A Year in Shorts Day 167: "The Music Box"
On November 18 1932, the 5th Academy Awards were held at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, California. It was not a particularly interesting year for the Oscars (Grand Hotel is one of those competently made yet thoroughly uninteresting Best Picture winners that’s difficult to have much of an opinion on), but there were some fun bits of trivia. For instance, Fredric March and Wallace Beery were the only men in history to tie for Best Actor, Disney’s Flowers and Trees became the first animated film to win an Oscar, and the Academy introduced the first categories for short films. We’ve already covered a couple of that year’s nominees (Mickey’s Orphans for Short Subject- Cartoons and Swing High for Short Subject- Novelty), but never any of the winners. Well that changes today, in the third category for shorts that year, Short Subject- Comedy. It’s time to talk Laurel and Hardy. It’s time to take a look at The Music Box.
An interesting, if not terribly surprising, bit of Oscar trivia is that a lot of the early greats of film comedy went mostly unrecognized by the Academy. Only one Three Stooges short was ever nominated, only one Marx Brothers film got a nod (and that was for Best Dance Direction), and Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd were ignored entirely. Yes, unless your name was Charlie Chaplin you couldn't hope for much. (And even then, the Academy still managed to snub City Lights.) There are a variety of reasons for this- comedy tends to be mostly ignored by the Academy in general, and a lot of these stars were nearing the end of their prime by the time the Oscars got rolling. All of this to say that The Music Box is the only Laurel and Hardy short we'll be discussing on The Great Oscar Baiter. But as it's generally considered to be their best, I suppose that's not too bad.
Directed by James Parrott, The Music Box is actually a remake of Laurel and Hardy's earlier short, Hats Off, proving once again that even in the early days, Hollywood was out of ideas. Still, with a premise as solid as this one, I can't blame them for reusing it. It's pretty simple, but rife with opportunity- Laurel and Hardy play piano movers tasked with delivering a piano to a house. Unfortunately for them, the house sits up at the top of a very large set of stairs. Making matters more difficult is the fact that they're Laurel and Hardy, and as such are prone to all sorts of comic misfortunes and shenanigans.
And oh! What glorious shenanigans. Reviewing The Music Box in great detail would be a waste of time, as it's really just thirty minutes of slapstick gold. You can't really explain why it works so well; you just know that it does. The short is consistently funny, coming up with every possible gag they can throw at you in each situation. And when it seems like a scenario might run the risk of running dry, the film simply comes up with a new one. Despite a thirty minute run time, the film never feels long, and the result is a film which definitely earned its Oscar. Really my only complaint is that this type of short is pretty hard to write about.
Because honestly, what can I say that hasn't been said better elsewhere? What am I supposed to focus on? Laurel and Hardy's pitch perfect performances? The expert construction of all the gags? The direction, which knows how to sell the jokes without getting in the way? You might as well try to explain why a sunset is beautiful- you can probably do it, sure, but it would suck some of the magic out of it.
Ultimately, the best way for me to explain to why the film is so great is to convince you to watch it for yourself. And honestly, you've really got no excuse not to. Setting aside its historic Oscar win (which is reason enough in my book), The Music Box is a classic short which is beloved and referenced to this day. Considering it's nearly ninety years old at this point, clearly it did something right!
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