The Music Box (1932)
The Music Box (1932)

Genre: Slapstick and Short Running Time: 29 min.

Release Date: April 16th, 1932 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: James Parrott Actors: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Gladys Gale, Billy Gilbert




tan Laurel and Oliver Hardy (playing themselves) have decided to re-organize and re-supervise their entire financial structure – and so they take their $3.80 and go into business. That business is the Laurel & Hardy Transfer Company, which picks up the task of moving a piano purchased by a woman (Gladys Gale) for her husband’s (Billy Gilbert) birthday. Unfortunately, the delivery address (1127 Walnut Ave.) is located right at the top of a stoop, dozens of steps up a steep hill.

Using a few regular routines, such as dropping the crate-boxed musical instrument on Hardy’s back and fingers, to get things started, “The Music Box” essentially employs just one major gag. But it’s expertly embellished by plenty of smaller gimmicks, including kicking a laughing woman and receiving a punch in the nose in return, bickering with a police officer, and hoisting the piano through a window. Because it’s a short film, and because of its comedy intentions, the picture gets away with using slapstick asides – in the middle of one giant slapstick aside. While engaging in wordplay, glancing at the camera, physical bumbling, orotundity, and comedic repetitions, the film also features a few amusing sound effects, chiefly with piano notes getting accidentally struck by the awkward maneuvering up – and down – the vertiginous stairway, as well as with the duo’s signature howls and yells as objects get thrust and poked and crushed into and onto the twosome.

Despite repeating their ascent several times, the routine grows grander and more detailed as they attempt to place the piano inside the home – leading to additional pratfalls and unintentional demolitions. Though it’s not wholly original, “The Music Box” demonstrates exemplary comic timing and some genuinely hilarious bits of exaggerated violence, especially when the weighty piano inevitably falls from great heights directly onto Hardy’s head. Directed by James Parrott (the younger brother of Charley Chase, who would also helm films under his real name of Charles Parrott), the film might be best known for the basic setup of carrying a massive object up a narrow stairway. But a later sequence, in which the piano is plugged in and plays patriotic tunes, inspiring Laurel and Hardy to spontaneously dance as they clean up the place, is both brilliantly designed and laugh-out-loud funny. Unfortunately, instead of ending on the strongest note (like in “Sons of the Desert”), “The Music Box” concludes with the overly familiar exploding pen joke, which just might be the weakest of all the gags that preceded it.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10