Thursday, 14 July 2011

Laurel and Hardy - A Chump At Oxford

A Chump at Oxford, directed by Alfred J Goulding and released in 1940 by United Artists, was the penultimate Laurel & Hardy film made at the Hal Roach studios. Originally released as a streamliner featurette at forty minutes long, twenty minutes of footage largely unrelated to the main plot were later added for the British and European Distribution. The longer version is the one most often seen today.
Stan and Ollie are down to their last six bucks and call a lift to a job agency to find work. A City Water Dept. truck driver offers them a lift and drenches them with water as a joke and leaves them behind. They finally arrive in a badly damaged car that has been towed away. At the job agency a call comes from Mrs. Vandeveer looking for a Maid and Butler to help at a dinner party she is holding that night. Ollie tells the receptionist they can fill the post and to leave it to them. They arrive and Stan is dressed in drag, pretending to be the maid 'Agnes'. Stan curtsies to Mrs. Vandeveer and his underwear rips loudly. As he walks off they are around his ankles.
At the dinner party Stan eats the nibbles he's supposed to be giving to the guests and tips the rest into Mrs. Vandeveer's lap. Ollie calls the guests to the meal with a hand held xylophone. He says "there is everything from soup to nuts folks, come and get it". Stan is told to take the cocktails and instead of clearing them away he drinks them and becomes drunk. Ollie gets the guests to sit down with the men on one side and the women on the other side of the table.Mr. Vandeveer tells Ollie to change the seating arrangement and Ollie begins to move the guests around for a while until Mr. Vandeveer gets impatient and tells them to sit anywhere they like at the table. Mr. Vandeveer then tells the drunken Stan to "serve up the salad without dressing" so Stan serves the salad in his underwear. Seeing this, Mr. Vandeveer angrily storms into another room to take a rifle. Mrs. Vandeveer arrives, having changed her dress, and faints at the sight of Stan. Mr Vandeveer returns, rifle in hand, and chases Stan and Ollie out of the house. A single gunshot is heard and Mr. Vandeveer returns, followed by a Policeman, who tells him, "why don't you be more careful, you almost blew my brains out". When the cop turns to leave, the seat of his pants have a large jagged hole ripped in them, revealing smouldering undershorts.
Stan and Ollie then become road sweepers and wonder why they are always in the gutter. They decide to get an education because in Stan's words "we're not illiterative enough". They are sitting outside the Farmers & Merchants Bank of Commerce building eating a packed lunch, while a robbery is taking place inside. They inadvertently catch the robber when he slips on a banana peel tossed on the street by Stan. A grateful bank manager offers them a reward by suggesting that they could have a job in his bank. When Oliver mentions they wouldn't be much use since he and Stan don't have an education, the bank president expands on their goal to attend night school by saying, "If it's an education you want, you shall have the finest education money can buy." He enrolls Stan and Ollie at Oxford University in England, and they depart the U.S. towards Oxford by steamship.

When Stan and Ollie arrive at the University, the snobby Undergraduate students, led by the mischievous Johnson (Peter Cushing) decide to give them the "royal initiation," which involves a number of pranks. They are sent off into a maze in order to get a pass to see the dean and quickly became lost. One of the students (Henry Borden) dresses as a ghost in order to frighten Stan and Ollie, and while they sit on a bench to sleep, the ghost's hand comes through the hedge to help Stan smoke his pipe and cigar (substituting for Stan's actual hand).

They spend all night in the maze and exit the next morning. Johnson poses as the Dean and gives Stan and Ollie the real Dean's quarters to live in. They make themselves at home only to be confronted by the Dean. The prank is uncovered and Johnson is due to expelled. Before this happens the students decide to run Stan and Ollie out so they can't give evidence against Johnson. The boys are taken to their real quarters where Meredith the Valet recognises Stan as Lord Paddington, the "greatest athlete and scholar the University ever had". He says that Lord Paddington had lost his memory when the window fell on his head and wandered from campus. Stan and Ollie dismiss his story as a "dizzy spell".

The students arrive and decide to throw Stan and Ollie out of the window. Stan and Ollie decide to escape through the window and in doing so the window falls on Stan's head, which transforms him back into Lord Paddington. When the students accuse him of "squealing", he becomes angry and his ears wiggle - something that occurs whenever Lord Paddington becomes angry, according to Meredith's story - after which he throws all of the students out of the window. However, Stan doesn't remember Ollie any longer so he becomes furious when Ollie tells him of his former life and throws Ollie out the window as well.

Lord Paddington takes pity on Ollie and employs him to be his personal valet. He calls Ollie by the nickname "fatty" and criticises him which makes Ollie so angry he quits his job. Stan hears students come to cheer him outside and as he looks out of the window it falls on him once again, returning him back to his usual self. Stan and Ollie make up. The film has a happy ending rather than the more usual unfortunate ending.

A Chump at Oxford
A Chump at Oxford - 8 x 10 B&W Photo #1

Directed byAlfred J. Goulding
Produced byHal Roach Jr.
Hal Roach
Written byCharlie Rogers
Felix Adler
Harry Langdon
StarringStan Laurel
Oliver Hardy
Wilfred Lucas
James Finlayson
Anita Garvin
Forrester Harvey
Peter Cushing
Charlie Hall
Music byMarvin Hatley
CinematographyArt Lloyd
Editing byBert Jordan
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date(s)February 16, 1940
Running time42 minutes (stream lined version)
63 minutes

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