There are many reasons why writing about yourself when discussing something else can be a bad idea, especially if indiscipline and vanity take over. On the other hand, it’s a delusion to suggest that criticism can be completely objective and removed from the writer’s views and biases. I’m a fan of Laurel & Hardy. I used to record their films whenever they were on television and watch them with my grand-uncle, who was the closest I had to a grandad. They were my favourite films as a boy and they made such an impression on me that I can remember exactly which ones I saw (that and I’ve a very good memory): Pardon Us, Sons of the Desert, The Bohemian Girl, Way Out West, Swiss Miss and Saps at Sea. Then as now, their films are good, clean, silly fun and suitable for anyone. In the past year I’ve finished watching all of their Hal Roach Studios films. Of those, Babes in Toyland has been the only one I’d call a bad film, while Block Heads has been the very best. With that long, rambling introduction, here’s my unbiased(!) review of A Chump at Oxford.
We meet our heroes in familiar circumstances: out on the street and down on their luck. They’re also down to their last six bucks and scrounging for any odd job they can fool people into giving them. After several scenes of amusing enough carry-on they find themselves on their way to the University of Oxford. They need retraining if they’re ever going to find employment and fortune has smiled on them. This build-up takes about one-third of the film’s short hour length. When they arrive we’re treated to a rather dull garden maze scene, which is nothing we haven’t seen before and not even that amusing. This only takes up another ten minutes, but it feels like another twenty – it takes quite a while for the film to bed itself in and its pacing is disjointed and uneven. Complaints like this wouldn’t matter a damn if the laughs came thick and fast, but they don’t.
Two more scenes follow. The last one, revealing Stan as an amnesiac lord, athlete and genius is quite funny due to Stan’s ridiculous over-characterisation. A Chump at Oxford is an amusing enough effort, but one of Stan and Ollie’s weaker films – perhaps for fans only.