Block-Heads (John G. Blystone / U.S., 1938):

The opening acutely shows Harry Langdon's hand in the screenplay, and puts you in a Grand Illusion frame of mind, unexpectedly. Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy are WWI doughboys who bid each other farewell before Ollie ventures into No Man's Land, two decades after the armistice Stan is still guarding the foxhole (at lunchtime, the camera moves left to reveal a mountain of discarded bean cans). Ollie in an apron serves his missus (Minna Gombell), it is their first anniversary but he changes plans after seeing his friend's photo on the newspaper ("I can't imagine anybody being that dumb... Oh yes I can!"). Stan at the old soldiers' home relaxes on a wheelchair, Ollie sees only one of his legs and, deducing the worst, insists on carrying him to his apartment for some home cooking -- that Ollie is aggravated rather than happy when the truth comes out is a reminder that schmaltziness has no place in the pair's world. The rest is a string of giddy hazards, from climbing the endless flight of stairs to recovering a former paramour's saucy note, which builds to a systematic dismantling of the household. John G. Blystone doesn't stint on silent-film surrealism (Stan stuffs tobacco into his clenched fist and serenely puffs on his thumb), the gags surge with illusory certainty: Only the punch bowl is left standing after the kitchen explodes, naturally it ends on the head of the neighbor (Patricia Ellis), who then wears Ollie's jammies and turns herself into Dali's Leda Chair. Billy Gilbert as Ellis' husband arrives with pith helmet and rifle for a punchline that was nixed by Hal Roach only to turn up in Chuck Jones' inestimable Rabbit Fire. With James Finlayson. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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