#144) Big Business (1929)
OR “Holly Jolly Stan & Ollie”
Directed by James W. Horne
Written by Leo McCarey. Titles by H.M. Walker.
Class of 1992
The Plot: Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy are two door-to-door Christmas tree salesmen (like you do), trying and failing to peddle their wares in Southern California. A heated exchange with one particularly unenthusiastic homeowner (James Finlayson) leads to an all-out war on the man’s front yard.
Why It Matters: The NFR calls Laurel & Hardy “the perfect team for the transition from silent film comedy to sound.” An essay by Laurel & Hardy expert Randy Skretvedt calls “Big Business” the team’s best silent film.
But Does It Really?: I laughed a lot, but I feel the same way about this as I did about W.C. Fields’ silent NFR entry “So’s Your Old Man”: Laurel & Hardy without sound is only half a film. It’s all very entertaining, but I don’t know if it absolutely needs to be preserved. And how this made the NFR list before their more iconic films “The Music Box” and “Sons of the Desert” is quite puzzling.
Everybody Gets One: James Finlayson appeared in 33 films with Laurel & Hardy, always as their adversary. He gets an extended biography in the aforementioned Skretvedt essay. Like so many before and after him, Jim was a Scottish tinsmith who caught the acting bug. P.S.: The moustache was fake.
Take a Shot: Stan says “big business” once (via title card) about six minutes in.
Seriously, Oscars?: The only reason “Big Business” didn’t win Best Live Action Short was because the category didn’t exist yet. It would first appear in 1932, the winner being L&H’s “The Music Box”.
- The supervising director (and uncredited screenwriter) for “Big Business” is Leo McCarey, while the cinematographer is George Stevens. Both men would go on to become acclaimed directors in their own right, both winning the Best Director Oscar twice. Between the two of them, McCarey and Stevens directed 15 films that have appeared on the National Film Registry. Hal Roach knew how to pick ‘em.
- Note to self: Start answering door with hammer.
- Watch closely: Stan calls Ollie “Babe” in one take. Babe was Oliver Hardy’s real-life nickname.
- Does anyone in this crowd want to do literally anything to help?
- The inside of the man’s house seems to consist solely of vases.
- The boys are hilarious throughout this short, but I miss hearing them speak.
- It doesn’t happen in this film, but Laurel & Hardy foil James Finlayson would go on to exclaim “d’oh” in their sound films, inspiring Dan Castellaneta to make that annoyed grunt Homer Simpson’s trademark.
2 thoughts on “#144) Big Business (1929)”
Big Business is a wonderful comedy. It starts out just a little slow as they go from door-to-door, but once they get to James Finlayson’s house, it is classic comedy to the finish. There is so much to like about their pacing, which accelerates from slow + deliberate to fast + furious, plus all the great expressions from Stan, Ollie and Finlayson, that it doesn’t matter that we can’t hear their voices. I would definitely NOT call this “half a film”. If you’re going to write it off this way for the lack of sound, then you might as well dismiss a hundred other Laurel & Hardy films like Sons of the Desert or Way Out West as marginal simply for not being in color, widescreen or 3-D.