|Released by MGM | Directed by James Parrott
Run time: 29 minutes
The Music Box: Up the Down Staircase
“Yes, officer, he kicked me! Right in the middle of my daily duties!”
“The Music Box” is often held up as one of the best gateways into the comedy of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. It betrays a simple premise: two hapless movers take a piano up a lengthy staircase, is rife with comedic possibilities, all exploited. They then lay waste to the home they’re delivering the piano to just to add insult to injury– their own as well as the stuffy foreigner who occupies the house.
For anyone not familiar with Laurel & Hardy’s antics (a thing I certainly have trouble believing), let’s step back and observe their comedic demeanor. They’re known as the masters of the slow burn– indignities upon indignities with a pause and a beat, a moment of anticipation and escalating anger. These are often punctuated with takes at the camera, filled with resentment and disgust. They’re trapped in this nightmare scenario, and they see the audience as on their side. Surely you understand what is happening. And you know what happens next.
The highlight of the short, for me at least, is that after the painful physical comedy with a good share of blood being drawn, the two still find a moment to do some mirthful tap dancing as they clean up their mess. Mind you, they’re really just making a bigger mess and simply too happy– and too near the end!– for it to matter.
“The Music Box” is an essential comedy, and one of the apexes of early 30s comedies.
Click to enlarge. All of my images are taken by me– please feel free to reuse with credit!
Trivia & Links
- The steps featured here are commonly known as “The Music Box Steps” and can still be visited in Los Angeles. The area has been built up since then, but they’re there! You can find them here via Google Maps. Neighbors adore it when you throw pianos down the stairs, too, I’m sure, so feel free to do it.
- TCMDB has an excellent article about the legend behind this short, including the years spent tracking down those stairs by dedicated fans. They also talk about the film’s effect on science fiction writer Ray Bradbury, as well as this info about the piano in this short (or lack thereof):
Laurel and Hardy made something of a cottage industry out of destroying pianos in such films as Big Business (1929), Wrong Again (1929), Beau Hunks (1931), and Dirty Work (1933). They hauled one across a narrow, swaying suspension bridge in Swiss Miss (1938) and hid inside one in Way Out West (1937). Much of the time we see the piano in this film it is, in fact, an empty crate, far lighter and more maneuverable than the real thing, but the shot of the piano careening madly down the 131 steps contained an actual instrument.
- A partial remake of the lost Laurel & Hardy short “Hats Off” (1927).
- The first short film to win an Academy Award, and the only short of Laurel & Hardy’s to win.