The first movie wherein Oliver Hardy tells his partner, “Here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into” is James Parrott’s THE LAUREL-HARDY MURDER CASE. And it is a nice mess of a three-reeler produced by Hal Roach and distributed by MGM in 1930.
As the story opens we see Stan and Olie fishing on the docks, enjoying a day of much needed relaxation. Afterall “they’ve been looking for a job since 1921.” Olie notices a newspaper ad announcing the death of one Ebeneezer Laurel who’s left a $3 million fortune. The ad requests all Laurel heirs go to Laurel Mansion that night for the reading of the will. Without missing a beat, Olie convinces Stan to pretend he’s the heir to the Laurel fortune so they can live in luxury for the rest of their lives. As is almost always the case the “nice mess” in this movie is created by Olie and his “ideas.”
We are then made privy to an announcement at Laurel Mansion made by an investigator prior to Stan and Olie’s arrival. All the relatives of the deceased have been gathered not for the reading of the will, but to catch a killer, “There ain’t gonna be no readin’ of no will!” It turns out that old man Laurel was murdered! So when our two unsuspecting stars show up they are greeted with suspicion and forced to stay overnight or until the murderer comes to light. Unfortunately for them the room they’re given is the old man’s room, where the murder took place.
Almost as soon as Stan and Olie get ready for bed strange things start occurring – scary noises, cats running around the room, lighting and even a bat, which gets under the sheet and starts flying around like a ghost. Needless to say the boys get no sleep nor do the other guests who start disappearing one by one. Someone’s rotten at Laurel Mansion!
I won’t divulge the outcome of the murder investigation, but I’ll say it seems THE LAUREL-HARDY MURDER CASE has less to do with a mystery than it does offer a vehicle for our stars to display their talents. The movie is haphazardly written and ends in a rather abrupt manner, but I honestly didn’t care much about that. Although MURDER CASE is replete with silly, sight gags there are laughs to be had. This is particularly true of some of the duo’s verbal exchanges, which never fail to amuse me. Like…
Oliver: Didn’t you once tell me that you had an uncle?
Stanley: Sure, I’ve got an uncle. Why?
Oliver: Now we’re getting somewhere. Is he living?
Stanley: No. He fell through a trap door and broke his neck.
Oliver: Was he building a house?
Stanley: No, they were hanging him.
Stanley: Three million dollars! Is that as much as a thousand?
Oliver: Why, man alive! It’s TWICE as much!
As I write this post I also happen to be working on a two-part post about Spanish-language films made in Hollywood in the early 1930s and was happy to see that THE LAUREL-HARDY MURDER CASE was one of the many Laurel and Hardy movies shot in other languages. Due to that I also watched the Spanish version of this movie, NOCHE DE DUENDES also directed by James Parrott, which is a much more robust entry. At 48 minutes NOCHE is nearly twice as long as MURDER CASE due to the fact that – for some reason – it incorporates two movies into one, MURDER CASE and BERTH MARKS, a Laurel and Hardy two-reeler from 1929.
The addition of BERTH MARKS into the MURDER CASE storyline basically adds the journey from the dock where we first see our stars to Laurel Mansion by way of a train, which is where the action in BERTH MARKS takes place. The original, English BERTH MARKS tells the story of two vaudevillians (Stan and Ollie) traveling between show destinations who are forced to share a small berth. On its own BERTH MARKS is quite funny and listening to Stan and Olie butcher a few words in Spanish as they try to pronounce their lines phonetically in the revamped DUENDES only adds to the fun. It wasn’t my intention to get too involved in the multi-language production scene in this post, but find this such an interesting topic I couldn’t resist. If you’re interested in this as well you might want to take a look at this video, a fun compilation of Laurel and Hardy Foreign Scenes.
So, the bottom line – for pure entertainment I recommend any of the versions I mention of THE LAUREL-HARDY MURDER CASE. One can never go wrong watching these seasoned comedians. By the way, although Laurel and Hardy are the only ones credited in this film the cast includes a few recognizable faces. Take a look at the complete cast list here.