Saturday, February 17, 2018

Stubs - County Hospital

County Hospital (1932) Starring: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Billy Gilbert Directed by James Parrott. Screenplay by H.M. Walker. Produced by Hal Roach. Runtime 19 minutes. U.S.A. Black and White. Comedy Short

Sometimes its hard to top yourself and in 1932, the comedy team of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy had released what maybe their gold standard, The Music Box, the first film to win the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film (Comedy). Knowing that, there maybe nowhere but down for the duo.

While not the follow up short, that would go to The Chimp, County Hospital was another short for the two. Written and filmed in February 1932, the film would be released on June 25, 1932. Like The Music Box, County Hospital has a pretty basic premise, one friend visits a sick friend in the hospital but in this case, the friends are two of the most talented comics to ever live.

Stan arrives at the County Hospital.

Stan is shown driving on his way to the hospital. For whatever reason, when he sees the typical Quiet Hospital Zone sign, his car rears up on its front wheels.

Despite his broken leg, Oliver looks content lying in his hospital bed.

Inside, Oliver is in bed with a broken leg in traction. He seems surprisingly happy for someone who is bedridden. When Laurel enters the room, he’s carrying a paper bag. When Oliver inquires about its contents, Stan tells him “hard-boiled eggs and nuts.”

What else do you bring to someone in a hospital bed but hard-boiled eggs and nuts?

But Oliver would rather have had candy, but Stan tells him that he can’t afford candy; Oliver never paid him from the last time. Even though Oliver doesn’t want an egg, Stan has one. Now you might imagine watching a man eat a hard-boiled egg wouldn’t be funny but, somehow, the way Stan eats it, without a care in the world, makes it funny.

Stan eats his egg like he doesn't have a care in the world.

When he’s done with one, even Oliver is surprised when Stan takes out a second one. But this time, the egg rolls off the night stand into Oliver’s water pitcher. He stops Stan from reaching his hand into the water to retrieve the egg. It takes two tries, but eventually, Stan is able to pluck the egg without putting his hand in the water. But the egg is wet and when Stan uses the towel draped over the table, he spills the water pitcher into Oliver’s bed.

Stan about to spill a pitcher of water into Oliver's bed.

Next, The Doctor (Billy Gilbert) enters to check on his patient. Oliver is happy to hear that he might have to stay in the hospital for a couple of months. While doctor and patient are talking, Stan decides to have a nut. When he sees the weight being used to hold up Oliver’s leg, he gets an idea what to use to crack the nut.

The Doctor (Billy Gilbert) arrives to check on his patient.

Picking up the weight, he tries to use it on the window sill. This sends Oliver up in the air, being held up by his broken leg. When the Doctor tries to pull the weight off the sill, he goes out the window, pulling the weight with him and Oliver further into the air.

The Doctor goes out the window.

Meanwhile, Nurse Smith (Estelle Etterre) is given a sedative for one of the patients. But hearing the commotion in Oliver’s room, she comes running into the room, putting the syringe down on a chair.
The doctor hangs on for dear life, while Stan feebly tries to pull him back inside all the time, Oliver is a human yo-yo. But dragging the rope back and forth over the edge of the sill eventually breaks it, sending Oliver crashing down, breaking his bed in the process. It takes Stan a while longer to finally pull the Doctor back into the room.

A publicity still showing getting Oliver back in his bed.

By the time the Doctor is pulled back into the room, the nurses and orderlies have gotten his bed back together. But the Doctor is mad and orders everyone to leave the room. When they’re alone, The Doctor orders Oliver to leave the hospital. Stan, though, doesn’t seem to react to the news with any haste.

Stan cuts the wrong trouser leg on the wrong pair of trousers.

When Oliver asks Stan to help him get dressed, Stan struggles with the pants leg, which is too small to fit over Oliver’s cast.  Oliver tells him to use a pair of scissors, so Stan cuts off one of the legs of a pair of trousers he takes out of the closet. But it turns out to be the wrong leg, so Oliver cuts off the right leg.

Just then, Oliver’s roommate (William Austin) returns with news that he’s too is going home, though most likely because he’s cured. But the roommate soon realizes that he’s trying to put on Oliver Hardy’s pants, whose names are even in the pants. Stan takes a seat in the chair and gets stuck by the hypodermic needle.

Into the room comes Nurse Smith looking for her syringe.  She finds it sticking out of Stan’s backside. She laughs at his predicament. She takes the syringe back to Miss Wallace (May Wallace), the head nurse, to get it refilled. Laughingly, she tells Nurse Wallace that Stan is going to sleep for a week.

Stan helps Oliver out to the car.

Stan, already starting to show the effects, helps Oliver out to the car. Oliver, despite the cast on his leg, insists on driving, but when they try to get his cast over the car’s windshield, he ends up in the backseat of the car. He insists Stan drive.

Stan is half-asleep while driving Oliver home from the hospital.

The rest of the movie is Stan, half-asleep, driving through what is possibly the streets of Culver City, with Oliver in the backseat all too aware of the danger they’re in. Finally, they end up getting squashed between two street cars, leaving their car bent in a semi-circle and driving in circles.

Publicity still showing the car after it's been squashed between two street cars.

While there are funny moments, the film suffers from poor production values. Its reliance on rear projection is undermined at just how bad those shots look. The last several minutes, which don’t look good at all, just drive the point home. I can’t underline how poor the final sequence looks, as it is so obviously rear projection footage that isn’t always to scale and doesn’t look the least bit believable.

Rather than a coherent story, like The Music Box, County Hospital seems to be a series of set piece sketches that don’t exactly work together to form a whole: hard-boiled eggs and nuts, the nut smashing with the weight, the cutting of the pants and the drive home, each sadly a little less funny than the sketch before.

Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy play pretty much the same characters they always do, which is not to take away from them. Most great movie comedians play a particular role or type of role through most of their films. Chaplin had his Little Tramp, Lloyd had the Glass Characters, the Marx Brothers had their own stock characters and so do Laurel and Hardy. Funnier together than separately, they play like a well-oiled machine. Too bad sometimes the material they’re working with isn’t always up to snuff.

The supporting cast is almost superfluous. With the exception of Billy Gilbert, none of them are all that memorable and in some cases, like Hardy’s roommate, don’t even have role names.

After climbing to the heights in The Music Box released earlier in 1932, the pair comes back down to Earth in County Hospital. If you can just watch the first half of the film, then it is very funny, but like a bad SNL sketch, it goes on too long.

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