The Music Box
|The Music Box|
Lobby card, 1932
|Directed by||James Parrott|
|Produced by||Hal Roach|
|Written by||H.M. Walker|
|Music by||Harry Graham|
|Edited by||Richard C. Currier|
The Music Box is a Laurel and Hardy short film comedy released in 1932. It was directed by James Parrott, produced by Hal Roach and distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The film, which depicts the pair attempting to move a piano up a large flight of steps, won the first Academy Award for Best Live Action Short (Comedy) in 1932. In 1997, it was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "'culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.'"
In a music store, a woman (Hazel Howell) orders a player piano as a surprise birthday gift for her husband. She tells the manager her address — 1127 Walnut Avenue — and he hires the Laurel and Hardy Transfer Company to deliver the piano in their freight wagon.
The duo soon learn from a postman (Charlie Hall) that the home is at the top of a very long stairway. Their attempts to carry the piano up the stairs result in it rolling and crashing into the street below several times, twice with Ollie in tow. During their first attempt, they encounter a lady (Lilyan Irene) with a baby carriage trying to go down the steps; in trying to let her pass, they knock the piano back down the stairs. After the lady laughs at them, Stan kicks her in her backside, causing her to punch him back and hit Ollie over the head with a milk bottle. Stan and Ollie then heft the piano back up the stairs. The angry lady tells a policeman (Sam Lufkin) on the corner, who kicks Ollie twice and hits Stan with his truncheon after the latter suggests the officer is "bounding over his steps" (i.e. "overstepping his bounds"). Meanwhile, the piano has rolled down the steps again.
The two doggedly persist in carrying the piano up the stairs for a third time. Halfway up, they encounter the short-tempered and pompous Professor Theodore von Schwartzenhoffen (Billy Gilbert), M.D., A.D., D.D.S., F.L.D., F-F-F-and-F. He impatiently tells them to take the piano out of his way; he should like to pass. Ollie very reasonably and sensibly suggests he walk around, which sets off the Professor in a fit of Teutonic rage. He screams at Stan and Ollie to get the piano out of his way, and Stan knocks the Professor's top hat down the stairs and into the street, where it is crushed by a passing vehicle. The outraged professor leaves, loudly threatening to have the two arrested.
Finally, Stan and Ollie get the piano to the top, where Ollie falls into a fountain. As they ring the bell of 1127 Walnut Avenue, the piano rolls back down to the street again. They wearily drag it back up the stairs, and meet the postman by the house, who informs them they did not have to lift the piano up the stairs; they could have driven up the hill and stopped in front of the house. Stan and Ollie promptly carry the piano back down the stairs, put it back in their wagon and drive it up the hill to the house.
Finding no one home, they finally succeed in getting the piano in the house, after dropping it into the fountain and falling in themselves. They make a shambles of the living room while unpacking it. Meanwhile, the owner of 1127 Walnut Avenue is revealed to be Professor von Schwartzenhoffen, who returns and is outraged at what he finds, as he hates pianos. He attacks the piano with an axe, destroying it, but regrets his actions when his wife returns home and tearfully tells her husband it had been a surprise birthday present. To apologize for his actions, the Professor signs the delivery receipt, but the pen Stan and Ollie give him squirts ink over his face. Furious, Schwartzenhoffen blows his temper again and makes the duo run away.
- Billy Gilbert as Professor Theodore von Schwarzenhoffen, M.D., A.D., D.D.S., F.L.D., F-F-F-and-F
- Hazel Howell as Mrs. von Schwarzenhoffen
- Sam Lufkin as police officer
- Lilyan Irene as nursemaid
- Charlie Hall as postman
- William Gillespie as piano salesman
The steps, which are the focal point of The Music Box, still exist in the Silver Lake district of Los Angeles, near the Laurel and Hardy Park. The steps are a public staircase that connects Vendome Street (at the base of the hill) with Descanso Drive (at the top of the hill), and are located at 923-925 North Vendome Street near the intersection of Del Monte Drive. A plaque commemorating the film was set into one of the lower steps.
The steps can also be seen in the Charley Chase silent comedy Isn't Life Terrible? (1925), during a scene in which Chase is trying to sell fountain pens to Fay Wray. The steps are also used, for a gag similar to Hats Off and The Music Box, in Ice Cold Cocos (1926), a Billy Bevan comedy short directed by Del Lord. The steps are also referenced in The Laurel and Hardy Love Affair, a short story by Ray Bradbury, as the meeting place of the couple in the story, who call each other Ollie and Stan in homage to the comedic duo.
Contrary to popular belief, the long staircase is not the same one used by The Three Stooges in their 1941 film An Ache in Every Stake. Those stairs (147 steps in length) are approximately two miles northeast, located at 2212 Edendale Place in the Silver Lake district of Los Angeles.
The short was popular with audiences in 1932 and generally well received by critics. After previewing The Music Box in late February that year, the New York trade paper The Film Daily assured theater owners that the comedy "is up to the Laurel-Hardy standard, and should score easily." Motion Picture Herald, after previewing the film in March, described it as "great fun" and noted, "Unusually long for a comedy [short], it is well worth the extra length." The Chicago-based movie magazine Motion Picture is even more enthusiastic about the comedy in its June 1932 issue:
[Laurel and Hardy's] latest "short" lasts thirty minutes. And it is a fast and funny half-hour. Perhaps they got their idea from Charlie Chaplin, who once was screamingly funny as a piano-mover's helper—but don't hold that against them. They have improved on Chaplin, which is no easy task. Not with a pair as absurdly, ridiculously, and insanely awkward as these two. The gags are almost as side-splitting as they are.
Not all contemporary reviews, however, were positive. Variety, the entertainment industry's leading paper in 1932, did not publish its review of The Music Box until November 22, over seven months after MGM officially released the short to theaters. That publication date is also four days after Laurel and Hardy's film received an Academy Award for being the best comedy short released between August 1, 1931, and July 31, 1932. Despite that recognition of excellence and the public's favorable response to the film, the reviewer for Variety, New York critic Alfred Greason, found the short's overall script lacking. He expressed disappointment too with Stan and Ollie's performances and with the film's ending and pacing:
Less than average subject for this comedy pair, who depend on house wrecking for their laughs instead of upon the laughs within the situations themselves. Any pair of clowns can make haw-haws out of roughhouse; this pair have reached distinction by reason of a comic quality within themselves. Resort to house wrecking argues lack of resources in the 'script' department.
One odd, seemingly inexplicable aspect of Greason's unfavorable review is his description of the Academy Award winner being a 15-minute short, only half the film's actual length. A single reference to such a drastically reduced running time could be construed as a possible editing or typographical error, but the time is cited twice by the veteran critic: once in his review's heading and again at the end of the review, where Greason notes, "Finish is only so-so and the subject doesn't hold up pace for its 15 minutes."
- The film is a partial remake of their silent short Hats Off (1927), which was filmed at the same location and is today considered a lost film. Hats Off was itself remade by Edgar Kennedy in 1945 as It's Your Move, but utilizing a different staircase although located in the same vicinity where the "Music Box Steps" are in Silver Lake (known as the Descanso Stairs, they are situated at the intersection of Descanso and Larissa drives, specifically between the residences of 3217 Descanso Drive and 3200-3206 Larissa Drive, and one block from Sunset Boulevard, which can be seen in the background in several long shots).
- Hal Roach Studios colorized The Music Box in 1986 with a remastered stereo soundtrack featuring the Hal Roach Studios incidental stock music score conducted by Ronnie Hazelhurst. The film was later released on VHS along with a colorized version of Helpmates.
- The Music Box was also dubbed in Spanish, with the lengthy title No cualquiera aguanta un piano, mucho menos una pianola (the English translation being "Not anyone can load a piano, less a pianola").
- With some aspects of the original script omitted, actor Jorge Arvizu and other actors have produced additional Spanish versions of The Music Box, as well as other remakes of Laurel and Hardy shorts and features.
- "The 5th Academy Awards (1932) Nominees and Winners". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Los Angeles, California. Retrieved 2013-06-24. Italic or bold markup not allowed in:
- "Here Are Complete Academy Awards", Hollywood Filmograph, November 26, 1932, p. 9. Internet Archive. Retrieved May 13, 2019. The 1932 Academy Awards dinner and presentations were held at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on November 18.
- "Film Article: The Music Box", Turner Classic Movies (TCM), Time Warner, Inc., New York, N.Y. Retrieved May 22, 2019.
- "Nominate", cited criteria for a film's inclusion on the National Film Registry, Library of Congress, Culpeper, Virginia. Link to "Complete National Film Registry Listing" available at this site. Retrieved May 22, 2019.
- "The Music Box at Another Nice Mess". Retrieved 2018-06-09.
- SilentEra entry for Ice Cold Cocos. silentera.com
- Robert Davidson. "ThreeStooges.net :: The Three Stooges Journal - Issue No. 98%20threestooges.net". threestooges.net.
- Solomon, Jon (2002). The Complete Three Stooges: The Official Filmography and Three Stooges Companion. Comedy III Productions, Inc. pp. 195–197. ISBN 0971186804.
- "Laurel and Hardy in 'The Music Box'", review, The Film Daily (New York, N.Y.), February 28, 1932, p. 12. Internet Archive. Retrieved May 12, 2019.
- "SHORTS / The Music Box / (MGM)", review, Motion Picture Herald (New York, N.Y.), March 12, 1932, p. 57. Internet Archive. Retrieved May 12, 2019.
- Reid, James Edwin (1932). "Featured Shorts / The Music Box", review, Motion Picture (Chicago, Illinois), June 1932, p. 68. Retrieved May 13, 2019.
- "LAUREL AND HARDY / 'The Music Box' / Comedy / 15 Mins.", review, Variety, November 22, 1932, p. 16. Retrieved May 13, 2019. In his reviews for Variety, Alfred Rushton Greason used the pen name "Rush". A reference to that pen name is included in the headline of his obituary "ALFRED R. GREASON OF VARIETY IS DEAD: U.der Pen Name of 'Rush,' He Was Versatile Critlc of Theatrical Weekly", The New York Times, January 22, 1934, p. 15. Retrieved May 17, 2019.
- Brennan, John V.; Larrabee, John (2012). "The Silents: Hats Off", Laurel and Hardy Central. Retrieved May 18, 2019.
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