The Finishing Touch 1928
Filmed Dec 2 to Dec 17 1927, Released February 25th 1928, 2 Reels
Produced Hal Roach, Directed Clyde Bruckman, Supervised Leo McCarey Photographed George Stevens
Main Cast: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Dorothy Coburn, Edgar Kennedy, Sam Lufkin
“The story of two boys who went to school for nine years – and finished in the infants”
Almost as soon as filming wrapped on Leave 'Em Laughing, Stan and the writers began work on the boys' next picture, The Finishing Touch. The origin of the story is a little unclear, with a number of reputable authors and experts stating the film is a simple remake of earlier solo films, with titles suggested ranging from Stan's, The Egg, Smithy, orThe Noon Whistle and even Hardy's, Stick Around (1925). Whilst it is undoubtedly true that a number of gags were re-used from all of these films, calling The Finishing Touch a re-make of any of them is arguably a stretch too far.
One can easily see the similarities between The Finishing Touch and the aforementioned solo films, especially as notable gags were indeed lifted from each one and re-used to great effect here. For instance, the gag of someone swallowing mouthfuls of nails was originally used in The Egg (1922) and again in Smithy (1924). In the team's later re-working, it is Ollie who, not once but three times, thinks it a good idea to carry handfuls of nails in his mouth, only to accidentally but inevitably swallow them every time.
The Finishing Touch is the first picture that places the boys simply as labourers. There's no fancy plot, just a job to do. As "Professional Finishers", they've been employed by the hopeful homeowner, Sam Lufkin, to complete the construction of his new house and he promises to pay them $500 if they "finish the job by noon next Monday". Ever the optimist, Ollie declares that for $500, they would finish by noon that same day.
The Finishing Touch paved the way for many of the best Laurel and Hardy pictures in the boys' canon, namely, The Music Box, Busy Bodies, and Towed in a Hole. It is in this environment where the team excels; Stan and Ollie at their best, with a job to do! They have no need for complex plots or elaborate dialogue - this kind of pantomime slapstick is what Stan and Babe were great at. It's the reason that The Music Box won an Academy Award and why Towed in a Hole is so loved by fans across the world. They are such simple ideas - set the boys a task and watch them make a complete hash of it.
Stan and the gag men must have put in overtime on this picture, as it is littered with gags. They're often not large and elaborate, but they're all quality. From the first scene, where Stan hops out of the truck, one can't help but smile, and from there, the laughs just keep on coming.
The picture was filmed completely on location in the Cheviot Hills district of Los Angeles, an area the studio would use again on future classics, such as Big Business and Bacon Grabbers.
Stan and Ollie's building site is located directly next door to a sanitarium. A no-nonsense nurse, played brilliantly by Dorothy Coburn, demands absolute quiet, and she sends across street cop Edgar Kennedy, in only his second picture with the boys, to enforce her wishes with the boisterous builders. With a delicious smirk, Kennedy struts across and delivers the line "If you must make a noise, make it quietly!" a line that would re-appear in later Laurel and Hardy films and be often quoted by fans. As a result, Stan and Ollie solemnly agree and begin to tip-toe around the construction site, attempting to construct a house without making a sound - ridiculously farcical and brilliantly funny!
Stan Laurel, replying in a letter to a friend in April 1928, wrote of his and Babe's dissatisfaction with the picture:
"Glad you liked 'THE FINISHING TOUCH', we were kind of disappointed with it here, felt that it wasn't up to our standard - maybe it's good that we feel that way sometimes - makes us try to do better. Of course we can't expect to do knockouts every time especially as we make a picture in eight to ten days & ideas for material don't come easy, so we must consider ourselves pretty lucky up to now".
The fact that they were disappointed in The Finishing Touch is in itself remarkable, but it certainly confirms that by the sixth film into their official partnership, Stan, Babe, and the team at the Roach studio had already set the bar very high indeed.