The Music Box  
 
16 April 1932
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
sound short
3-reels

 

Director: James Parrott  Producer: Hal Roach  Dialogue: H.M. Walker
Cinematography: Len Powers, Walter Lundin  Editor: Richard C. Currier  Sound recording: James Greene

AVAILABLE ON DVD


An excitable young lady has purchased the latest model in an upright piano and has instructed the proprietor of the store to deliver it immediately as a surprise birthday present for her equally excitable husband.  The job is assigned to Laurel & Hardy's Transfer Co. (foundered in 1931) who pull up in the street with the piano on the back of their horse and cart.  Ollie asks a passing postman (Charlie Hall) for directions to the address.  He informs the boys that the house they want is right at the top of a set of steep steps.  Ollie, thinking he knows best tells Stan to ease the piano off the back of the cart and down onto his back, as he crouches in the road.  The horse overhears this and seems to deliberately move forward, which sends the heavy instrument crashing down onto Hardy's back.
After carrying the piano across the street the boys begin their ascent of the many steps that lie ahead with Ollie pulling and Stan pushing.  Shortly into their quest they encounter a nursemaid with a pram who aks for them to allow her enough room to pass.  Ollie is more than keen to accommodate her request, but when Stan lends a hand he pushes the pram straight into the unguarded piano, sending it flying back down the steps from where it came.  The boys go chasing after it as the woman laughs hysterically at their misfortunes.
Incensed by this blatant show of mocking of them Stan takes an extraordinary decision to kick her in the rear for it.  She hits him and Ollie laughs and receives a glass bottle of milk over his head for his troubles.
The boys resume their quest to scale the steps for a second go, oblivious to the fact they have now been reported to a policeman (Sam Lufkin) by the nursemaid.  He catches up to them and an exhausted Ollie is summoned down to explain himself.  As he makes his way down the steps the piano takes on a mind of its own and chases after him.  Ollie drops to the floor and the piano overtakes him, all the way back to the bottom of the steps.  The cop reprimands Ollie for the assault on the nurse despite his pleas of innocence.  Stan takes exception to the officer's aggressive resolve and gets a baton over his head for speaking out of place.
A third attempt to deliver the piano encounters a rather loud and obnoxious professor (Billy Gilbert) walking down the steps.  He, believing to be superior to the boys, refuses to move for them and after a shoving match with the box, Stan hits the professor's top hat off, which bounces all the way down to the bottom of the steps before being crushed by a passing vehicle.  The boys regard this as a small moral victory and they find the motivation to resume lugging the piano up the steps.  Ollie doesn't realise he has reached the summit and urges Stan into one last effort.  The last push sends Ollie backwards into a fountain.  Despite a few glares at Stan, Ollie seems to silently accept it was an accident; climbs out and makes the short walk to the front door of the house to ring the doorbell.  As Stan follows behind, the piano rolls back off and amazingly does a 45 degrees turn to the right and begins its descent of the steps once more.  Ollie runs after it and manages to grab ahold of the end before both make the trip back to the bottom of the steps.
That afternoon - Stan and Ollie once more reach the top of the steps and are seen by the postman again who, upon the realisation they have lugged the heavy instrument all the way up the steps, offers a much more practical solution that they ought to have just loaded it onto their cart and driven it up the side road that leads to the top of the hill.  With incredible stupidity the boys take his advice and take the piano all the way back down the steps just so they can then bring it up to where they already are with the cart.




Ollie goes down on all fours again so that Stan can lower the piano onto his back from the cart but then remembers the previous occasion when he tried this and this time unfastens the horse's reins.  Ollie pushes the piano towards the front door with Stan standing on the end and getting a free ride.  There is a brilliant moment as he jumps off and Ollie is not sure what he has just seen!
They ring the doorbell (which they break in the process) but discover nobody to be at home, so Ollie organises a way for them to take the piano through an upstairs window which is open, and then place it in the downstairs living room.  Armed with a block and tackle (which suddenly appears from nowhere) they hoist up the piano to the upstairs balcony.  When the piano is safely up, Stan detaches the cable and throws it carelessly away.  It lands on Ollie's head, who is underneath the piano and sends him crashing down to the ground and through the front door!
As Ollie makes his way up the stairs (MORE stairs!) Stan calls out after him, saying he heard someone at home.  A frustrated Ollie confesses it was he and throws his hat up at Stan in annoyance.  The hats are mixed up and each ultimately end up wearing each other's hats.
Ollie enters the bedroom and is first hit in the face by Stan having not seen him, and then falls through another balcony door and back into the fountain outside, this time with the piano going in straight after him!  Stan soon follows as he tries to throw Ollie's hat back at him.
The boys enter the house (again) and Ollie tells Stan to open the wooden box whilst he looks around for a place to put it (he promptly sits down on a chair to watch Stan!)  The opened box spews out gallons of water all over the carpet, Ollie treads on a plank of wood with nails sticking through and Stan drops a lightbulb onto Ollie's head all in the space of a few seconds.
Meanwhile the loud-mouthed professor whom they encountered earlier has also reported the boys to the same police officer before making his way back up the long flight of steps.  He arrives at the house where the boys are now dancing to the musical melodies being played by the electric piano they have plugged in.  The professor declares himself to be the owner of the property and after confessing to hating (and detesting) pianos, promptly takes an axe to it.  There is a brief pause as it churns out the National Anthem, and then the axe versus piano continues.
The professor's wife walks in and explains everything and the embarrassed professor apologizes to Stan and Ollie.  The final straw comes when they ask for him to sign the delivery acknowledgement only to have the pen explode with ink in his face.  The boys run out of the house.

Favourite bit

Surely the dumbest moment in Laurel and Hardy history has to be the moment where postman Charlie Hall informs the boys of their wasted efforts in carrying the piano all the way up the steps; when the easier option was to load it onto their wagon and drive it around the road which leads to the top of the hill.
Despite the fact they have already succeeded in their mission, Ollie realises the postman's suggestion is practical and so the boys carry the piano all the way back down the steps and then follow his advice, only to arrive back up the top moments later with the piano again (this time with the horse).
How dumb can one (or in this case two) person(s) be?!

Facts
•Filmed December 7-17, 1931.

•The 131 steps in the film are located on Vendome Street, Silver Lake, Los Angeles, California, USA.

•The "Music Box" steps can be seen in the background of an earlier Charley Chase film, Isn't Life Terrible? (1925).
-See here: Image#1 and Image#2.
•This film was the first recipient of the Academy Award for Best Short Subject (live action), in 1932.
•This was a re-working of a previous silent film, Hats Off.
•According to some sources the horse is Dinah, the same mule as seen in the boys' later film Way Out West.  Personally I do not think this is true.
•Most sources list Gladys Gale in the role of Billy Gilbert's wife.  She is in fact Hazel Howell, as confirmed by leading L&H historian Richard W. Bann.
Did you notice?
•Long considered to be one of the team's very best works, The Music Box is surprisingly devoid of much dialogue, especially for a three-reeler.  Considering the premise is quite straight forward anyway, not a lot of talking is needed.
•The Star Outfitting Company (credit clothiers) is the store directly opposite the music shop where the piano is purchased.  (It is seen through the window in the opening shot of the film).
•A tram passes the shop window in the opening scene.  The words "Los Angeles Tramway" is seen on the side of it, with a number which is hard to read.
•Two people pass the shop window in the opening shot.
•The destination for the piano is 1127 Walnut Avenue.  It is scheduled to be delivered right away.
•Laurel and Hardy's business motto is "tall oaks from little acorns grow".

•The horse's name is Susie.  This was Hardy's idea - in honour of his Aunt Susie, with whom he was close to in real life.
•There are four inscriptions on the wooden box containing the piano:
-end = 'fragile'
-side/back = "this way up"
-side/front = "do not nail"
-top = "use no hooks".
•When the boys stop to lower the piano onto Ollie's back in the road, the road sign at the side says Delmonte Drive.  Also, the property they stop next to is up for sale.  You can see a "For Sale - Bargain" sign in the grass.
•If the alternate route up and down those steps is as simple as the postman makes out then why didn't the nursemaid with the pram follow the more preferred route of walking down the hill instead, rather than try and wheel a pram down all those steps one by one?

•After the nursemaid smashes the glass bottle over Ollie's head watch as Stan gently kicks the broken bottle top into the side of the road.  This was probably more human instinct than it was scripted.
•When the piano chases Ollie down the steps, he falls to the ground and allows the piano to roll over his back.  If you look to the right of the screen you can see the bottom of the box is attached to a safety line, which elevates the piano slightly over Hardy's back.
•When Ollie is running down the stairs and trips over, the back of the piano is facing the right hand side of the steps. Once the piano has gone over him and we see the next shot, the piano has somehow turned around and the back is now facing the left side of the steps! [observation: 'scram' from the Laurel & Hardy Forum]
•The professor waits exactly 20 seconds at the piano before he brings it to the boys attentions that they are blocking his path.
•When the professor arrives at the piano and waits for Stan and Ollie to move out of his way, if you look to the left of his hat you can see movement of people.
•The professor's full name is Professor Theodore Von Schwarzenhoffen, M.D., A.D., D.D.S., F.L.D., F.F.F and F.
•It is so obvious that the professor's top hat is crushed by a vehicle driving as if it had just pulled off from a parked position.
•There is a little moment after the boys get the piano to the address on the back of the cart where Stan takes off his glove and Ollie gives a look to the camera.  The same thing happened in Big Business after Stan takes off his gloves to handle the christmas tree.
•What amazes me is how the property is the easiest place for a burglary!  The window is open and a ladder easily accessible.
•There are nine rungs on the ladder which Stan finds.
•The radio on the inside of the front door of the house is on the floor when Ollie crashes through it.  He is never seen picking it up, yet when Ollie re-enters the house after talking to Stan outside the radio is back up against the wall.
•When Stan goes over the balcony and falls into the water look for the two buckets of water which go up the wall from two different angles!
•After Stan plunges into the water there is an unedited take in which Ollie surfaces after 11 seconds under water.
•The boys flood the living room with the water that spills out of the wooden box after they open it.  In the next shot as Stan drops the lightbulb onto Ollie's head and then falls to the floor, the ground is completely dry.

Stan Laurel
Stan
Oliver Hardy
Ollie
DVD screencapture - Lord Heath - Laurel & Hardy - Another Nice Mess - http://www.lordheath.com/ Hazel Howell
Mrs. Schwarzenhoffen
DVD screencapture - Lord Heath - Laurel & Hardy - Another Nice Mess - http://www.lordheath.com/
Billy Gilbert
Professor von Schwarzenhoffen
Charlie Hall
Postman
Sam Lufkin
Policeman
William Gillespie
Piano salesman
Lilyan Irene
Nursemaid

CREDITS STILL & COLORIZED TITLE CARD


DVD COMPARISONS

Acknowledgements:
Laurel And Hardy - The Magic Behind The Movies by Randy Skretvedt (book)

This page was last updated on: 12 November 2017