From 1927 to 1950, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy made over 100 films together as a comedy team. They starred in 23 feature films, 40 short sound films and 32 short silent films. They also appeared as guest stars in 12 other films. They remain one of the funniest, most beloved and critically acclaimed comedy duos in the history of cinema. I have been a huge fan of their work my entire life.
Many of their movies were domestic comedies -- sit-coms -- in which Stan and Ollie had trouble coping with their wives and their married lives. They also made a number of brilliant workplace movies, in which the pair managed to wreck everything in sight. Then there were classic period pieces and costume comedies in which Stan and Ollie went out west, played gypsies, lived in Toyland, joined the foreign legion, went to war, and basically found locations and plots that best suited their unique brand of comedy.
In most of these films, the slapstick endings seem to be logical conclusions to the plotlines. But there are a handful of Laurel and Hardy films that have bizarre, unexpected and even macabre endings.
A mild example of this is the final gag in the short “Below Zero” (1930). Hiding in a barrel of water, Stan has managed to survive by apparently drinking the contents of the barrel. The last shot of the film shows a frantic Stan running around with an impossibly distended belly.
Okay, it’s a goofy visual gag. But it foreshadows darker gags to come at the end of subsequent Laurel and Hardy movies.
In "Dirty Work," a short from 1933, Stan and Ollie get involved with a mad scientist whose final experiment in the film transforms Ollie into a chimp (that's wearing Ollie’s hat). Here’s another nice mess Stan has gotten him into.
In the short “Going Bye Bye”(1934), a thug’s threat is carried out in the final scene...
...where we find Stan and Ollie each tied in a knot, with their legs tied tightly around their necks.
It’s a startling-if-not-funny visual gag but, in real life, no one could survive being twisted into such a body-pretzel.
At the end of the otherwise-humorous short “Thicker Than Water “(1935) , a blood transfusion between the two pals switches their personalities and their voices…and even Ollie’s moustache. Will this change wear off in time? No hint is given.
When I saw these Laurel and Hardy shorts as a kid, I always felt a little bad for Stan and Ollie, and wished that the endings weren’t quite so brutal for the pair.
But in some of the duo’s feature films, the endings were even more distressing – they were sad, bleak even.
In the feature costume comedy “The Bohemian Girl” (1936), Stan and Ollie are loyal and true guardians who make many sacrifices over many years to help the title character, only to wind up being sent to the torture chamber, from which they emerge at the fade out. Stan has been crushed to the height of a lawn jockey, while Ollie has been stretched on the rack to a new height of about 12 feet.
This freakish ending always disturbed me as a kid. And it still does. This has to be one of the most unjustifiable endings for the heroes of a comedy -- and for a comedy team -- in movie history.
Three years after “The Bohemian Girl,” the climax of “Flying Deuces” (1939) has Stan and Ollie in an airplane crash. Stan survives, but Ollie does not. Ollie’s spirit, with angel wings, rises to heaven. In the final scene, we see Stan as a tramp walking along a road and he comes upon a horse that calls out to him. The horse has Ollie’s moustache and hat, and speaks with Ollie’s voice. The horse tells Stand: “Here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into.”
I’ve always found this particular finale to be a creepy and sad way to end a comedy.
And here’s the last weird-not-funny ending to a Laurel and Hardy movie that I can recall. It’s from their feature film “The Bullfighters” (1945).
The best of the Laurel and Hardy films were made from 1927 to 1940. After that date, producer Hal Roach and the team parted ways, and Laurel and Hardy started making movies for 20th Century Fox and MGM. These later films are not considered to be among the team’s best. “The Bullfighters” is one of these.
In the course of “The Bullfighters” story, an adversary demands that Stan and Ollie must do what he says and, if the two fail, the adversary vows to “skin them alive.” In the end of this “comedy,” guess what? Stan and Ollie are shown to be skinned alive. Their heads and hats and ties remain, perched atop skeletons that walk around. Ollie tells Stan, “Here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into,” and Stan weeps.
This ending is even more freakish and bizarre and morbid than the ending to “The Bohemian Girl.”
I’m not sure why these otherwise great comedians decided to tack on these weird endings to a handful of their otherwise enjoyable and humorous films. It’s well-known that Stan was the comedy leader of the team and was deeply involved in the stories and comic routines for each film, so I suspect he had a hand in these fade-out gags. If these comic bits are any indication, Stan clearly had a dark side. And yet, maybe he just wanted to end these particular films with something no one else had tried before.
If that was Stan’s goal, he succeeded. No one has tried using these end gags before -- or since!