Laurel and Hardy’s “Block-Heads” (1938) was a remake of their earlier “Unaccustomed As We Are” (1929). It was a common feature in the silent days when a plot was just a series of gags for a gag to be re-worked and re-used until it reached some kind of climax, achieved some point of perfection. Then use it again, because it worked.
“Unaccustomed As We Are” was the duo’s first talking picture. A simple plot, Hardy invites Laurel home to dinner. Mrs. Hardy, played by Mae Busch, is a battleaxe whose aggressive complaining embarrasses Hardy. Meanwhile, Mr. Hardy’s innocent friendship with the neighbor lady, Mrs. Kennedy, gets complicated when, because Laurel has caused a gas explosion in Hardy’s kitchen, twice, she runs over to help and Mr. Hardy rips her dress off. Because she has caught fire. He gallantly covers her with a tablecloth. His wife returns. Much angst.
More angst when we see that Mr. Kennedy is a tough cop.
A funny scenario, but they expand it with “Block-heads” nine years later. Here they create a back story for Laurel. The pair had been in the Army in World War I, and years later, Stan is still patrolling the trench because he does not know the war is over. When found and brought to a VA Hospital near Hardy’s home, Hardy goes to visit his old friend.
There is some funny stuff when Hardy mistakenly believes Laurel to be an amputee, and heroically carries Laurel around as tenderly as if he were a child, invites him home to dinner, and tries to bundle him into a car. His impressive girth aside, Oliver Hardy must have had the strength and endurance of an Olympic decathlon champ to manage this scene.
In this film, Hardy and his battleaxe wife, played by Minna Gombell this time, live in an apartment building. We have a multi-level set which makes things interesting. One of the best gags is when a kid from another apartment, played by Tommy Bond, more familiar as the bully “Butch” in the “Our Gang” series, plays with a football in the hall. Oliver kicks this pest’s football down the stairs, a couple of times, where each time it smacks the front desk clerk in the face. It’s a beautiful gag.
One cute bit is when Stan, rather like a Looney Tunes cartoon, takes a full glass of water from his pocket, and then takes ice cubes from the other pocket. He also fills his bare fist with tobacco and smokes his thumb like a pipe.
In this remake, the nice neighbor lady is Mrs. Gilbert, played by Patricia Ellis. Her husband is a bombastic big game hunter, even more volatile than a tough cop, and played to the hilt by Billy Gilbert.
In this film we also have a kitchen gas explosion, and Oliver without pants, and Mrs. Gilbert who comes to help. Unfortunately, she is locked out of her apartment, and then soaked by a punchbowl, and he gives her his pajamas to wear. His wife returns. Much angst. The hot-tempered Mr. Gilbert arrives. More angst.
When his shotgun goes off, men all over the neighborhood are seen leaping out of windows in their underwear.
These films illustrate Hollywood’s favorite belief that if something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing again and again.