Following ‘Below Zero‘, ‘Hog Wild‘ is a return to the gag-packed comedy format that merrily bounces along to a jaunty soundtrack, and I would say, is arguably one of Laurel and Hardy’s best short subjects.
It’s such a simple plot – Ollie has to fix a radio aerial onto his roof, oh yes…and to handicap him, he has Stan to ‘help’. It couldn’t be simpler and it couldn’t be funnier.
As H.M. Walker‘s opening gag title card appears, (Amnesia! Mr. Hardy was beginning to forget things, but Mr. Laurel had no fear of losing his memory – As a matter of fact, Mr. Laurel never had a memory to lose -), we are treated to one of my very favourite pieces of ‘Laurel and Hardy music’. The track is entitled “Smile When the Raindrops Fall” and, somewhat surprisingly, wasn’t composed by either Leroy Shield or Marvin Hatley, as so much of the boys’ background music was, but by Alice K. Howlett and Will L. Livernash. There’s a fascinating essay on this particular piece of music, written by Laurel and Hardy historian, Randy Skretvedt and published in John Tefteller‘s ‘Laurel & Hardy: On the Radio and On the Phone‘. The book also includes two audio CDs, one of which contains two different versions of the track, one with song lyrics.
The first scene/gag is a little disappointing. Ollie’s wife, played by Fay Holderness, and maid (clearly a far cry from his status in the last film), are clearing the dishes from the dining table, when Ollie enters and demands his wife tell him where his hat is. The joke is that it’s clearly on his head and this goes on for some minutes, until he spots his reflection in a mirror. He quickly swipes the hat from off his head and hides it, pretending to find it seconds later, under the bed.
The gag itself is pretty childish and isn’t really of the quality that we have come to expect, although Babe’s excellent performance sells it well enough. What is interesting, or confusing even, is that Ollie is initially very aggressive towards his wife, and, as Fay Holderness is no shrinking violet, they lock horns during the hat discussion quite fiercely.
Ollie is uncharacteristically aggressive, especially towards a member of the opposite sex, quite against his usual southern genteel manner. This continues for some time, even to the point where he tells his wife that if he doesn’t find it, she should “have a care!”. But then, once the hat is found and Ollie is getting ready to leave, his wife questions him as to where he is going and follows by not allowing him out. Ollie then instantaneously reverts to the usual hen-pecked, under-the-thumb, too scared to say ‘boo to a goose’, type of husband and submits to her wishes with a whimper. Two completely different personalities in just a few short minutes…I find that a bit odd.
But, I’m nit-picking here, and you have to in order to find fault with this film, as from here on in, it is gold.
From the moment Stan appears at the house, Ollie’s life is in danger. In an attempt to get onto his roof, Ollie has begun to climb a ladder, that is balanced on top of a flimsy looking table – well you would, wouldn’t you?! To get his attention, Stan blows his car horn, causing Ollie’s table to collapse and he falls onto his back with a typical yell.
The first interchange between the two men is sublime, played perfectly by both actors and sums up the relationship between them.
Stan: “I thought you were going to meet me?!” Ollie: “I was…but I’ve gotta put the aerial up!…Mrs. Hardy wants to get Japan!!” Stan: “Gee! I’d like to hear Japan too. D’ya mind if I help ya?” Ollie: “I don’t mind…that is, if you’ll help me!”
Despite Ollie’s obvious instincts, he allows his best friend to help, and immediately Mr. Laurel causes a kind of Batmobile-style flame to leap from the back of his Model T and set fire to Mr. Hardy’s bottom. Stan runs to fill a small pail of water, from the nearby garden pond, to extinguish the fire, and Ollie sticks his smoking bum out as the target. Stan throws the water and hilariously throws more in Ollie’s face than where it’s most needed. Babe’s resulting camera looks and dainty attempts to flick the water from his eyes are pure class.
In quick succession, there follows two broken windows, and two blows to Ollie’s head, one from Stan and one from his wife. This is quick-fire stuff, but the pacing is superb. Just enough time for one laugh to begin to fade as the next one arrives.
The boys ascend to the dizzy heights of the roof, by standing the feet of the ladder onto a board that’s placed in Stan’s car – and up they go.
From here, this could have very easily become a re-hash of their 1929 silent short ‘Liberty‘ with the thrills and spills of the boys working at height, but its a credit to all involved, that it never once harks back to their earlier film. Okay, so the building is only one storey high, nowhere near the lofty skyscraper setting, but it’s certainly high enough to cause drama and nervous excitement.
Ollie orders Stan to fix one of the two radio poles at one end of the roof. So, leaving a pole behind, Stan wobbles across, like a tight-rope walker, to the end of the roof, leaving Ollie to step on the remaining pole and slide head first off the roof and drop straight into the garden pond with an almighty splash.
This of course doesn’t just happen once. Within seconds of re-joining Stan on the roof he’s literally flirted off again, and then for a third time, but this time he takes not only Stan with him, but the entire chimney stack as well – all ending up in the pond.
The next time, Ollie sensibly climbs to the roof alone, instructing Stan to affix the wire to the radio receiver. Mr. Laurel clearly touches the wire to the wrong place, however, as there’s a flash and a loud electrical bang. Up on the roof, poor old Ollie is holding the other end of the wire and gets a massive shock, as evidenced by some animated electrical cartoons, throwing him backwards and he falls into the hole left by the missing chimney stack. He ends up joining his wife and Stan in the sitting room, as he drops into the fireplace, almost frightening his wife to death.
Typical of the spirit of Laurel and Hardy, Ollie refuses to be beaten by an inanimate object and, although he’s been knocked down time after time and despite his wife telling him to forget it, he picks himself up again, dusts off the soot and declares, “I’ll get that thing working, if it’s the last thing I do!!”.
The film’s finale is quite spectacular. The boys return to the car and Ollie begins to ascend the ladder, with Stan holding the bottom, to keep his friend safe. Unwittingly, however, Stan starts the car and the two drive off, with Ollie holding on for dear life, at the very top of the ladder.
The car careers through the busy Culver City streets, narrowly missing other cars and scraping under bridges. The stunts and camera work are fantastic and the whole thing succeeds in being both funny and exciting at the same time. The mixture of distance and close-up shots of Babe are done so well that its easy to believe it’s Ollie up there.
Soon, the car and ladder combo, pull up alongside an open-topped, double-decker bus and Ollie finds himself at the same height as the top deck. Typical of Ollie, he manages to politely tip his hat to the amazed bus passengers as he sails past them. As the car reaches the front of the bus, the ladder finally tips over and dumps Ollie onto the road – and then the bus nearly runs over him!
Mrs. Hardy appears, sobbing into her handkerchief, “Oh Oliver, darling, this is terrible!” she cries. Ollie, looking very pleased that his wife is so moved by the mortal danger he’s been in, reassures her that he’s unhurt. “I’m not crying over you“, she returns, “The man came and took the radio away!”
The film could fade to black right here and I’m sure we’d all feel satisfied that we’d been served up a smashing helping of Laurel & Hardy at their best – but wait, there’s more!
Ollie and his wife clamber into Stan’s car ready to be taken home. Stan has tidily parked up right behind a stationary streetcar and as they are trying to get the car started, another streetcar hurtles up behind them and the camera cuts away. The reaction of on-lookers tells us what has taken place and the next time we see the car it has been squashed, in bizarre concertina-style.
The streetcar conductor barks at them to get their car out of the way, and miraculously it still functions and Stan drives them away and out of shot – The End…
Peter Squarini, writing in The Laurel & Hardy Magazine in 1989, reported that:
“…this and other adapted Model Ts were created by one Dale Schrum, who for $500 per day would rent them to the Hal Roach studio with the proviso that he drove them personally, concealed within a special compartment.”
The film was once again made in multiple languages, as ‘Pele-Mele’ in French and ‘Radio-Mania’ in Spanish. One reason why the film works so well across continents, is because it’s not reliant upon dialogue. Stan and Ollie can work their pantomimic magic and any audience, in any country can appreciate them and laugh along with the gags. Sadly, none of the foreign versions are known to exist, so comparisons cannot be made between the verbal jokes.
It wasn’t only in foreign language countries where the film was re-titled. In the UK, where audiences may not have been familiar with the expression ‘hog wild’, the title was changed to ‘Aerial Antics’, which does at least describe the film’s action. Although, as Randy Skretvedt points out, this may not have been necessary, as the picture was originally going to be called ‘Hay Wire‘. It was only at the very last minute that it was changed to ‘Hog Wild‘ due to another film already having that title.
Then, as now, ‘Hog Wild‘ was popular with cinema-goers and pundits alike, as this typical contemporary review from ‘Variety‘ (4th June 1930) illustrates:
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