Series: Laurel and Hardy

Director: James W. Horne
Producer: Hal Roach
Titles: H.M. Walker
Photography: George Stevens
Editor: Richard C. Currier

Stars: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, James Finlayson
Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Released: 20 April 1929
Length: 2 reels
Production No.: L-19
Filming dates: December 19-26, 1928
Rating: 9/10

Big Business

Available on DVD:

Stan and Ollie are Christmas trees salesmen trying to make an honest living in a hostile neighbourhood. The boys stop at their first house and Stan removes his gloves to handle the merchandise, then pulls them back on afterwards. Ollie's camera-stare reflects our own thoughts of Stan's behaviour. After a struggle with the tree, a woman (Lyle Tayo) answers the door. Ollie asks if she would like to buy the tree, but she politely declines. He then asks if her husband would be interested. Bashfully, she admits to not being married; a cue for some flirting to commence. Never one to miss an opportunity, Stan then enquires if she had a husband would he want a tree? She slams the door in their face and they retreat back to the car.
Not to be disheartened, the boys drive around the corner and try again but are this time confronted by a sign on the wall which states "positively no peddlers". Ollie laughs and states that it's personality that wins. He rings the doorbell, smiling, but is clunked over the head with a hammer by the unseen occupant, who then closes the door on him. Stan leaves, but Ollie remains and chooses once again to ring the bell with the intention of smacking the owner on the chin but is once again assaulted with the hammer before he has a chance to react. The third house is where all hell breaks loose. Despite tripping over the watering hose on the front garden, they proceed to ring the doorbell to the home. A bald-headed, pipe-smoking James Finlayson answers the call but shows no interest in the tree and promptly goes back inside, but as he shuts the door it catches the tree in its hinge. So once again Ollie has to ring the bell to get the owner to open the door so they can reclaim the tree.
After three rings of the bell they finally release the tree from the door but then Stan gets his coat stuck in the hinges. Again, the bell is pressed and again the owner answers. Stan releases his coat and then gets the tree stuck again! Yep, the bell is again pressed.... only this time Fin comes out and picks up the tree and throws it down the path (I mean, you can't blame him really!!) Finally, the boys take the hint and leave, with Ollie even tipping his hat. When they get back to the car Stan suddenly comes up with a "big business idea" and goes to ring the bell again. The owner comes out and is slightly shocked to see Stan standing there asking whether he would be interested in placing his order for next year? Fin motions for Stan to wait there whilst he returns inside his home. Thinking he has made the sale, Stan calls an excited Ollie over. Fin re-appears with shears in hand and lops off the top of the tree then retreats inside once more. The fuse for war has now been lit!
Stan then proceeds to removing the house numbers from the wall with a penknife in retaliation. He then starts slicing off the door frame just for good measure. None of this goes unnoticed by the homeowner and it isn't long before the three of them are back on the front doorstep together! When Fin complains, Ollie takes a hold of the knife and cuts some strands of hair off the top of Fin's head. Fin reacts by relieving Ollie of a pocket watch before throwing it to the ground and stamping on it. The score at this stage is approximately evens. Ollie chisels out the doorbell and summons the owner outside once more. Finally, Fin grabs the telephone and calls for the "ambulance corps", but Stan cuts the chord and the receiver is thrown onto the path. Fin just won't let it go and pulls out a pair of scissors from inside his jacket pocket (obviously that's where scissors are usually kept!) and cuts off a piece of Ollie's shirt - and then tie - before again going inside and slamming the door. Stan then aims a garden hose at the door as Ollie knocks for Fin's attention, who walks out straight into a face full of spraying water.
The boys retreat to their car, but Fin follows them and after Stan mocks his shrinking eyeball stare, he rips off a car headlight before chucking it through their window. A crowd of people have now gathered to witness the spectacle in the street as Stan and Ollie return to the house to cause more damage. A broken lamp, hurled through a window is answered by the car door being torn off. A garden plant is uprooted, the door to the front of the house is demolished, the steering wheel to the boys' car is vandalised, the stock of Christmas trees is destroyed, Fin's garden tree is chopped down, his window smashed... all under the watchful eye of a policeman (Tiny Sandford) who has just pulled up in his car.
The violent acts of demolition continue to spiral out of control with each party completely oblivious to what the other is doing as everybody gets more and more aggressive with their destruction of each other's property, as the homeowner's chimney and upright piano are added to the list of former items owned. The policeman, who until now has been observing and taking notes has seen enough and eventually intervenes. He demands to know who started the fight. Of course they all blame each other and it's not long before they are all in tears, including the cop. It would appear that all is forgiven between the feuding parties, as the cop leaves and Stan offers Fin a peace offering in the form of a cigar. As the cop returns to his car he notices that the boys were only faking their tears and chases them down the street - just as Fin's cigar explodes!

Favourite bit
Oh boy, where do I begin to summarise the best part here? Personally I liked the bit where Stan is chucking out random objects (vases and the like) from inside the house out to Ollie through the broken window. Ollie has a shovel in hand and is systematically playing baseball with the flying objects. He even gives Tiny Sandford a little shove in the moment too, just for good measure!

Copyrighted June 27, 1929.
Added to the National Film Registry on December 4, 1992.
This film has long been referred to as the one with the boys selling Christmas trees in summer, yet at no time during the film is summer mentioned. It was, in fact, shot in the week leading up to Christmas in 1928. Also, when Stan offers Fin the cigar at the end he says "Merry Christmas".
It has long been rumoured that the house destroyed in the making of the film was in fact the wrong one, depending on which version of the story you believe. Some sources claim that the house belonged to a Hal Roach employee who went on a holiday and was paid to have the house demolished and compensated, all with his approval. Others state that the producers turned up at the wrong house whilst the owner was out and proceeded to completely smash the place up without his knowing or permission.
The house where the boys first call has the number 501 above the door.
As Ollie pulls off from the kerb Stan sticks his arm out to signal the car is moving right, but in fact they drive to the left.
James Finlayson's house is number 281.
Of the three homes they visit, Ollie rings the doorbell on each occasion.
It makes me laugh just how many times the boys knock on Fin's door and despite the disturbances he keeps opening it?!
When Stan knocks on Finlayson's door with his 'big business' idea, Fin appears to show some interest. Thinking he has had a result Stan turns to Hardy and calls him "Babe". You can see this clearly in Stan's mouth, even though of course we cannot hear it.
Of the ten objects Stan throws out to Ollie, he manages to connect with at least 8 hits!
When Stan throws an armchair out of the broken window there is a series of numbers painted on the bottom of the chair. The number 1515 and then 40 00.
Ollie chopping down that big tree in the front garden... oh come on, that is going a bit too far!
There is no way Stan could have tipped the piano over onto the lawn had the insides not been removed first. It would have been far too heavy. It was either a real piano with the metal plate removed or a prop.
The scene at the very end of the film where Tiny Sandford chases Laurel and Hardy down the street was filmed at Dusquesne Ave, Culver City (heading southeastward). [courtesy Johannes Brügger]
My opinion
Truly one of a kind, this film is rightly regarded as one of the very best silents ever made.

Stan Laurel
Oliver Hardy
James Finlayson
Lyle Tayo
First customer
Charlie Hall
Evelyn Burns
Tiny Sandford
Hugh Saxon


CREDITS (click image to enlarge) INTERTITLES (click image to enlarge)

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Chris Bungo's "Then & Now" video presentation

Laurel And Hardy: The Magic Behind The Movies by Randy Skretvedt (book)
Rick Greene (3 lobby cards)
Chris Bungo (Then & Now video)
Johannes Brügger (location fact)
Steve Rydzewski (identification of Hugh Saxon)

This page was last updated on: 16 December 2023