Very sad. While Laurel & Hardy had a couple of duds at Hal Roach Studios (Babes in Toyland and, to a lesser extent, A Chump at Oxford), at least these films were bad or disappointing Laurel & Hardy films. A-Haunting We Will Go is a film with the boys in it but it’s not Laurel & Hardy. There are very few gags at all and those that do feature just aren’t right. They’re cowards, they bumble and they run from bad guys but the resemblance is paper thin. What we’re given instead is a boring story featuring some mobsters and a travelling magician. Quite a lot of time is given to showing magic tricks that are all too easy to set up in this medium. I’d be surprised if they impressed in 1942, but it’s all rather dull and predictable now. At least the first film the boys did for 20th Century Fox (Great Guns) was funny. This isn’t. Avoid.
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. Continue reading