Big Business is a 1929 silent comedy starring Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. Set on a sunny Californian housing estate, Big Business is a violent tit-for-tat between two inadequate door-to-door Christmas tree salesmen and a furious resident.
This two-reel short subject received critical acclaim throughout the decades and ranks along with the best comedies of the decade. In 1992, the National Film Preservation Board selected Big Business by the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress for being “deemed culturally significant”.
Stan and Ollie are selling Christmas trees door-to-door but business is slow. Stan unintentionally insults their first customer and hence, loses the sale.
They ignore a “No Peddlers” sign on another house front but after ringing the doorbell, Ollie receives two knocks on the head from a hammer.
Then they arrive at another home. The grumpy homeowner, played by Laurel and Hardy regular James Finlayson, refuses their custom and closes the door on the branch of the Christmas tree. They ring the doorbell again and the grumpy homeowner angrily tells them that he still does not want a tree. He closes the door again – on Stan’s coat! He rings the doorbell again.
Tempers begin to flare and then the mayhem begins!
Produced by Hal Roach for Metro Goldwyn Mayer, written by H.M. Walker, and directed by James W. Horne, Big Business works on every level, helped mostly by the talented Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy have now perfected their unique comic timing and shine in every scene.
James Finlayson memorably plays the angry resident. Originally from Stirlingshire in Scotland, Finlayson would continue being a comic foil to many of Laurel and Hardy in many of their films. Birmingham actor Charlie Hall, who appears as one of the neighbors, would also be a regular.
The theme of mutual violence and destruction, which is present in some of Laurel and Hardy’s most popular movies, including The Battle of The Century, Two Tars, and Tit for Tat, is hilariously orchestrated in Big Business.
Big Business is comedy perfection. Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were among the very few stars that successfully survived the transition from the silent era to the sound era, but their silent era is arguably their defining era and Big Business is one of their finest cinematic moments.
A UNIQUE DOUBLE ACT
Often cited as the greatest comedy team in film history, Laurel and Hardy became popular during the late 1920s with their unique complex and cartoon-like slapstick comedy.
Noted for their trademark derby bowler hats and for playing the optimistic underdogs, Laurel’s on-screen character is usually the clumsy simpleton to his pompous bullying friend Hardy.
Laurel and Hardy were different from most theatrical double acts of the time, who usually had the straight man and funny man. Stan Laurel referred to the act as “two minds without a single thought”.
Stan Laurel (1890–1965) was a talented and inventive comic, writer, director, and producer. Born Arthur Stanley Jefferson in Lancashire, England, Laurel began his career in the music hall and worked as an understudy to Charlie Chaplin in Fred Karno’s show. In 1913, Laurel traveled with the Karno troupe to the United States.
After the Karno company disbanded, Laurel worked in American films and live shows for several years.
He changed his name from Jefferson to Laurel and starred in his first film short in 1917, playing a patient in Nuts in May. Although he continued to make short subjects, Stan Laurel signed with producer Hal Roach in 1925 with an interest to work as a director.
Born Norville Hardy, Georgia-born Oliver Norville Hardy (1892-1957) was a talented tenor and pianist who once worked as a cabaret and vaudeville singer.
In 1913, whilst working as a movie theatre manager, Oliver Hardy decided to leave management for acting. He found work at the Lubin Studio in Jacksonville, Florida. Debuting in Outwitting Dad in 1914, Hardy went on to appear in about 200 mostly short films, including Larry Semon’s 1925 silent version of The Wizard of Oz.
It was in 1921 when Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy first appeared together, although as separate performers, in the comedy short Lucky Dog. Due to technology of the time, Laurel’s blue eyes could not be photographed properly but that technology was soon to come when the panchromatic film process was developed.
It was not until they teamed together in Hal Roach’s “All-Stars” comedies that producer Hal Roach and director Leo McCarey noticed their unique chemistry between them.
Although they made a few comedies together, it was not until December 1927 when Laurel and Hardy became an official double act in Putting Pants on Phillip, which was Stan Laurel’s personal favorite.
Despite a fall in popularity during the late 40s and 1950s, a documentary in 1957 revived their reputation. Documentary producer Robert Youngson and legendary French filmmaker René Clair created a feature-length comedy compilation entitled The Golden Age of Comedy that revived Laurel and Hardy’s reputation.
Although the commentary has been accused of being nauseating, The Golden Age of Comedy contains hilarious excerpts from The Second Hundred Years (1927), You’re Darn Tootin’ (1928), and the pie fight from Battle of the Century (1927) which Youngson saved from extinction. The Golden Age of Comedy also included clips of other silent clowns including Ben Turpin, Billy Bevan, Charley Chase, Harry Langdon, Will Rogers, and stars from the Mack Sennett comedies.
It was Laurel and Hardy that was universally regarded as the highlight act from The Golden Age of Hollywood and it was the inclusion of their funniest scenes that propelled Youngson’s silent comedy compilation film and its sequels to box office success and in the process, saved many silent films from extinction.
Oliver Hardy died in 1957 just before the huge revival of popularity of Laurel and Hardy that lasted into the 1970s. Stan Laurel received an honorary Academy Award in 1961. Stan died in 1961. Buster Keaton said at his funeral that his friend Stan Laurel was the funniest screen comedian of them all.
Laurel and Hardy’s best and most acclaimed films were made during the late 1920s and early 1930s. The short and feature films were mostly produced by Hal Roach and Stan Laurel, and were inventively directed by James Parrott, Edgar Kennedy, and Leo McCarey (McCarey won an Oscar on two occasions and directing some of the most lauded comedies in film history, such as Duck Soup for The Marx Brothers in 1933, The Awful Truth (1937) for helping create Cary Grant’s popular onscreen persona), and Going My Way (1944) for Bing Crosby.
Laurel and Hardy made many very funny films. Big Business, and the following selection, ranks alongside Laurel’s Hardy’s most acclaimed pictures and is a good introduction to the greatest comedy team in film history .
TWO OTHER RECOMMENDED ACCLAIMED LAUREL AND HARDY SHORTS
You’re Darn Tootin’ (1928)
You’re Darn Tootin‘ is a silent short subject comedy directed by E. Livingston Kennedy, written by E.M. Walker (titles), produced by Hal Roach, and released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
The film stars Laurel and Hardy as two incompetent bandstand musicians who quickly lose their jobs and try to earn money elsewhere.
You’re Darn Tootin‘ starts slowly but soon gathers pace into a massive pants-ripping frenzy. Reciprocal mayhem is featured in many of Laurel and Hardy’s best work, such as the classic pie fight in The Battle of the Century (1927), the automobile destruction in Two Tars (1928), and the memorable tit-for-tat vandalism in Big Business (1929), but the pants-ripping sequence in You’re Darn Tootin’ is possibly the best of their hilarious street battles.
The Music Box (1932)
The Academy Award winner for best short (comedy), The Music Box begins at a music store, where a lady buys a piano for her husband at a music shop.
Stan and Ollie have been commissioned to deliver the piano. They attempt to move the piano up a long flight of steps but face many problems along the way.
Directed by James Parrott, produced by Hal Roach, and distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, The Music Box continues to receive universal acclaim and in 1997, The Library of Congress selected the short for preservation in the National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
THREE RECOMMENDED ACCLAIMED LAUREL AND HARDY FEATURE FILMS
Sons of the Desert (1933)
Another gem in their filmography and the title of their international fan club, Sons of the Desert is more situation comedy than slapstick, but the results are hilarious.
Stan and Ollie attempt to deceive their wives, played by Mae Busch and Dorothy Christy, so that they can go to the national convention of the Sons of the Desert, a fraternal lodge for which they are both members.
Regarded by many as their best feature film, Sons of the Desert is a splendid comedy film and in 2012, the United States Library of Congress deemed the film as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.
Way Out West (1937)
Way Out West is a comedy western about Stan and Ollie’s attempts to deliver the deed to a lucrative gold mine to the daughter of a deceased prospector but they are duped by a greedy saloon owner (James Finlayson) and his saloon-singer wife (Sharon Lynn).
Directed by James Horne, produced by Stan Laurel, and distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Way Out West is a comedy western feature film that ranks as one of Laurel and Hardy’s best pictures.
Often regarded as their last great picture, Block-heads begins with Stan and Ollie as soldiers in the trenches during World War I.
Twenty years after the war is over, Stan is still patrolling the trenches and when he is found by accident (after shooting down a French aviator), Stan is treated as a hero on arriving home.
Ollie spots his old friend’s photograph in the paper and goes to visit him at the veteran’s home.
Co-written by former silent film comedian Harry Langdon, along with Felix Adler, James Parrott, Arnold Belgard, and Charley Rogers, the wonderful Block-Heads is the last film that was directed by John B. Blystone.
LAUREL AND HARDY FILMOGRAPHY
Their best work is during the late 1920s and 1930s. The filmography shows sound and short films except where mentioned.
The Lucky Dog (1921) Silent
45 Minutes From Hollywood (1926) Silent
Duck Soup (1927) Silent
Slipping Wives (1927) Silent
Love ‘Em and Weep (1927) Silent
Why Girls Love Sailors (1927) Silent
With Love and Hisses (1927) Silent
Sugar Daddies (1927) Silent
Sailors Beware (1927) Silent
The Second Hundred Years (1927) Silent
Now I’ll Tell One (1927) Silent (only half of the film exists)
Call of the Cuckoo (1927) Silent
Hats Off (1927) Silent (Lost film)
Do Detectives Think? (1927) Silent
Putting Pants on Phillip (1927) Silent
The Battle of the Century (1927) Silent
Leave ‘Em Laughing (1928) Silent
Flying Elephants (1928) Silent
The Finishing Touch (1928) Silent
From Soup to Nuts (1928) Silent
You’re Darn Tootin’ (1928) Silent
Their Purple Moment (1928) Silent
Should Married Men Go Home? (1928) Silent
Early to Bed (1928) Silent
Two Tars (1928) Silent
Habeas Corpus (1928) Silent
We Faw Down – (1928) Silent
Liberty (1929) Silent
Wrong Again (1929) Silent
That’s My Wife (1929) Silent
Big Business (1929) Silent
Unaccustomed as We Are (1929)
Double Whoopee (1929) Silent (and a sound version)
Berth Marks (1929)
Men ‘O War (1929)
A Perfect Day (1929)
They Go Boom (1929)
Bacon Grabbers (1929) Silent
Hollywood Review of 1929 (1929) (cameo appearance)
Angora Love (1929)
Night Owls (1930)
Below Zero (1930)
Rogue Song (1930) (two-color Technicolor missing but parts exist; only one of eight sequences starring Laurel and Hardy has survived)
Hog Wild (1930)
The Laurel & Hardy Murder Case (1930)
Another Fine Mess (1930)
Be Big (1931)
Chickens Come Home (1931)
Laughing Gravy (1931)
The Stolen Jools (1931) (cameo appearance)
Our Wife (1931)
Pardon Us (1931) – Feature
Come Clean (1931)
One Good Turn (1931)
Beau Hunks (1931)
On the Loose (1931) (cameo appearance)
Any Old Port (1932)
The Music Box (1932)
The Chimp (1932)
County Hospital (1932)
Pack Up Your Troubles (1932)
Their First Mistake (1932)
Towed in a Hole (1932)
Twice Two (1933)
Me and My Pal (1933)
Fra Diavolo (1933)
The Midnight Patrol (1933)
Busy Bodies (1933)
Wild Poses (1933) (cameo appearance)
Dirty Work (1933)
Sons of the Desert (1933) – Feature
Oliver the Eighth (1934)
Hollywood Party (1934) (cameo appearance)
Going Bye Bye (1934)
Them Thar Hills (1934)
Babes in Toyland (1934)
The Live Ghost (1934)
Tit for Tat (1935)
The Fixer Uppers (1935)
Thicker Than Water (1935)
Bonnie Scotland (1935) – Feature
The Bohemian Girl (1936) – Feature
On the Wrong Trek (1936) (cameo appearance)
Our Relations (1936) – Feature
Way Out West (1937) – Feature
Pick a Star (1937) (cameo appearances)
Swiss Miss (1938) – Feature
Block-Heads (1938) – Feature
The Flying Deuces (1939)
A Chump at Oxford (1940) – Feature
Saps at Sea (1940) – Feature
Great Guns (1940) – Feature
A-Haunting We Will Go (1942) – Feature
Air Raid Wardens (1943) – Feature
The Tree in a Test Tube (1943) 10 minute War Effort Film (color)
Jitterbugs (1943) – Feature
The Dancing Masters (1943) – Feature
The Big Noise (1944) – Feature
Nothing But Trouble (1945) – Feature
The Bullfighters (1945) – Feature
Atoll K (1952)- feature also known as Utopia or Robinson in Crusoeland.
A biographical comedy-drama film entitled Stan & Ollie starring Steve Coogan as Stan and John C. Reilly as Oliver was released in 2018 to critical acclaim. Directed by Jon S. Baird and written by Jeff Pope, Stan & Ollie concentrates on their latter years touring Britain and Ireland.