I know my worthy partner will have a thing or two to say about
"reciprocol retaliation" comedy. For me, this one's fully
deserving of its reputation. Their tit-for-tat comedies
suffer a bit from a mechanical pace, but in Big
their actions and reactions are so totally looney, so thoroughly
outrageous -- pitcher Stan hurling vases and bric-a-brac at batter
Ollie, armed with shovel; Stan nonchalantly rolling the piano on the
lawn and attacking it with an axe, wide-eyed Fin stomping, smashing,
and rolling among the debris of Model T and Christmas trees -- it makes
their other films in this vein seem downright tranquil in
While I always like Fin, Big Business and WAY OUT WEST are the two films in which he was absolutely essential.
JB: Okay, I will admit it --- I am not always a big fan of "reciprocol destruction", "reciprocol retaliation" or whatever you want to call it. Yes, it is one of those things unique to Laurel and Hardy, and yes, it is hilarious at times, but I find in the sound films, it sometimes tends to grind a good short to a halt.
But, in an effort to prove I am as good a flip-flopper as any politician... Big Business may not be the Boys' most typical effort, but it is their most brilliantly conceived and executed essay on Man's Most Basic Problem --- Dealing with Other People.
Big Business is also a riot from beginning to end: Stan and Ollie loading the Christmas Tree into the car, firing up the engine of the old Model T, and driving to their next stop --- no more than 10 feet away; James Finlayson reacting to every fresh insult with an eye-popping "I can't believe they did that!" look; and Tiny Sanford the cop stoically watching everything from the sidelines. Wild men with axes and shovels destroying houses, windows, vases and pianos, another man rolling around the ground violently wrestling a Christmas Tree --- and there's old Tiny, raising his eyebrow and writing up another citation.
Laurel and Hardy don't have much of a chance to be "Stan and Ollie" in this film, but it hardly matters. The ever-increasing pace and fury of Big Business defies any criticism that this film is not typical Laurel and Hardy fare. Big Business has a spirit behind it like the last three Paramount Marx Brothers movies ---- all rationality goes out the window, everybody does what they feel like doing, consequences be damned.
Some fans seem to resent the classic status given Big Businessby critics over the years. I don't. This short proves Laurel and Hardy could turn out a silent comedy as beautiful, timeless, thought-provoking and funny as anything Chaplin or Keaton ever made. And they made it right at the moment when silent comedy was about to go the way of the mighty diplodocus and the dodo bird.
Thanks to Dave Heath, of Another Nice Mess: The Films of Laurel and Hardy (http://lordheath.com) for the use of these pictures.Copyright © 2012 John Larrabee, John V. Brennan