The Lucky Dog 1921
Filmed late January - early February 1921 • 2 Reels
Produced G.M. Anderson for Amalgamated Producing Company
Directed Jess Robbins • Photographed Irving Ries
Main Cast: Stan Laurel, Babe Hardy, Florence Gilbert, Jack Lloyd
Before their initial screen encounter in 1921, jobbing actors Stanley Laurel and Oliver ‘Babe’ Hardy both had a string of film credits to their names, released by various movie studios. Having featured in more than two hundred and thirty shorts, Babe, sometimes as the lead but more often cast as a supporting villain, or ‘heavy’, was a well-seasoned and respected professional in the movie business. At the same time, whilst only having just over a dozen films under his belt, Stan was headlining his own series of comedy shorts, trying to carve out a career as a leading star and follow in the footsteps of his ex-music hall colleague and roommate, who was, by this time, the biggest movie star in the world, Charlie Chaplin.
Stan received an opportunity to restart his film career through an offer from none other than Gilbert M. ‘Broncho Billy’ Anderson. Anderson had recently started a new film company, Amalgamated Producing Company, and he was keen to add a series of comedies to compliment the westerns already in production. Anderson singled out Stan Laurel as the comic that could carry this new series. However, before the series could go into production, a small matter of funding needed to be secured. To encourage potential sponsors, Stan was signed up to shoot a pilot film that Anderson could use to attract the necessary financial support for the proposed series of ‘Stan Laurel Comedies’. The name of the pilot was The Lucky Dog.
Whilst, on the whole, The Lucky Dog is your average knockabout bit of silent slapstick. Certainly, of its time, it has a prominent place in movie history, being the very first film Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy appeared in together.
We meet Stanley Laurel, “So broke he couldn’t buy metal polish for a thumbtack”, being physically thrown out of his boarding house by his landlady, who is somewhat annoyed at not being paid.
Eventually, Stan collects his belongings and stuffs them all into his bag, unaware that a little stray dog has stowed himself inside. Suddenly, to Stan’s surprise, the bag starts inexplicably running off down the street, and Stan gives chase.
These few scenes bring us to the film’s primary piece of interest, at least to Laurel and Hardy fans, as we come to the very first on-screen meeting and bits of ‘business’ between our two heroes.
Stan chases the bag along the line of a fence, which turns a sharp left corner and continues off in a new direction. He dives on top of the possessed bag at the corner, finally bringing it to a halt. Unbeknownst to Stan, around the corner, Babe Hardy, playing the part of a heavily moustachioed villain, is robbing some poor chap at gunpoint. Although they are entirely unaware of each other, Babe and Stan end up standing back to back (actually, they’re bottom to bottom) as Stan bends over to pull the dog from the bag. Babe then takes a massive wedge of folding money from his victim and stuffs it into his back pocket, or so he thinks! He unwittingly crams it into Stan’s.
Babe’s victim is allowed to run free, and Babe turns on his heel and almost falls over Stan. Now it is Stan’s turn to be held at gunpoint. Here, Babe growls the first-ever line of dialogue between the two comedians: “Put ‘em both up, insect, before I comb your hair with lead!”
There are some nice bits of business between the two as Stan, holding the dog under one arm, makes life difficult for an honest robber. Eventually, Babe finds the bundle of cash in Stan’s back pocket and begins counting it. This event completely bamboozles Stan, who’s never seen so much money before, let alone had it in his pockets. He visibly tries to process all this and even double-checks with Babe that the money had, in fact, come out of his pocket.
In the end, Stan has the money back from Babe to count it for himself. He then distracts him and makes him look the other way, runs around behind, kicks him in the seat of his pants, and runs off down the street, with Babe in hot pursuit. The following chase sequence with the dog in tow is a good bit of fun, with Babe’s gun jamming every time he gets a chance to shoot at Stan.
Once he’s given his assailant the slip, Stan wanders off and tries to ditch the dog in a dustbin until, that is, he realises a policeman is closely observing him. So, Stan makes his excuses and quickly departs. Around the next corner, he takes a shine to a posh looking lady who is about to enter her dog in a dog show. Stan, keen to impress the lady, uses his little stray dog to get into the show, but he is refused entry because the dog is not a pedigree.
Refusing to take no for an answer, Stan sneaks into the show anyway and immediately, he and his little mutt cause so much trouble that a lot of the dogs run riot, causing absolute chaos and ultimately, they escape out into the street and leg it.
Stan’s new lady friend’s pedigree dog is one of those that escape, and she is understandably upset, so Stan gives her his dog, at which she appears overjoyed. I can’t help but think it a little odd how casually the lady accepts losing her pedigree pooch, only to be immediately overjoyed with the gift of Stan’s mutt as a replacement. Perhaps best not to think too deeply about these things!
Stan ends up driving home with the lady to meet her father, much to the annoyance of the lady’s boyfriend! The annoyed boyfriend hires a hitman (you guessed it, Babe Hardy) to come back with him to the house and “...plans a revenge that’s worse than the telephone service.”
Back at the house, there are some nice scenes with Stan and Babe interacting. Babe sits beside Stan on the sofa and tries to shoot him in the head in a quiet moment. Stan sticks his fingers in his ears so as not to hear the loud gunshot, but Babe’s gun jams every time he tries to pull the trigger. In true Stan-style, he tries to be helpful and assist Babe by fixing the gun for him.
Finally, the plotting pair of Babe and the boyfriend throw a stick of dynamite under the sofa that Stan and now also the lady’s father are sitting on, only for the ‘lucky dog’ to come running out from underneath, dynamite in mouth, chasing the baddies away. In the end, the naughty ones are blown up (in cartoon fashion), and Stan, the lady and her father, oh and not forgetting the lucky dog, live happily ever after.
Although the film is far from a typical Laurel and Hardy comedy, there are teasing glimpses throughout of the magic that would eventually follow. The boys themselves are easily recognisable, but their characters couldn’t be further from the Stan and Ollie that we have come to know and love. There was some way to go before the potential of the team would be realised.
After the cameras stopped rolling on The Lucky Dog, Mr Laurel and Mr Hardy parted ways, and their paths wouldn’t cross on-screen for another five years. For their first ‘pre-teaming’ film, The Lucky Dog is watchable and reasonably enjoyable, but most of all, it’s just about as historically significant a film as you can get.