finale of the film, of course, sees the real Blue Boy get delivered by the cops and the boys have to admit to having “made a slight mistake”. Stan & Ollie see the funny side, falling into fits of giggles, but the millionaire, who is far from amused, chases the boys and the horse down the street with his loaded shotgun in hand..and that’s the last we see of the boys.
The millionaire is frog-marched back inside soon after by a cop who’s back-side is smoking, the seat of his pants in tatters; “This man almost blew my brains out!”
The sharp-eyed among you may also have spotted a small walk-on cameo by L&H regular Charlie Hall, in the group of nosy neighbours who follow the cop in off the street. I love Charlie Hall and I’m always delighted to see him pop up in the boys’ films, even if it is just fleetingly.
The silent era’s days were now starting to draw to a close and there are glimpses within ‘Wrong Again’ where we can clearly see the boys comfortably conversing in real dialogue. This practice and the ease with which Stan and Babe took to speaking on camera would stand them in good stead for the massive changes that were afoot. The introduction of talking pictures rang the loud bells of change for all involved in the motion picture industry, but for some, it would be a death knell. Many well-established and famous stars would fall at this impending hurdle – but not Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. They rose to the challenge, in fact, more than that, they owned it and as a result, they became greater still and proceeded to make some of the most memorable comedy films the world has ever seen.
‘Wrong Again’ seems to be seldom mentioned in the many discussions on the social media pages, but in my opinion, it should be talked about a lot. It’s a great L&H comedy, with the boys at their best, again with a job to do. I’d love to know your thoughts on this film and also on this blog. Please share your comments in the box below, or on our Facebook page or Twitter feed.