>> Sunday, November 9, 2008
USA/B&W-21m./Dir: Charles Rogers/Wr: H.M. Walker/Cast: Stan Laurel (Stanley), Oliver Hardy (Ollie), Walter Long (Captain), Arthur Housman (Drunken Sailor), Mae Busch (Masie)
The great, drunken character actor Arthur Housman is the title spook that haunts Laurel and Hardy in the 1934 short subject, The Live Ghost. As in his previous pairing with the popular comedy duo, Scram! (1932), Housman was given more screen time in The Live Ghost than his specialty act was normally afforded. In this case, Stan and Ollie may have been generous to a fault, because Housman staggers off with the lion’s share of the laughs in the 21-minute short.
As the film begins, a gruff sea captain (Walter Long) barrels into a bar looking for a crew to man his ship; but the barflies refuse to take him up on his job offer, because they believe the vessel is haunted. Stuck with only a single, perpetually soused sailor (Arthur Housman), the captain enlists Laurel and Hardy to help him shanghai a crew. The boys actually manage to abduct the denizens of the bar, but in the process, they end up shanghaied themselves.
Only through the captain’s threats are the boys spared the wrath of the rest of the shanghaied seamen; so when the crew are eventually granted shore leave (with the exception of the drunken Housman), Stan and Ollie refuse to join them, preferring the safety of the ship. Since the boys are staying aboard, the captain puts them in charge of making sure that the drunk doesn’t sneak off the ship to grab a “teensy weensy.” Of course, the hooch-hound is determined to elude his guards, and falls into a tub of whitewash during his attempted escape. Covered in paint, the boozer bedevils Stan and Ollie, who take him for one of the ship’s ghosts.
The Live Ghost is not one of Laurel and Hardy’s best efforts. The plot is a convoluted mass of coincidences, designed to set up the situation for the fright comedy ending; and the physical gags are not as inventive as one usually expects from a Laurel and Hardy short. Still, the film isn’t the boys’ worst work either. It’s a mediocre Laurel and Hardy comedy, but that sets it on a higher plane than most of the work of The Three Stooges or Abbott & Costello.
The real saving grace of the film is Arthur Housman. His inebriated antics enliven every scene in which he appears, and for once, he is given almost as much screen time as the stars themselves. Housman could slur and stagger like nobody else, so having the rare opportunity to see his “drunk act” at the center of the action is reason enough to recommend the film.
Drinks Consumed--Beer and whiskey
Intoxicating Effects--Slurred speech and staggering
Potent Quotables--CAPTAIN: Hey! Where d’ya think you’re goin’?
DRUNKEN SAILOR: I’m goin’ ashore and get a little teensy weensy (winks).
Video Availability--You can find the short on DVD in the United Kingdom, Germany, and Holland, but it has not been officially released in the U.S. However, a collector's copy is available on DVD in Laurel and Hardy Classic Shorts Volume 1 (Hollywood's Attic).
Similarly Sauced Cinema--Arthur Housman also provided comic support to Laurel and Hardy in Scram! (1932), The Fixer Uppers (1935), Our Relations (1936), and briefly in The Flying Deuces (1939).
Laurel and Hardy: The Magic Behind the Movies