Made around the time of the Hal Roach collaborative period with the duo making nothing but shorts, “The Music Box” became the standard for complicated situation talkies that would show buffoons making a bad situation out of a predictably simplistic one. When we learn that yes, it could have all been so simple, we groan at their idiocy, and then realize: What fun would that have been if they took the easy way in their job?
“Would it hurt for these people to walk around them?” I asked this the entire time while watching Laurel and Hardy play the typical working Joes who can’t catch a break when asked to deliver a present to someone in the presence of a grand piano. The Hal Roach classic was created around the time of the great talkies introduction, and this was also around the time Laurel and Hardy strayed from Roach and were sadly phased out, in favor of other comedy teams. The following short though is a shining example of a comedy zeitgeist centering on a simple task escalated into a stressful mess.
The two man team are sent to a condo to deliver the large gift, and they come across cantankerous condo residents who refuse to submit to the pleas of the blue collar schmucks, difficult policemen quick to point a finger, and a large flight of steps that they just can’t defeat, no matter how hard they may try. Making use of every prop in their disposal, the piano and the stairs become characters in their own right, providing obstacles, and a surefire individuality that make them inadvertent antagonists. One of the funnier moments involves their struggles to lift it and keep it planted on each individual step, but always experiencing someone who wants to walk by, instead of walk around. The accidental hand slips that result in nerve wracking accidents, and the sliding barreling piano provide some of the most hysterical moments in the madcap Roach film.
As safety comes into account, you begin to worry not just about the gift, but about the personal safety of the deliverymen and hapless innocent bystanders. Oliver Hardy’s reaction to a woman who laughs at their misery is the banner moment of the whole film, because in spite of the goofy affair, the reaction to the heckler is realistic. The climax takes a different turn as Laurel and Hardy learn that it all could have been so much simpler, and they’re confronted with their violent surprise client, but not before wrecking that damn piano and engaging in a raucous improvised dance while cleaning the apartment. Laurel and Hardy are at their top in “The Music Box,” and launch a bonafide talkie classic with non-stop laughs, and edge of your seat tension that you can only find from these two numbskulls.