#9) The Music Box (1932)
OR “Stairway to Comedy Heaven”
Directed by James Parrott
Dialogue by H.M. Walker
Class of 1997
This is one of those films that has entered into the public domain, so there’s a lot of versions of this online. This is the best version I could find.
The Plot: Strapped for cash, Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy try their luck as a transfer company and take on the deceivingly simple task of delivering a player piano to a client’s home. The only things in their way are a nosy cop, a volatile professor, and oh yes, a flight of stairs with 133 steps.
Why It Matters: Interestingly, the NFR description doesn’t actually cite a specific reason “The Music Box” is in the registry. The accompanying essay by Laurel & Hardy expert Randy Skretvedt is much more loving.
But Does It Really?: Let me put it this way; I didn’t write too many notes for this one because I was laughing out loud too much. This film is quintessential Laurel & Hardy. Anyone who doesn’t know who these two men are or why they are among the best comedy duos ever will have their answer after watching “The Music Box”. Hardy’s pompous over-confidence and Laurel’s endearing earnestness are on fine display here, and the two compliment each other beautifully. On the page, a 28-minute short about moving a piano up some stairs shouldn’t be funny the whole way through, but this one pulls it off (though I admit it trips at the finish line just a bit). “The Music Box” is filled with great visual gags, pratfalls, and classic examples of set-ups and payoffs by two of the best.
Wow, That’s Dated: Player pianos, horse-drawn carriages, doorbells with actual bells.
Seriously, Oscars?: This won the very first Oscar for what was then called “Best Short Subject – Comedy”. That category would eventually morph into today’s “Best Live Action Short Film”.
- I had to look up the word “foundered”. Well played, movie.
- Given how mean that nursemaid was to the boys, I wish they had gone full “Potemkin” on that baby carriage.
- How come Laurel doesn’t talk for the first 7 minutes of this short?
- There are two things that Hardy does in this short (as well as in others) that will never fail to make me laugh; his welp of pain when he’s the brunt of a pratfall, and his direct take to the camera with his “Can you believe this?” look.
- After 25 minutes of watching them abuse each other, the shot of Laurel & Hardy dancing while cleaning up is just pure joy.
- The steps used in the film are still in Silver Lake, and are officially known as the “Music Box Steps”.
- Every idiot who thinks they can repeat the bit.
- That one scene from “Friends”.
- That time Laurel & Hardy presented at the Oscars, despite the handicap that they had been dead for several decades.
- More blatant disregard for pianos.
- The third act of “Home Alone”.
- And of course, the very loose 1989 remake starring Jessica Lange.
Further Viewing: A Laurel & Hardy classic that probably won’t make it onto the Registry any time soon, “Babes in Toyland” (aka March of the Wooden Soldiers) is one of my perennial Christmas favorites. It’s dated and weird as hell, but thanks to the boys, it’s also drop-dead funny.