Many Laurel and Hardy comedies featured catastrophic damage to their car and sometimes the boys themselves inflicted horrors on other vehicles – either inadvertently or deliberately.
We all know that the Model T Ford was Stan and Babe’s car of choice during their comic antics and boy, did they go through some. With this in mind and as I have a few spare moments at the minute, I thought I’d have a think about the wrecking prowess of Stan and Babe which, as I though more about it, I found that it was not always confined to cars. Think about the numerous chimneys the boys have destroyed which always appear to come down on Babe. (Vice Sheik, Peter Jones)
We’ll start though with a look at the Model T Ford herself and then, Anth’s idea of revisiting some of the better known ‘incidents’ involving Stan, Ollie and various configurations of their Model T, and then at some other ‘victims’… With contributions from Anth, Peter, Tracy and Mike, as well as several details taken from the latest iteration of the remarkable ‘Magic behind the Movies’ by Randy Skretvedt.
Note: If you want more info, there are also many movie and supporting actor hyperlinks for you to go straight to the relevant page elsewhere on the website. These are highlighted in red. We appreciate any comments you might have which can be added at the end of the item.
The Model T Ford
The Model T, made and sold by the Ford Motor Company from 1908 to 1927, was the earliest attempt to make a car that ‘ordinary’ people could actually buy.
The Model T was actually affordable and it became so popular at one point that a majority of Americans owned one, directly helping rural Americans become more connected with the rest of the USA and leading to the numbered highway system. The manufacturing needs of the Model T went hand in hand with Ford’s revolutionary modernisation of the manufacturing process.
First released on October 1, 1908, the Ford Model T was available as a self-starting vehicle (from 1925) with a an enclosed four-cylinder engine with a detachable cylinder head and a one-piece cylinder block. Built from vanadium alloy steel, it offered strength while relatively light. Featuring generous ground clearance that could take the worst roads made it particularly useful to rural drivers.
Selling for $850, it was considered a reasonable value, though still slightly higher than the annual income of the average American worker. Henry Ford’s goal was to continue lowering prices which he did. The Model T had its price reduced numerous times because of increasing production efficiency. It bottomed out at $260 – the equivalent of around $3,800 today.
In order to minimise production costs (specifically in the paint room). Ford was said to have famously remarking that “Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.”
Peter noted that the Model T was affectionately known as Tin Lizzie and was called the Model T as it followed the Model S. 1903 saw the Model A followed by B, C, D, E, F, K, N, R and S (the missing letters in the sequence were either experimental models or ones that did not make it off the drawing board). Amazing what you can find on t’internet – There is also a mention that the Model T was called after a chap called Tim!
So what happened to Stan an Ollies Model T’s in:
Mrs Hardy wants to get Japan on her new radio set, and during several (fruitless) attempts to set up an aerial, Stan manages to drive the car away with Ollie on top of a latter which is perched in the back seat. When they finally come to a halt, the car loses in an altercation with two trams and is squashed vertically – peaked, in fact – but is still miraculously driveable.
As above, what was thought to be the original car was housed for many years in the Petersen Automotive Museum in LA, which is now closed, though doubts have been raised on this as there are several noticeable differences between the original and the exhibit.
There are two, nay three occasions that some form of special effect or car is used in County Hospital. Firstly, when Stan first pulls up at the hospital and sees the ‘Hospital – Quiet’ sign, the car perhaps inevitably, backfires and the rear end jumps about 6 feet in the air to emphasis the point! At the end of the movie, the car is squished – rather like in Hog Wild – in between two tramcars, with the consequence that it can only be driven in circles, much to the consternation of a nearby cop.
Oh, there is another instance (below) which looks to have been filmed but deleted, where the car gets trapped between two tramcars and looks to be lifted clear of the road.
Two ‘dreadnaughts from the battleship Oregon’ on shore leave hire a car (probably a 2-door Touring Model T) and Ollie Lectures Stan about “always keeping your eyes straight ahead” and promptly drives into a lamp post which bends at 45 degrees.
Two different images taken outside ‘Hills Art Store’ on the Roach back Lot can be seen below, where the railway tunnel sequence was shot on location at The Mclure tunnel which was later bricked up and then replaced with a two-way car tunnel.
Skretvedt: Roach construction worker, Thomas Benton Roberts, recalled making “…these breakaway cars for Two Tars, a lot of ’em. I did the finishing touches on the car that came out of the tunnel at the end – after the mechanics had narrowed the chassis.”
Roberts would also appear in Two Tars as a driver in the traffic jam – the victim of Stans Tomato in the face, and he went on to supply boats to many film-makers, including the boy’s boat ‘Prickly Heat’ in Saps at Sea.
Stan and Ollie feel great to have a good job to go to, but after many shenanigans with Charlie Hall and Foreman Tiny Sandford, they jump in the car to escape / go home at the end of a long day and drive the car through a giant bandsaw which slices the car very neatly right down the middle – including through the engine block!
Long rumoured as almost resulting in a fatality on set, Randy Skretvedt confirms instead that the bandsaw scene “was a collaboration between the mechanical and photographic departments. It was done with a travelling matte; a travelling split-screen, where one half went through first and then the other and ultimately, it was accomplished on an optical printer. It’s evident though that a real Model T was split in half”. Ollie took quite a fall filming the sequence, from an accident report dated July 20th 1933, he “fell out of automobile shooting scene, tearing ligaments of left shoulder and bruised bone”.
Ollie is hanging out of the window by a telephone cable and Stan has the quite brilliant idea to rush downstairs to get the car under him to fall into. Unfortunately, Stan reverses the car into position too fast and ends up in the hotel lobby. He then drives out, over a prostate Ollie who has naturally, by this time, fallen.
In this, besides a flat tyre, the Model T (which looks like a 4-door tourer) suffers various indignities at the hands of the boys, aided and abetted by Baldwin Cooke. However, when they finally escape the neighbours and get on their way to the planned picnic, on turning a corner – similarly to Leave ‘Em Laughing below- they disappear down a rather large pothole which is, naturally, filled with dirty water.
Skretvedt: “the press release said ‘A huge mudhole – 8 feet deep, 20 feet long and 12 feet wide was excavated and filled with water on one of the Hal Roach studios streets. It was fitted with pulleys so that the automobile could be lowered to the bottom without accidents.’ However, this was actually shot in Culver City, in Helms Avenue, where 3349 Helms is still today looking much as it did in 1929.”
Interestingly, fellow Chump Alan K found the below image, reputedly the original Perfect Day car, on Facetube. Apparently the paperwork is extant and confirms her authenticity. Well, she still has the flat tyre…
Both being filled with ‘laughing gas’ during an abortive visit to the dentist to fix Stan’s tooth, the boys cause a massive traffic jam which ultimately needs cop Edgar Kennedy to drive them out of. He, however, drives into a street that has been closed by ‘Mahoney Brothers, Sewer Contractors’, straight into another rather large pothole, this time filled with, well, I’ll let you think on that one!
Tracy Tolzmann observed “It’s interesting to note that many of the license plate numbers on the numerous autos used in Leave ‘Em Laughing are consecutive, the studio having purchased all of the new plates at the same time! While L&H use a Model T Ford Touring Car, other vehicles are Chevrolets, which was producer Hal Roach’s personal favourite. (Ah, the joys of ‘freeze frame’ on DVDs!)”
Stan has purloined Mrs Laurels booze during prohibition which he takes to a nightclub with Ollie to drink on the Qui Vivie… Mrs Laurel has of course already rumbled them and she turns up with a twin bore shotgun! She chases them from the club and blasts the taxi they are trying to escape in with both barrels and the taxi promptly explodes!
Tracy: “The Model T Ford used in BLOTTO was a ‘Limousine’ model called a ‘Town Car’. It was often used as a taxi as the driver was separated from the passenger area. There was a little speaker system for the occupants to communicate through if the glass was closed between the driver and passenger area. (“Home, James.”)”
In a cameo appearance, Stan and Ollie are two of the chiefs best men, and they travel to a job in the inevitable Model T with the detective in the back. Shortly after they come to a halt, Stan touches something on the dash and the car just disintegrates!
If you watch the sequence enough times it looks like that there isn’t an engine, pedals, fuel lines, wiring…etc. It also looks like all 4 wheels are pulled away at the same time and appears that the detective in the rears ‘job’ was to pull the back of the front seat. Stan and Ollie also kick out the sides of the cowl.
The Boys buy a boat from Billy Gilbert which they hope to use to catch the middle man so that the fish won’t have to be caught and the profit will go to the fish, or something like that. Unable to move the with the car boat once it has been renovated, Stan suggests raising the sail. Inevitably, the sail catches the wind, billows and pushed the boat and car off down the road where both are comprehensively wrecked.
The age old favourite where Stan and Ollie fail to impress Fin with their Christmas tree, starting a sequence of ‘tit for tat’ events where Fin pulls their car (a 2-door Roadster Pick-up Model T) to pieces as the boys do the same to his house, where he ultimately he blows the car to bits. They have the last laugh though where, as part of a mutual apology, Stan gives Fin a cigar which promptly explodes when he lights it.
Honorary mentions to other cars
Stan is trying desperately to keep gold-digging Mae Busch from crashing Ollie’s party, and is seen by busy body neighbour (“I’ll tell your wife!”) Mae climbs in the car with him. She moves off and and hits a lamp-post. The glass globe from the lamp falls, inevitably, on Stan’s head and he is stunned (even moreso than usual!) Mae then reverses into the busy body’s car which completely disintegrates.
On a chain gang, Ollie throws a pick axe at Stan which ends up in the radiator of governor Finlayson’s car. Fellow lag Leo Willis ‘kindly’ suggests they get some rice from the cook tent and put it in the radiator. The rad boils over, cue the inevitable rice pudding fight…
Ollie makes the fatal error of letting Stan drive his car into the garage. Sadly, he does so at speed, AND he misses the automatic garage door control pad.
We found this clip which is a splendid montage of the various incidents in Big Business, Hog Wild, Blotto, Busy Bodies, Chickens Come Home, County Hospital, Perfect Day, Two Tars and Towed in a Hole. Its only 5:45 long, but we’re sure you’ll enjoy it anyway!
Another Fine Mess – The tandem the boys use to escape on after entering the tunnel emerges having broken into a unicycle as they are dressed as a Gnu or Wildebeest (depending on the Dickie Attenborough programme you have seen).
The Flying Deuces – The plane the boys escape the Foreign Legion in crashes and poor Babe ascends to Heaven to come back brilliantly as a talking horse, hat and moustache complete.
Helpmates – Good old Stan burns down Babe’s house as he collects his wife from the depot having lit a nice welcoming fire to greet the formidable Mrs Hardy (Blanche Payson) home.
Them Thar Hills – The boy’s trailer gets the treatment from Charlie Hall as he unhitches it from the car.
There are many more examples of erm, ‘altercations’ with cars where Stan, Ollie, some usually innocent passer by or an antagonist comes off worse, and Tracy chipped in with a number of other examples.
Tracy is the owner of this fabulous 1925 Model T Ford ‘Tudor’ Sedan as well as two Model A Fords, and has – as you might expect – been a big fan of the automobiles used in the L&H films. The boys drove a Model A (until they ran out of petrol) in Jitterbugs
Here are Tracy’s additions to our list (these are ‘modes of transportation,’ not just Model Ts)…
Love ‘Em and Weep — Old flame Mae Busch runs into light pole, then backs into the gossip’s car which falls to pieces. This was repeated in the ‘remake’ as above, Chickens Come Home
Sailors, Beware! — Stan’s taxi is lifted onto the ship as cargo.
The Second Hundred Years — Escaped convicts “Big & Little Goofy” paint their way to freedom, whitewashing an innocent Model T Ford.
Flying Elephants — Saxophonus’ (Fin) cart overturns and a bear runs under it.
The Finishing Touch — The boys’ truck rolls down the hill destroying the house they had just built.
Double Whoopee — Stan slams the cab’s door on Jean Harlow’s dress.
Bacon Grabbers — A steam roller flattens Stan & Ollie’s Model T Ford.
Our Wife — Stan, Babe and Dulcy (Babe London) squeeze into an Austin Mini — Stan’s head tears through the roof.
Pardon Us — Blackface Stan and Ollie troubleshoot the Warden’s roadside car problems (it was out of petrol).
One Good Turn – The boys sell their decrepit Model T to raise money and the car falls to pieces as they wrestle over the “stolen” wallet.
“Scram!” — The drunk (Arthur Houseman) loses the key to his car.
Pack Up Your Troubles — Stan rear ends a parked vehicle while driving the boys’ lunch wagon.
Me and My Pal — The cab is rear-ended by a bicycle-peddling telegram man.
The Midnight Patrol — Stan & Ollie’s police car is stripped of its wheels.
Thicker Than Water — A truck runs over the just-purchased grandfather clock.
A Chump at Oxford – The boys get a lift to the employment agency in a wrecked Model T that is being towed — when they exit the car and slam the door, it collapses in a heap.
Jitterbugs — Stan & Ollie’s Model A Ford runs out of petrol.
The Big Noise — Stan & Ollie are picked-up while hitchhiking and have trouble with their “hosts.”
A-Haunting We Will Go — Hitchhiking again, they end up pushing their ride’s car all the way to the owner’s driveway.
Air Raid Wardens — They ‘borrow’ a Model T Ford that has no tyres — just the rims — but they soon run off the road and into a tree.
Mike – being the sad individual he is, sometimes – loves cars and looks upon them as female, acknowledging that many are given names… so he pushed Tracy for a name, and he replied “I have no “official” name for my Model T, but sometimes when I go to start her up (it has electric start — 1925 was the first year it came standard, although you can still crank start it), I may say “Come on Ethel, get excited!”
“‘Ethel’ is of course the name of Charles Gemora’s ape in The Chimp and Swiss Miss’, so “Ethel” is my usual go-to name. Otherwise, it’s just ‘the T’.” Nice one Tracy!
Peter J again: So there we go; a little look at the various modes of transport and other things that have been put to the sword by our comic heroes. Oh, and I forgot
Take care all, be safe and above all don’t forget your daily dose of laughter medicine prescribed by Stan and Ollie.