When Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy left their longtime home at the Hal Roach studios and joined the prestigious 20th Century Fox, there were a lot of changes. First, the studio did not quite know what to do with Laurel and Hardy, they just knew the duo was popular enough to be profitable. Laurel and Hardy, veterans who dated back to the silent era, had not really augmented their style much, and were still performing in a manner that fit beautifully in the 1920s, and comfortably in the 1930s. But as we entered the 1940s, comedy became more brash and verbal (Bob Hope, Abbott and Costello). Laurel and Hardy didn’t quite fit that style.
“A-Haunting We Will Go” is the duo’s second film for Fox and while it is a good example of the type of movie that studio was best at producing, it is not a good example of Laurel and Hardy comedy. Fox was great at making tight B-level mysteries, their Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto series among their best and most popular. And since Abbott and Costello had hit it big with the comedy-mystery “Hold That Ghost” at Universal, Fox figured they could do essentially same with their veteran comedy team.
So, Laurel and Hardy are rather uncomfortably placed in a murder mystery as a couple of hapless assistants to a traveling magician. They get involved with gangsters who are transporting what the boys believe is a dead body. The coffin gets mixed up with the magician’s prop trunk and therein lies our conflict. The mystery aspect of the movie plays nicely, and if you approach the film as a B mystery with Laurel and Hardy as an added attraction, it is ok. But if you’re going in looking for a typical Laurel and Hardy movie, you might be disappointed or, at the very least, a bit confused.
The team does have a few highlights, such as when they bumble through the magician’s tricks, including a rope climbing bit and a backstage routine with prop phone booths, but most of the humor Laurel and Hardy offer is all about nuance. Veteran performers, they certainly realized the material they were working with here wasn’t conducive to their established style, so they do what they can with their own innate talent. A little thing like when a paperboy rides by on his bike, and tosses a newspaper that hits them causing a big reaction, is only a split second of footage but one of the bigger laughs in the picture. Stan’s artful simplicity is evident with the prop umbrella he carries throughout the movie. It constantly gets in the way, smacking Ollie, or knocking over a table of dishes. Oliver is best during the phone booth segment, where Stan goes into one booth and suddenly appears in the other, etc. Hardy’s reactions are vintage Ollie, his whole body responding to the confusion. Other scenes that stand out include when Stan bumps his head, Ollie calls him clumsy, and then Ollie bumps his own head in the same spot. Also, when Stan is fooling around with the curtain weight and Hardy runs over to stop him, the weight falls on Ollie’s head. Oliver responds with one of his classic looks into the camera.
These bits of business keep the film pleasant and amusing when the duo is on screen, and the movie is a breezy 67 minutes. But as Laurel and Hardy movies go, it is not one of their better ones. Nuanced bits and a few isolated comic highlights aside, Laurel and Hardy just don’t fit into this B mystery well enough to make it anything more than average.
“A-Haunting We Will Go” was directed by Alfred Werker, Written by Lou Breslow, and features a cast that includes Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Elisha Cook Jr, Sheila James, Dante the Magician, Mantan Moreland, Willie Best, and Richard Lane.