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Wednesday, 19 October 2016

DIRTY WORK (1933)

In November 1933, Laurel and Hardy released another cracking mad scientist-themed short directed by Lloyd French and written by H.M. ‘Beanie’ Walker. They play a couple of chimney sweeps hired to work in the home of the highly-eccentric Professor Noodle, the hugely memorable Lucien Littlefield who’d already earned his kooky comedy spurs as the Doctor in The Cat and the Canary (1927).  

Right from the special-effect opening credits featuring a bubbling conical flask, and tracking in to Noodle's desk of complicated experimental paraphernalia, we know we're in the presence of the archetypal batty boffin we all know and love. Noodle has the smoking jacket of the gentleman and the perched pince-nez of the scholar, coupled with a tufty, almost bald head and a look of maniacal determination as he stirs the tall frothing liquid. His long-suffering butler Jessop (Samuel Adams) has spent twenty years hearing him declaim his eternal youth goal with 'just a few drops' of his serum. Noodle's boasting is aptly punctured with a mischievous cuckoo effect followed by the doorbell.

As Stan and Ollie enter and begin to elaborately destroy the house, Noodle delights in his list of nonsensical ingredients to be added. An unfortunate adult duck subject is placed into a bathtub for the final test, and with a single serum drop from a teat pipette, the water boils like a jacuzzi resulting in the duck reverting to a cute little duckling. This causes the 'good' doctor to perform a madcap jig of celebration around the room, a wonderfully bizarre high-point of Littlefield's performance. He bursts with such infectious joy that he can barely contain himself in front of the boys in a glorious display of deliriously-committed ham. Littlefield’s cry of exultation that the greatest scientific breakthrough of the age is 'Mine! All mine!' is seamlessly followed by his hilariously un-self-conscious insane cock-crowing sound. His triumphant excitement is such that after he leaves the room with the boys in eager pursuit, he can't resist turning back on them to re-enter with a full-throated cackle. Savour the crackling voltage of a madcap actor who can single-handedly pull the focus from both Laurel and Hardy.

Our be-sooted pair are then shown a continuation of the previous experiment where the poor duck's bio-markers are now further reversed to the form of an egg. With a surprisingly uncharacteristic burst of self-preserving intelligence, Ollie reacts to this with an upbeat 'Well, be seeing you!' Inevitably while the Professor exits to find his butler, Stan and Ollie get busy with the fizzy, using a heroic dose that reduces poor Ollie to an impossibly retrograde self: a chimp.

Dirty Work is a fast-paced favourite of many (myself included) - and a neat, concentrated injection of inspired medical mayhem.

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