Filmed Feb 18 to Feb 27, 1929, Produced by Hal Roach
Directed by Lewis R. Foster, Titles by H.M. Walker, Two Reels
Main Cast: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Edgar Kennedy, Jean Harlow, Charlie Hall
Bacon Grabbers is a really solid Laurel and Hardy silent short. So, why then does it appear to be one of the most overlooked of the boys’ short subjects? The DVD booklet in the Universal 21 disc set gives it barely a mention and almost all of the main books that discuss the boys’ films give ‘Bacon Grabbers’ similar short shrift. For example, Simon Louvish’s Stan and Ollie: The Roots of Comedy,
dedicate about three short lines and they merely outline the plot before skipping on. After a similar plot summary, William K. Everson, in The Complete Films of Laurel & Hardy, only manages to comment that Bacon Grabbers is “one of the better films from their rather variable 1929 offerings”. Thank goodness then for Randy Skretvedt’s updated and expanded tome, Laurel & Hardy: The Magic Behind the Movies, as here we dependably do get a decent amount of detail, yet its illustrated with only two stills and they’re both from deleted scenes. The one book that I was sure would provide some nice images was John McCabe and Al Kilgore’s simply titled, Laurel & Hardy, historically known by fans as ‘The Bible’, but that contains just one page of text and one blurry screengrab.
Even an internet search for images from the film was weirdly unproductive, producing only the movie poster, a couple of stills from the same deleted scenes, and a raft of yet more blurry screen grabs. Arguably, this absence of official stills could be one of the causes for Bacon Grabbers being left out of the spotlight for so long, especially on social media.
It may not set the world on fire, but neither does it disappoint, and whilst a number of the gags are reused in later films, I find Bacon Grabbers to be quite a unique picture in the boys’ canon.
The film sees Stan and Babe as ‘Attachment Officers’ from the local Sheriff’s office, in other words – repo men or bailiffs, given the task of serving a writ to reclaim a radio from a certain “tough guy” named Collis P. Kennedy.
There are some nice bits of business in the opening scene in the Sheriff’s office, with some classic mix-up gags involving hats, the writ, and a couple of internal doors. This sequence would be unashamedly recreated for their scene with Charles Middleton’s Commandant character in the 1931 talkie, Beau Hunks, but there’s just enough individuality to each version to keep them both enjoyable in their own right.
With their task assigned, writ in hand, their own hats on their heads and having made it out of the correct door of the Sherriff’s office, the dynamic duo crank their waiting Model T into life, only for them to drive straight into the back of Charlie Hall’s stationary truck.
The impact damages the boys’ radiator and water shoots out over Ollie’s behind. To fix the leak, Ollie stuffs his handkerchief down into the radiator and water stops running. Originally, this scene was shot with Charlie Hall recommending the boys’ pour ‘Cream of Wheat’ into the radiator, which would have messy consequences further down the road. This gag was ditched in favour of the handkerchief solution but would become another re-used gag, used to good effect in The Hoose-Gow, eight films later. It’s always a joy to see Charlie Hall crop up in the boys’ films, but sadly, he’s rather under-used here. This scene is crying out for a bit of tit for tat between the boys and their ‘Little Nemesis’.
A short car journey through Culver City later, (we see them making a right turn from Venice Boulevard onto Bageley Avenue), and the boys finally arrive at the house of Collis P. Kennedy, played by our old friend Edgar Kennedy, returning for the first time since his role as an angry motorist in Two Tars. In conversation, author Randy Skretvedt told me that whilst researching Bacon Grabbers for the updated version of his authoritative book, Laurel and Hardy: The Magic Behind the Movies, he discovered who the actual owner of the Kennedy house, located at 10341 Bannockburn, in the Cheviot Hills area of Los Angeles, by searching through the 1930 census. The pleasant-looking home was the new residence of a member of the Hal Roach Studios staff, Elmer Raguse. During the previous year, 1928, Raguse had been sent with a team from the Victor Recording Company, to install sound recording equipment at Roach’s ‘Lot of Fun’ and his skills and expertise were soon recognised and became highly valued. He quickly became a vital component of the Roach staff, assuming the role of Chief Sound Engineer at the studio and overseeing all aspects of the transition to talkies.
Kennedy, who we learn, hasn’t made a payment for his radio for the past eight years, is busy mowing his lawn as the boys, attempting to conceal the fact that they are ‘officers’, nonchalantly sidle up to him. Kennedy, of course, is no mug and clocks them immediately (especially as Stan carelessly reveals his Sheriff’s badge).
The rest of this middle section of the film deals with the boys attempting to physically get the writ into Kennedy’s hand, whilst Kennedy himself does his best to evade and escape from them. There’s some very funny cat and mouse type stuff here and the sequence that sees a spooked dog, bolting down the path and across the road, hilariously dragging Ollie behind him, is a gag that’s an obvious forerunner of Mr. Hardy getting dragged down the steps by a crated piano in The Music Box.
The many attempts to insert the writ into Kennedy’s hands are sublime and the boys usually end up foiling themselves – on one occasion they think they’ve succeeded, but following a brief mix-up, have in fact only managed to press Stan’s sandwich into his hand!
After they eventually manage to serve him with the writ, their sense of relief is almost tangible, until Kennedy throws down the next gauntlet – “Now try an’ get the radio!-”
And so we start all over again, with more great gags, as the boys try to climb a ladder to enter the house through an open first-floor window. There’s a terrific scene where Stan is at the top of the ladder that Ollie is carrying, taking the weight by resting it into the waistband of his trousers (as you would), whilst a little dog is playing tug of war with Ollie’s braces (or suspenders, depending which side of the Atlantic you wear them!). If that’s not enough, whilst all this is happening, Kennedy pokes his head out of the window and aims a shotgun in Stan’s face! Stan’s terrified reaction is hilarious. Then, as with all sash windows in Laurel and Hardy movies, Kennedy’s window slides shut of its own volition, down onto the back of his head, causing him to accidentally pull the trigger. Thankfully he misses Stan but instead hits a fire hydrant which instantly explodes and soaks a conveniently placed street-cop, played by Harry Bernard. It’s a great sequence of quick-fire gags, ending with the appearance of Bernard who is another familiar face with fans, as he appeared in no less than twenty-six films with Laurel and Hardy over the years. The soggy cop, now drawn into the action, gets involved and assists in retrieving the radio.
The film culminates with the boys gloating smugly, that is until a timely steamroller comes along and flattens the much-contested radio that has been left in the middle of the road, much to the amusement of Kennedy. His joy is short-lived though, as suddenly his wife appears on the lawn, to celebrate the good news that she’s just paid off the money and they now own the radio! Then it’s the boys’ turn to have the last laugh. Until that is, the steamroller returns and rolls right over the boys’ Model T, crushing it completely.
It’s worth noting here that Mrs. Kennedy is played by Jean Harlow, in the last of her three fleeting appearances with Stan and Babe, the other two being Liberty and Double Whoopee. In addition to these though, her photo can also be seen in two later Laurel and Hardy pictures. Firstly, on the mantelpiece in Brats, and then as the accompanying photo to the heart-breaking letter from ‘Jeanie-Weenie’ that provides the impetus for Stan and Ollie to join the foreign legion. Harlow never forgot Hal Roach’s kindness in giving her a start in the movie business and stated in ‘New Movie Magazine, October 1934:
“I wouldn’t trade anything I own for my experience in those comedies. There was a friendliness and camaraderie about that small studio entirely different from the impersonality of the larger places. No one was too busy to help and advise. Stan and ‘Babe’ realised my ignorance and did everything in their power to make me feel at home and at ease.”
Although ‘Bacon Grabbers’ was filmed in February 1929, it wasn’t actually released until October of the same year. The demands of paying audiences were now for the new fashionable talkies and silent movies were fast becoming museum pieces. The Roach Studios were keen to respond by producing as many talkies as they could, as quickly as possible and so set about it with gusto, releasing the first five Laurel and Hardy talking pictures over the next eight months.
Interestingly, Exhibitor’s Herald World of 22nd June 1929 ran an article based around a statement made by Hal Roach himself, quoting him as saying:
“Silent comedies are gone forever and unless there should be some unexpected return to the vogue of silent films, or an unforeseen demand for non-talking pictures, we will continue to make all our comedies with dialogue and sound.”
However, just a few weeks later, that “unforeseen demand” seems to have been realised, as Roach made an about-face, as documented in the Hollywood Filmograph, 6th July 1929:
“Hal Roach will make silent versions of twenty of the thirty-two all-talking comedies he has scheduled for next year’s production. Because of the demand of the foreign distributors and of the small-town exhibitors for the Roach-M-G-M comedies, Mr. Roach has changed his decision to make no silent pictures. The soundless two-reelers will be re-cut versions of the original talkies…In addition, the studio will release synchronized versions of four recently completed silent comedies, Laurel and Hardy’s “Bacon Grabbers” and “Angora Love”, and Our Gang’s “Saturday’s Lesson” and “Cat, Dog and Co.”
By the time Bacon Grabbers was finally released to theatres, five all-talking Laurel and Hardy comedies had been consumed by the movie-going masses, namely Unaccustomed As We Are, Berth Marks, Men O’ War, Perfect Day and They Go Boom and one has to wonder how the boys’ final two silent films, Bacon Grabbers and Angora Love, were received by those same audiences. Arguably, the novelty factor of hearing Laurel and Hardy speaking had likely begun to wear off as talking pictures gradually became the accepted norm for the industry, with the obvious exception of Chaplin, of course.
One also wonders if there came a point where the team at the Roach Studios considered canning the final two silent films, never to be released, for fear of the films, and by association the Studio being seen as outdated and unfashionable. If that was indeed a reality, at least Roach’s public acknowledgment to change his decision about ceasing production of silent films would have served to provide him with the cover to release these final two Laurel and Hardy silent shorts.
Both Bacon Grabbers and the final silent short, Angora Love were released with synchronised music and sound-effects tracks, in line with many of the earlier pictures, but this time the music was made using only a pipe organ and not as previously with an orchestra. The question remains, were contemporary audiences disappointed to be presented with the old silent versions of Stan and Ollie again, after enjoying not only the sight but also the wonderful sounds of the boys’ voices in the previous handful of pictures? If this review by
H.R. Cromwell, the operator of the Bedford Theatre in Bedford, P.A. as recorded in Exhibitor’s Herald World, 31st May 1930 is anything to go by, it looks like they were:
“Bacon Grabbers – This is one of Laurel and Hardy’s synchronized comedies and, while good, it has organ accompaniment, which is not so good after running them in talking [pictures].”
Tastes and the movie industry itself were clearly changing fast and despite Hal Roach’s aforementioned change of tack, his initial statement that “Silent comedies are gone forever” would be borne out in a very short amount of time. Production of all-talking comedies was now at full tilt across all the units, including Our Gang, Charley Chase, and the Roach All-Stars.
Following closely on the heels of Bacon Grabbers were two all-talking Laurel and Hardy releases, firstly The Hoose-Gow and then their loaned-out appearance in the MGM star-studded Hollywood Revue of 1929, which both received excellent reviews, but there was still one more Laurel and Hardy silent film sitting on the shelf, patiently waiting its turn.
What are your thoughts on this little silent gem? Please do share your comments, either in the box below or on our Facebook page.
(B.S. The above image showing the boys, Edgar Kennedy & Jean Harlow was taken from William K. Everson’s The Complete Films of Laurel & Hardy).