Series: Laurel and Hardy feature

Director: Alfred J. Goulding
Producer: Hal Roach
Story & Screenplay: Charley Rogers, Felix Adler, Harry Langdon
Photography: Art Lloyd
Editor: Bert Jordan
Sound: William Randall, Warren B. Delaplain

Stars: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Forrester Harvey, Wilfred Lucas, Forbes Murray, Frank Baker, Eddie Borden, Gerald Rogers, Victor Kendall, Gerald Fielding, Charlie Hall, Peter Cushing
Company: United Artists
Released: 16 February 1940
Length: 6 reels
Production No.: F-26
Filming dates: June 1939
Rating: 5/10

A Chump At Oxford

Available on DVD:

Stan and Ollie are a pair of well dressed gentlemen being chauffeured in an open-top limousine. It turns out that they are in fact hitch-hikers on their way to the employment agency. The driver of a water truck pulls up and offers them a lift. The boys jump on the back as instructed but are deliberately doused with water as a practical joke. The gullible duo fall for the prank a second time.  They arrive at the employment agency courtsey of a tow-truck driver.  Stan shuts the door to the car and watches as it completely falls apart in the road.
Inside the waiting room of the building, the boys overhear a telephone call from a woman desperate to hire a maid and butler.  Ollie convinces the desk clerk (Vivien Oakland) to give him the address of the house and then quickly ushers Stan out into the street to tell him the plan.  Later that day the boys arrive at the house, with Ollie suited as a butler and Stan dressed as a convincing maid.  'Baldy' Vanderveer (James Finlayson) answers the door.  Despite Fin's initial shock, he invites them into the house to meet his wife.  Ollie explains they are the best the agency could come up with on such short notice.  Mrs. Vanderveer (Anita Garvin) introduces her new servants to the chef and asks for him to explain their duties.
That evening, the dinner party is in full swing as Stan (dressed as Agnes the maid) tries to serve food to the rich snobs, who all snub him.  After Stan accidentally drops the tray of food all over the hostess and bumps the host into sitting on what's left of it, the dinner gong is sounded and the eating commences.  Stan misinterprets an instruction to "take all the cocktails" and ends up drinking the lot.  Meanwhile Ollie is informed that the guests are all seated incorrectly and so begins a complicated routine of rectifying this.  Several minutes later enough is enough and Vanderveer orders everyone to sit down right where they are!
'Agnes' is instructed to serve the salad - without any dressing, whilst Ollie pops a cork which lands in the hosts' dessert bowl.  Stan takes Vanderveer literally and walks out in his under garments, prompting Mrs. Vanderveer to faint and Mr. Vanderveer to go after the boys with a gun.  Cop Harry Bernard escorts the host back to his house with buckshot in his pants with the frequently-used "you almost blew my brains out".
The second part of the film begins as it was originally shot:
The boys are street cleaners, sweeping the road and clearing up rubbish outside the local Finlayson National Bank.  Stan spots a manhole without its cover in the road and so decides to whack a small rock into it with Ollie's broom.  It comes as no surprise that a worker is down there!  Stan then pokes some rubbish on the tyre of a truck with his stick, which of course results in a puncture.  It's mid-day and time for the boys to take their lunch break.  Sitting on the steps next to the employee entrance to the bank, Stan suggests they need more education in their lives if they are to advance themselves.  Ollie listens intently and offers they will start going to night school before the boys sit and eat their lunch unaware that in the building behind them a robbery is taking place.
The bank manager manages to raise the alarm as the robber escapes.  As he makes a quick exit, he slips on a banana peel that Stan has discarded on the sidewalk.  The boys become inadvertent heroes as they capture the crook.  As a reward for their bravery, the bank manager offers to send them to Oxford to get the education they so badly want.  England here they come....

The small quiet town of Oxford is home to a university of students who welcome the boys with open arms, or so it would seem.  One of their members instructs the boys they will require a pass before they can see the Dean (the head of the college) and tells them it can be obtained via navigating a hedge maze within the grounds.  Gullible Stan and gullible Ollie set off in search for the pass.  After a while of getting nowhere they stop for a short rest before deciding to split up, but ultimately they end up back together and take refuge on a bench.
Not content with their tricking of the newcomers, the students send one of their members (Eddie Borden) into the maze dressed as a ghost.  He takes up a position behind a hedge where the boys have rested and pokes his hands through, resting it in various places upon Stan and/or Ollie's body.  The gag is so well pulled off that it is easy to forget which hand belongs to whom!  Stan starts smoking a pipe, which turns into a cigar, whilst his two hands suddenly turn into three hands.  Finally the prankster is exposed and the boys are relieved to know they are not going mad.... just yet.
The next morning the boys are introduced to the 'Dean' (another prank).  After an initiation service from the students, Stan and Ollie are giving the royal treatment before being offered their special quarters.  Little do they realise they have been tricked and have been giving the real Dean's bedroom.  The boys get themselves settled but are interrupted when the Dean (Wilfred Lucas) confronts them.  Ollie is adamant that the room in which he and Stan occupy was given to them by the 'Dean' and is quick to point out the culprit.  The students are reprimanded by the Dean for their tomfoolery whilst Stan and Ollie are shown to their real quarters.
There, they are introduced to their valet, Meredith, who immediately recognises Stan as one "Lord Paddington", a former resident of the university.


Favourite bit
The night scene in the maze where Stan and Ollie rest on the bench is really good!  One of the students (Eddie Borden) pulls a disturbing (and very convincing) practical joke on the boys by poking his arms through the hedge behind them and interfering with Stan.  Giving the illusion that Stan has three hands, the joke is neither too short nor too long, but it definitely holds the attention of the viewer throughout.  Classic.

Copyright January 19, 1940.
Filmed in June 1939, with the final cut completed by August 31 (42 minute version). New cut completed by October 4 (63 minute version).
Originally filmed in 1939 as a 4-reel film with the extra 2-reels (the dinner sequence) being shot much later.
Anita Garvin plays the role of Mrs. Vanderveer. This is in tribute to actress Ellinor Vanderveer, who was a regular background extra in some of the Laurel & Hardy silent films.
Stan Laurel contributed to the writing of the story.
Alfred Goulding receives the credit as director of the feature version of "A Chump At Oxford" because the streamliner credits were used for the feature. You will notice that neither Jimmy Finlayson nor Anita Garvin are mentioned in the credits. GORDON DOUGLAS had directed the additional 20 minute sequence. The Boys then went directly to work on SAPS AT SEA, also direct by Douglas. The streamliner had been completed first, then the Boys worked on THE FLYING DEUCES under Boris Morros. Upon returning to Roach, the additional scenes were shot and directed by the young and talented Mr. Douglas (returning to his home studio after one year directing OUR Gang at MGM.)
See this page for a DVD comparison between the Streamliner version and the Extended version.
We see the boys in the very first shot of the movie - Stan is smoking a pipe and Ollie a cigar.
The boys get out of the limousine outside the Morning Globe, a newspaper headquarters with an output of 500,000 per day. The Globe Pipe Shop stands next door for all your tobacco needs.
The Sterling Employment Agency is situated at 1808.
When Vivien Oakland writes down the address for Ollie she uses her right hand.
Whilst the boys are at the Vanderveer home, verbal references are made to two previous L&H films: Any Old Port (Finlayson) and From Soup To Nuts (Hardy). In fact the latter reference is no co-incidence, as the scene reflects the events of that film - and starred Anita Garvin as the hostess.
There are ten guests (five men, five women) at the dinner party.
In the extended European version of the film, the name of the bank changes from Farmers & Merchants Bank of Commerce - to Finlayson's bank. When the bank robbery is taking place we see the plaque which reads the Farmer's sign, but when the cops drive past in the next shot the name of the bank has changed to Finlayson's (as seen in the window).
When we first see the entrance to the maze there is a bench in front of it. In the exact same next shot the bench is missing.
The time of twelve o'clock shows up twice in the film. Firstly when their alarm clock sounds for lunch outside the bank and then later when the churchbell sounds midnight as the boys are trapped in the maze.
In the Dean's bedroom there is a framed photograph hanging on the wall which presumably depicts the annual Oxford-Cambridge boat-race.
My opinion
Not one of the better films from Laurel and Hardy, who were well past their peak at this stage of their careers, though the film does have its charm and memorable scenes. It's average.

Stan Laurel
Stan/Lord Paddington
Oliver Hardy
Forrester Garvey
Wilfred Lucas
Dean Williams
James Finlayson
Baldy Vanderveer
(*Extended version only)
Anita Garvin
Mrs. Vanderveer
(*Extended version only)
Vivien Oakland
(*Extended version only)
Sam Lufkin
Water truck driver
(*Extended version only)
George Magrill
Tow-truck driver
(*Extended version only)
Eddie Borden
Gerald Rogers
Forbes Murray
Jean De Briac
(*Extended version only)
Harry Bernard
(*Extended version only)
Charlie Hall
Gerald Fielding
Victor Kendall
Peter Cushing
Frank Baker
Jenkins, Dean's servant
Ethelreda Leopold
Woman in bank
Rex Lease
Bank robber
James Millican
Al Thompson
Manhole worker
(*Extended version only)
Edmund Mortimer
Dinner guest
(*Extended version only)
William H. O'Brien
Man in unemployment office
(*Extended version only)
Marjorie Deanne
Dinner guest
(*Extended version only)


CREDITS (click image to enlarge)

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Laurel And Hardy - The Magic Behind The Movies by Randy Skretvedt (book) (Jerry Murbach)
Brent Seguine (identification of Ethelreda Leopold & Marjorie Deanne)
Rick Greene (silk poster)

This page was last updated on: 12 June 2021