A Chump at Oxford (1940)

Genres - Comedy  |   Sub-Genres - Slapstick, Comedy of Manners, Satire  |   Run Time - 63 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Janiss Garza

A Chump at Oxford really does have a piecemeal sense about it, but the humor is so well done that it overcomes its fragmented nature. When its original 42 minutes was being shot, producer Hal Roach was in the midst of creating his aborted "Streamliners" series of featurette-length films. This spoof of 1938's A Yank at Oxford was originally meant to be but four reels long. Previews were so successful, however, that Roach tacked an extra two-reel segment onto the beginning to make it feature length (although at 63 minutes it's still on the short side). Each segment (and there really are three -- even the 42-minute version had a prologue-type beginning) show comic duo Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in top form. The added-on footage takes its cues from the boys' 1928 silent, From Soup to Nuts, and even features Anita Garvin, reprising her role of the society matron in need of help for her dinner party. This time around, however, James Finlayson adds his classic double and triple-takes as her husband, and Stan, in drag, is posing as a maid. After Finlayson chases them out of his home, we next see the boys as street cleaners who stop a bank robber with that eternal comedy device, a banana peel. The bank president (Forbes Murray) rewards Stan and Ollie by sending them to Oxford to get their much-desired education. While the razzing the boys get from the students is hilariously funny, it's really the last few minutes in which the film transcends Laurel and Hardy's usual fun. A window sill hits Stan on the head and he changes from his everyday dim self into the brilliant but haughtily arrogant Lord Paddington. It's the only time during Stan Laurel's tenure with Oliver Hardy (at least, once the duo was established) in which he plays a character markedly different from his familiar persona. The surprise this creates is matched only by the relief felt -- by both Ollie and the audience -- when Stan is knocked on the head once again to become his old, nitwit self. Stan's transformation is truly magical and it's a reminder that his talent had a richness and depth that is often taken for granted.