Shorts on the red carpet: The Music Box

11 May, 2012 10:07am

 

If you’ve turned on your TV or read a newspaper in the last year, you’ll probably heard of The Artist, the French silent film that wowed critics and audiences alike and nabbed seven BAFTAs and five Academy Awards. Thanks to its ability to transport audiences back to a golden era of cinema, it was the first silent movie to win a Best Picture award since the Oscars began in 1929.

Well, all this talk of Oscars and times gone by got us hankering for some classic cinema and, naturally, delving into the history of shorts – way back to 1932 when the ‘best short subject’ award first reared its head. While nowadays the award is split into ‘live action’ and ‘animation’, covering all genres, early shorts had to slot into either the ‘comedy’ or the ‘novelty’ category. In the first instalment of our brand spanking new series, we’re going to take a look at the winning ‘comedy’ in 1932, Hal Roach’s The Music Box – partly because online producer Siobhan is a massive Laurel and Hardy fan, but also because it made film history as the first short film ever to win an Oscar.

Produced by Hal Roach (an ex Alaskan gold prospector and mule skinner, naturally), The Music Box sees the much loved comedy duo Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy try to earn a crust by delivering a piano to its owner, who happens to live at the top of a huge flight of stairs. It writes itself, doesn’t it? They suffer a variety of mishaps on the way and manage to make a right mess of the house once they get there.

This being before the days of stringent health and safety laws, the actors performed most of their own stunts, resulting in cuts, bruises and even a ‘scalp burn’. Stan Laurel was said to have nearly broke a leg when his fall from a window was mis-timed (although that might have been PR hype) and Oliver Hardy was said to have drawn blood when ‘simulating’ treading on a nail. Now that’s acting - no wonder it won an Academy Award!

Many scenes were performed in absolute silence, so that the recording engineer could pick up only the authentic sounds needed – footsteps, doors banging, pianos falling – all while a reported throng of 3,500 onlookers stood by watching the action. Laurel and Hardy drew crowds everywhere they went but it wasn’t until they won the Oscar for The Music Box that they realised just how popular they had become. 

 

Reviews at the time heaped praise on the short -

"Getting the piano into the house creates more confusion and hilarity. It is up to the Laurel-Hardy standard, and should score easily."
FILM DAILY, February 28, 1932

“Laurel and Hardy again and again supplying an unusual number of laughs for all and sundry.”
MOTION PICTURE HERALD, March 12, 1932

"They have improved on Chaplin, which is no easy task… The gags are almost as side-splitting as they are."
MOTION PICTURE, June, 1932

You don't get reviews like that anymore. When asked by the LA Times if the film was as fun to make as it was to watch, Stan Laurel laughed. "Fun my eye! What's fun about making a picture? It's just bloody hard work. These people who say making pictures is fun ... they kill me!”

And on that happy note, enjoy making your Shorts entries, folks! Don’t listen to Stan, it’s not all bad - he had to jump out of a window and carry a bloomin’ big piano up the stairs for his film. You just have to shoot a 2 minutes 20 second short and upload it online, easy peasy.

 

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