What’s the one thing a die-hard Laurel & Hardy fan wants more than anything? Well, arguably its to find a Hal Roach era film that they’ve never seen before. It’s the Holy Grail. To most fans, finding a copy of ‘Hat’s Off‘ (1927) or the boys’ remaining missing sequences from The Rogue Song (1930) are the only chances they have of that ever happening – and so, I thought, was the case for me. Until, that is, I came to watch ‘Bacon Grabbers‘, in preparation for writing this blog.
Before reaching for the DVD, I began to think my memory was failing as I couldn’t bring to mind the plot or any of the gags from the film. So, as the opening scenes started to play out, it suddenly dawned on me that here in fact was a Laurel & Hardy film, from the Hal Roach era, that I had NEVER seen before!! How could this have happened. I’d owned the UK Universal 21 Disc boxed set since it was first released back in the early 2000s, and prior to that I’d owned countless VHS tapes and even recorded scores of countless shorts off the TV in the early nineties and watched them all to death- and yet, I’d never seen ‘Bacon Grabbers‘ until now.
But, what I find equally as odd, is that ever since I’ve been following the social media fan-sites, Facebook groups, Twitter feeds etc etc, I can honestly say that I can scarcely recall anyone mentioning this film or posting stills from it online.
The DVD booklet gives it barely a mention, most of my (not inconsiderable collection of) books on the boys give ‘Bacon Grabbers’ pretty short shrift. Simon Louvish writes only about three short lines or so, and they merely outline the plot, before skipping on.
Thanks goodness for Randy Skretvedt’s bible, once again, as here we dependably do get a good amount of detail, but this seems to be the exception, as far as I’ve been able to find anyway. Although, having said that, the amount of stills from the film that Randy provides only number two and they are both from deleted scenes.
The one book that I was sure would provide some nice images is John McCabe and Al Kilgore’s simply titled ‘Laurel & Hardy‘. Most of the boys’ films have a few pages allocated to them, or where there’s just one page, there is usually at least three gloriously reproduced stills on display – but not for ‘Bacon Grabbers’! The book gives us just one page of text and one fuzzy photo, which appears to be a screen grab of sorts.
Even a Google search for official stills from the film is weirdly unproductive, producing only the movie poster (see above), a couple of deleted scenes and then a raft of fuzzy DVD screen grabs. So, where are all the official stills and why does this film seem to be pretty well ignored in the majority of the literature? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not criticising, I’m just intrigued. So, if anyone has any answers, or even better has any official studio stills they’d like to share, I’d love to hear from you, as I’m drawing a bit of a frustrating blank.
Anyway, I’d best get on with discussing the film!
So, here I was for 20 minutes or so in an unexpected heaven. New Laurel & Hardy – in their prime and at their best! And I’m delighted to say that I found ‘Bacon Grabbers‘ to be an absolute little gem! It doesn’t set the world on fire, but neither does it disappoint.
Stan & Ollie are ‘Attachment Officers’ from the Sheriff’s office (in other words – Repo Men or Baliffs) and they’re 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 Sheriff’s office, with some classic mix-up gags involving hats, the writ and a couple of doors.
Outside the office, the boys crank their Model T into life, which ridiculously rocks more than an Iron Maiden concert when it’s running, only to then 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, whilst he’s bent over checking the truck for damage (cue Ollie’s uncomfortably confused expression as he senses a little warm gush to his behind). To fix the leak, Ollie stuffs his handkerchief down into the radiator and the leak stops. Originally, this scene was shot having Charlie Hall recommend the boys’ pour ‘Cream of Wheat’ into the radiator (see above still from deleted scene), which would have messy consequences further down the road. This gag was ditched in favour of the handkerchief solution, but would reappear to good effect in ‘The Hoose-Gow’ (1929). Whilst I’m always really glad to see Charlie whenever and however he appears in the boys’ films, I do think he could have been used a little more here. The scene was crying out for a bit of tit for tat between the boys and their ‘Little Nemesis’, but we don’t even get to see that wonderful wagging finger of his in action…ah well!
A short car journey later and the boys arrive at the house of Collis P. Kennedy, played of course, by our old friend Edgar Kennedy, returning for the first time since his role as an angry motorist in ‘Two Tars‘ (1928). Kennedy, who hasn’t made a payment for his radio for the past eight years, is busy mowing his grass 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 Sherriff’s badge).
The rest of this middle section of the film is all about how the boys physically try to get the writ into Kennedy’s hand, whilst Kennedy himself does his best to evade and escape from them. There’s some very funny stuff here. I especially liked the bizarre toy bulldog that Kennedy brings to his front door to scare away Stan & Ollie and also scare away a larger dog that the boys borrow from a passing lad, on the understanding that it was vicious. This same dog, having been spooked by the ‘bulldog’, bolts down the path and across the road, hilariously dragging Ollie behind him, in a gag that’s an obvious fore-funner of Mr. Hardy getting dragged down the steps by a crated piano in ‘The Music Box’ (1932).
The many attempts to insert the writ into Kennedy’s hand are sublime and are usually foiled by themselves – on one occasion they think they’ve succeeded, but have in fact only managed to press Stan’s sandwich into his hand! Just great stuff!
After they finally manage to serve him with the writ, you almost share in their sense of relief, until Kennedy throws down the next gauntlet – ” -Now try ‘an get the radio!-”
And so we start 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, Ollie is basically carrying the ladder, 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 reaction is hilarious. Then, as with all sash windows in Laurel & Hardy movies, Kennedy’s window automatically falls down onto his head, causing him to fire the gun. He thankfully misses Stan, but hits a fire hydrant which instantly explodes and soaks a conveniently placed street-cop, played by Harry Bernard – another familiar face, as he appeared in no less than twenty-six films with Laurel & Hardy over the years.
The annoyed cop gets involved and assists the boys in retrieving the radio. Ollie’s smug face, as he and Stan carry the radio out of the house, is brilliant and causes Kennedy to chase him into the street and kick him right in the middle of his daily duties! Do you think Ollie will stand for that? You bet your life he won’t! The boys leave the radio in the middle of the street and chase Kennedy back onto the lawn to mete out their revenge. As they do, a handy steamroller comes along and flattens the radio, much to the amusement of Kennedy.
His joy is short lived though, as suddenly his wife, played by Jean Harlow, appears on the lawn, to celebrate the good news that she’s just paid off the money and they now own the radio!
Now it’s the boys turn to have the last laugh – or do they? We then see the steamroller return and roll right over the boys’ Model T, crushing it completely and wiping the smiles from their faces. THE END.
I really enjoyed ‘Bacon Grabbers’, and not just because it was an unexpected treat to be watching it for the first time. The story is simple, the performances are fantastic and the gags very, very funny.
Interestingly, Randy Skretvedt points out that although ‘Bacon Grabbers‘ was filmed in February 1929, it wasn’t actually released until October. The demands of the 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 possible and as quickly as possible, and so set about it with gusto, releasing the first five Laurel & Hardy talking pictures over the following eight months.
I find it particularly interesting to think about how the boys’ final two silent films (Bacon Grabbers and Angora Love) may have been received by contemporary cinema audiences. Hearing Laurel & Hardy speak for the very first time in ‘Unaccustomed As We Are‘ must have seemed like a fabulous novelty, but then normal ‘silent’ service was resumed with the release of ‘Double Whoopee‘. This then must have seemed to be the last of the silent Laurel & Hardy films, as movie-goers were treated to a string of talkies, namely: ‘Berth Marks’, ‘Men O’ War’, ‘Perfect Day’ and ‘They Go Boom‘. By this point, one may reasonably assume, the public were used to and possibly now expected to always hear the boys speaking in their films, and then up pops ‘Bacon Grabbers‘ and ‘Angora Love‘, separated by the two more talkies ‘The Hoose-Gow‘ and the boys’ cameo appearance in ‘The Hollywood Revue of 1929′.
I’d love to know if audiences were disappointed to be presented with silent Stan & Ollie again, after enjoying not only the sight but also the wonderful sounds of the boys’ voices in the previous few movies. I also find it interesting to wonder whether or not the team at the Roach Studios considered canning the final two silent films and never release them, for fear of the films, and by association the Studios being seen as outdated and unfashionable…? Randy Skretvedt does comment that “It’s sad to realize that many audiences would have considered this short (Bacon Grabbers) an antique upon its arrival“, and I suppose that answers the question – but it would be good to hear it from actual first-hand accounts, film reviews from the period etc. Again, I’d love to hear from anyone who has evidence of this…
Anyway, regardless of whether audiences in 1929 enjoyed Bacon Grabbers or not, I certainly did. So, how about you? 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).