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Not every silent comedian made a smooth transition to sound. For a variety of reasons, some of the leading lights of slapstick (including Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, and Harry Langdon) suffered significant career setbacks once the movies began to speak. Not so, Laurel and Hardy.
Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were teamed in more than twenty silent comedies (not counting another dozen in which they appeared together, but not as a comic duo). But it was in the talkies that they really hit their stride. The component of sound didn't just allow them to speak, it provided new territory to explore, enriching their characterizations and adding layers of contrast to the yin and yang of their comic relationship.
Night Owls (1930) and Brats (1930) are two of Laurel and Hardy's classic two-reel shorts, produced shortly after the sound revolution.
In Brats, Laurel and Hardy play dual roles: the usual "Stan" and "Ollie" characters, as well as their impish young sons. Through the clever use of double-exposure and carefully-built oversized sets, the two comedians share the frame with their miniaturized selves, who are a continual source of stress for the full-sized dads.
The sight of Laurel in a sailor suit and Hardy in a Lord Fauntleroy outfit is itself a source of laughter, but the comedians' gift for childish mimicry insures that Brats avoids the pitfall of a one-note, special-effect comedy. In fact, the short film is revitalized midway through by two of slapstick's most frequently-employed comic springboards: the filling of a bathtub and a simple game of billiards, which Laurel and Hardy exploit to their full potential.
Master comedians frequently found the billiard table an effective stage for comedy, from W.C. Fields's Pool Sharks (1915) to Buster Keaton's Sherlock, Jr. (1924) to The Three Stooges short I'll Never Heil Again (1941).
Often circulated in a colorized edition prepared in 1991, Brats airs in its original form on TCM -- in black-and-white, with the original 1930 soundtrack. In 1937, the scores of some of these early shorts were "upgraded" with newly-recorded themes. In the case of Brats, the opening title music was replaced with LeRoy Shield's composition "Steppin' Along with a Song," and the awkward silences filled with the playful, jazzy music of Shield and Roach Studios musical director Marvin Hatley. Hatley and Shield are perhaps best remembered for the tunes that blanket the Our Gang/Little Rascals films, also produced at Roach.
This edition of Brats also includes a comic introductory title that was removed for the 1937 re-issue.
Director: James Parrott
Producer: Hal Roach
Screenplay: Leo McCarey, Hal Roach, H.M. Walker
Cinematography: George Stevens
Cast: Stan Laurel (Stanley Sr./Jr.), Oliver Hardy (Oliver Sr./Jr.).
by Bret Wood