Block-Head (1938)

71c93-l26h_block-heads_1938There are short films and then there are feature films. This is your typical Laurel and Hardy short feature which falls somewhere in between.

This Hal Roach-produced comedy romp pulls its plot from current events such as WWI, big game hunting, and Middle American suburban life. But forget that, the most important part is that Laurel and Hardy are up to their usual gags playing their usual selves in this laugh-laden story with a typical bouncy score.

It starts off with an oblivious Stan guarding his trench for over 20 years as the story moves from 1917 in France to the year 1938. Don’t question it, just accept that Stan is stupid and he has a mountain of ration cans to prove it.

When he finally is brought back to civilization there’s one man who is especially surprised, his good ol’ buddy Oliver who is just about to celebrate an anniversary with his wife.

The friends finally get their reunion at the old soldiers home where Stan is laid up and the fun begins. Because Stan and Ollie are the perfect antithesis, they always lead to the greatest of guffaws.

The laughs continue to spew out whether it’s Stan’s supposedly amputated leg or a truck piled high with dirt. And that’s before they even arrive home where they must deal with 13 flights of stairs and the ever present James Finlayson ready to trade some choice words and fists with Ollie.

Ollie also has some marital problems of his own that are complicated by the pretty young wife that lives across the hall. He and Stan manage to do what they do best by completely decimating their house and blowing up their kitchen. The end title card drops as our two heroes gallop away followed by a jealous husband with an elephant gun. Sounds about right.

I dearly hope I never grow tired of Laurel and Hardy, because if I do it will almost feel like I lost just a bit of my humanity. They are often so dumb, so mean to each other and to others, but at their core, they are always a lovable duo. By now they are caricatures in appearance and for their buffoonery, but they are also so beloved by the masses. I would like to think, even to this day.

Ollie with his fiery temper and bossing of Stan. Stan with his stupidity and often surprising talents (smoking a hand-pipe and pulling down the shadow of a window blind just to name a few). I wish there had been more screen time for Billy Gilbert, but otherwise, this is a wholly worthwhile addition to the L & H legacy.

4/5 Stars


My Dinner with Andre (1981)

18639-my_dinner_with_andre_1981_Directed by Louis Maille and starring Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory playing characters named after themselves, this interesting film has a relatively simple, albeit, unique premise. A writer who lives in New York goes to a dinner engagement with a man who he used to know well. 

However, he approaches their meeting with some anxiety not knowing what to expect from a man who has no doubt changed. Andre greets Wally and pretty soon they are talking about this and that as they wait for their food. Andre initially talks about his experiences abroad in Poland, Findhorn Scotland, and even the Sahara. All the while Andre experimented with spiritual encounters, met unusual artists, and took part in performance art. During his time away he was made to contemplate humanity, life, death, and many other profound subjects. 

Wally for his part describes his own life in contrast and what he thinks about his more droll existence. It includes spending time with his girlfriend, reading an autobiography on Charlton Heston, sleeping with an electric blanket, and trying to write plays. Andre on his part believes there are problems with this lifestyle because it is more like a dream than reality. 

Both men leave the meeting content and Wally rides off in a taxi ready to tell his girlfriend about his dinner with Andre. Andre Gregory represents your philosophical existentialist who is discontent with the normalcy of life. Then, Wallace Shawn is your common everyman who lives his days simply, content with simple comforts and a normal existence. Maybe not your normal dinner conversation, but after all it is a movie. This film is certainly not for those with a short attention span and I myself find this film more intriguing in concept rather than in practice. However, there are many philosophical issues here so if you are ready to ponder and sit back so the conversation can flood over you, it can be an interesting film to take in.

3.5/5 Stars

The Defiant Ones (1958)

2672e-defiant_ones_posterStarring Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier with director Stanley Kramer, the film opens in the pouring rain with a truck full of convicts. It goes off road and no one is hurt except two men escape.  A Sheriff an state policemen begin tracking them on foot. However, this pair is unique since one is the white “Joker” Jackson and the other is a black man named Noah Cullen. Their racial prejudice and conflict of interests causes sparks to fly. Through it all they are forced to work together just to survive, whether it be wading through rapids, climbing out of a ditch, or trying to break their chains.  Along the way they narrowly escape a hanging and they meet a lonely white woman. Jackson is forced to make a decision about his newfound comrade and Cullen in turn also makes a sacrifice of his own. This is such an extraordinary story about racial conflict. Ultimately, they are no longer so much black or white as much as they are fellow men. In an era full of racial tensions, this film was extremely relevant and it is still powerful to this day.

4/5 Stars