For Stan, Ollie, their wives and of course the gout-ridden Uncle Edgar Kennedy, this was far from a perfect day. Yet, all of the film’s ingredients and especially the talent on display make the film almost the perfect comedy. Indeed Glenn Mitchell in his ‘Laurel & Hardy Encyclopedia‘ describes ‘Perfect Day’ as one of the team’s best shorts – praise indeed!
What I think makes this film particularly good is the clever use of both dialogue and sound. The dialogue is kept to a minimum, as it is in the best of the boys’ work, allowing the comedy to speak for itself, but where it is used it is very funny – if a little base at one point, but more about that later! The film also received much praise on its initial release for the innovative use of sound effects – primarily this related to the hollow clanging sound made when Hardy hits Laurel over the head with the clutch that Stan had just ripped out and chucked onto the street, after following Ollie’s instruction to “throw out the clutch” a little too literally.
The film is also noteworthy as it’s the very first time we hear Mr. Laurel refer to Mr. Hardy as ‘Ollie’. The moment in question comes whilst the boys and their family are sitting in the car attempting to get their perfect day underway. “Step on it, Ollie!” Stan orders, to which Hardy’s wonderful retort is “I’ll step on you in a minute!…and don’t call me Ollie!!”
To put this all in context, the premise for the film is that the boys are taking their wives and Uncle Ed on a lovely family picnic. Sounds straight forward right? But, of course, this is Stan and Ollie, so nothing is going to go according to plan! We initially meet the boys proudly carrying a huge platter of sandwiches out of the kitchen to present to their wives and grumpy Uncle. The role of the uncle was originally meant for James Finlayson, but for some unknown reason ended up being played brilliantly by fellow L&H Stock Company stalwart Edgar Kennedy. Uncle Ed simply does not want to go on the picnic as his heavily strapped gouty foot has kept him awake all night because “it was palpitating so!”.
Although I hate to criticise the boys’ gags, the first of this film I find a little too choreographed and forced. A sandwich falls from Ollie’s platter and Stan bends over to pick it up. As he’s bent over, the swing door behind him hits him up the behind and send him headfirst into Ollie, who drops the sandwiches all over the floor. It’s a funny gag alright, but not executed to the boys’ usual fluid and seemingly effortless standard. But, it’s only a minor grumble and doesn’t really spoil the action. The sandwiches are then repeatedly stepped in, sat on and eventually thrown at each other a typical escalation of temper.
Mrs Laurel (Isabelle Keith) and Mrs Hardy (Kay Deslys) finally step in and remind them not to fight as today is the sabbath. The boys then look sheepishly at one another and then with big smiles make up “No more arguments…isn’t it silly!” says Stan. Of course, seconds later, they’re at it again. I absolutely adore Ollie’s expressions as he ‘accidentally’ hits Stan over the head with the metal platter, smiling at Stan and shooting us more honest looks right down the camera – just fantastic, Babe Hardy at his hilarious best.
The remainder of the film takes place outside the house and concerns the ‘simple’ task of driving away.
I should at this point bring your attention back to one key element in the film that is the focus of a number of gags – Edgar Kennedy’s gouty foot. If there are two people you wouldn’t want anywhere near an incredibly painful part of your anatomy, it would be Laurel & Hardy. Throughout the course of the film Kennedy’s foot is assaulted – be it smacked, bashed, sat on, has a car dropped on it and is even savaged by a dog no less than ten times in total. At one point, whilst innocently sitting on the running board of the Model T, Stan bashes the foot four times in nine seconds. This is a brilliantly crafted sequence of gags, that as Randy Skretvedt points out, was hardly mentioned in the film’s original script, certainly not in detail. This suggests it must be a good example of the boys’, particularly Stan’s, inventiveness on set, creating and expanding gags, ad-libbing, as they went along.
Another stand out moment from the film, which is always quoted by fans and yet is such a simple thing that it can scarcely be called a gag, is when the family are about to set off in the car and they shout goodbye to their neighbours. First, Baldwin Cooke, who is happily gardening, returns the waves and the ‘goodbyes’ and then two more neighbours from across the street, Harry Bernard and Grace Woods, chime in from their garden swing seat, “Goodbyee, Goodbyee!”. This goes back and forth from the car to the neighbours and then back to the car, and seems to go on forever. It’s very silly, but I can’t help but find it hilarious every time, especially with Grace Woods’ high-pitched voice adding wonderfully to the absurdness of it all!
Then the first disaster strikes, the car rolls immediately over a nail and the tyre deflates. There follows a long sequence with the boys trying to change the tyre, with Kennedy’s foot taking a substantial walloping in the process. During the inevitable resulting chaos, in a fit of peak, Ollie throws the car jack at Stan, but misses and it smashes through the window of Baldwin Cooke – who is no longer happily gardening. Cooke, returns the jack by throwing it through the car windscreen and you can’t help but feel that we are in for a re-run of ‘Big Business’ (1929) at this point. This seems to be the case as the boys then put a house brick through another of Cooke’s windows and then Cooke puts one through a window of the family’s house, it then abruptly comes to an end.
Stan & Ollie are just getting into it, taking their jackets off and rolling up their sleeves, in readiness for the usual carnage – egged on by grumpy Kennedy “That’s fine, that’s the best thing you’ve done all day!”, when suddenly and inexplicably the boys hurry their family out of the car and back inside the house. The reason is soon revealed as the local parson, played by Charlie Rogers, walking down the street and past the car.
I mentioned earlier about the choice language used within the dialogue. The keen-eared amongst fans have noticed that during the desperate clamour of not wanting to be seen by the parson, putting leisure before church on the sabbath, Edgar Kennedy shouts out “Oh Shit!” It’s easily missed, but once you’ve heard it, you always will. I suspect Mr. Kennedy’s movie-making mentality was still in the silent era!
Once the coast is clear, the family return to the car. There’s one more gag here that has me in stitches every time. Whilst Ollie is checking the engine, trying to get the car running, Stan can’t help but press buttons and levers in the car and causes an explosion under the bonnet which sends Hardy flying into the street and onto his back, just as a car comes speeding along, almost running him over.
After a quick bit of reciprocal strangulation (“ooh me apple!”), the boys unwittingly get the car started and there’s just time for another round of “Goodbye’s” and the family finally drive away (still on the flat tyre). They don’t get very far, however, as after rounding the first corner, they drive straight into a huge water-filled ditch, sinking the car and it’s passengers into the murky depths, leaving just the boys’ hats floating on the top.
Laurel & Hardy may not have a perfect day, but watching this short, certainly goes some way to make the viewers day perfect – at least for me anyway.
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