It's one of Laurel & Hardy's first talkies. My mental image of Hollywood's sound era begins in the 1930s, but Laurel & Hardy were straight in there with six talkies in 1929. What's more, they got really good at it at speed. I'm going to wibble about the film nerd stuff for a bit, exactly because it's of no interest to anyone. The technical level of this film is invisible to a modern audience, because it's so well done that to us it simply looks normal. They shoot outside. The actors don't need to stand near the microphones. Sound effects are used for comic effect. At the time it was a landmark in filmmaking... but today almost no one watching this will have a clue whether it was made in 1929 or 1939. You could believe the latter, though. That's kind of amazing.
What matters is whether or not it's funny. Answer: yes. This is a good one.
We start with five people heading out for a picnic. These are (1) Stan, (2) Ollie, (3+4) their wives and (5) Uncle Edgar Kennedy. You might be wondering what Edgar Kennedy's bringing to the film, since four people is already quite a lot. Answer: a gouty foot, swollen up like a watermelon. Gout is technically a crystallisation of uric acid that attacks joints, tendons and surrounding tissues. It traditionally attacks the foot, especially the base of the big toe, and causes acute inflammatory arthritis. Gout is agony. It's not funny at all... unless you're in a Laurel & Hardy movie, in which case it's going to be hysterical (except for Edgar Kennedy).
Terrible things happen to Kennedy's foot. I howled. Pain, you see, is funny. This will make me sound like a bastard, but it's true. You might split your sides at Stan and Ollie inflicting pain on each other because they're such a pair of halfwits.
The film's first half is better than its second, I think. The opening scene indoors is a classic and has Stan, Ollie and a massive tray of sandwiches. You can see everything coming a mile off, of course, but that only makes it funnier. One touch I particularly enjoyed is the way they get told off by one of their wives by being reminded that it's the Sabbath, "a day of peace", whereupon they shuffle awkwardly and give little schoolboy nods.
Incidentally, Stan doesn't say much. He's not far from doing a Harpo and being a silent comedian in talkies, but no, he's not mute. He says "goodbye" and so on.
After that, everyone goes outside and gets into the car. The plan is to drive off. The plan falls afoul of Stan and Ollie. After a while, I realised I wasn't laughing as hard as I had been in the early scenes, but there are still some classic bits in the later stretches too. Laurel trying to take off a tyre is brilliant, for instance. It's like watching a chimp attempting nuclear physics. The endless goodbyes also have surreal boggle value. There had originally been going to be a picnic scene, but in the end there wasn't room in the film given the chaos our heroes managed to wring out of trying to do... well, anything at all.
Overall, it's a great one. It's not perfect, being a game of two halves, but it made me laugh a lot and I think you could watch the sandwich routine a hundred times and still find it funny. I find the "respect for religion" moments charming in the way they break up the peurile carnage. In an odd sense, I was reassured by this film. When I was a child, I thought Laurel & Hardy were the funniest people ever to have walked the Earth... but then in later life, I discovered that, to give one example, the Marx Brothers are witter and more explosive. For me, the Marx Brothers make comedies for adults. Laurel & Hardy are perfect for children. They're playing infants in adults' bodies, with the innocence and lack of guile of four-year-olds. If you pick one of their lesser films and you're not in the right mood, you might find that they don't live up to your childhood memories.
However if you watch something like this, you'll realise that you were right all along and that they're bloody brilliant.