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I’ve got a lot of these to crank out, as it is the holidays… which means that I’ve been watching even more films than usual.

Film: The Lucky Dog
Director: Jess Robbins
Performers: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Florence Gilet
Breed(s) featured: Mutt, Miniature Poodle
Production information: Sun-Lite / Amalgamated Producing Company, 1921 (USA)

Stan Laurel, kicked out for not paying his rent, befriends an adorable stray dog on the streets. Though he initially finds the dog an inconvenience (“a dandruff hound — hard to get rid of”), he soon discovers that his friendly mutt is the key to winning over a well-to-do lady’s affections. Antics ensue, mutt saves the day, and the guy gets the girl in the end!

As the first film to feature Laurel playing alongside Hardy — though one is cast as the hero and the other a villain, and they were not yet featured as a paired duo — this film already has a pretty full write-up on Wikipedia. I have little to add other than to point out a few details that amused, confused, or otherwise stood out me…

As Laurel attempts to abandon the puppy in a garbage can, a cop appears. His presence alone acts as a deterrence, but then the policeman goes one step further by ordering him to abide by leash ordinances! In contrast to what I figured was a much more lackadaisical attitude towards dog guardianship, given the ubiquity of free-roaming street curs back in the day, I’m surprised that the lawman actually cared to intervene, and that Laurel felt it necessary to keep up appearances — if only for comedic tension.

Secondly, the momentum of the simple plot allows no pause for sympathy when the rich woman loses her poodle. Everything is made better as soon as Laurel deposits his cute puppy into her arms — and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with him being a mutt. In fact, her poofy, tear-stained purse dog looks downright pathetic in contrast to Laurel’s handsome, sleek-coated little gift, and I don’t think it’s a matter of subjective preference. It’s a rather deliberately plotted contrast, especially since they had just made such a big fuss out of the mongrel’s exclusion from the dog fancy in the preceding scene.

Embracing the mutt (and her new suitor), the lady effectively turns her back on the Metropolitan Dog Fanciers Association and gives in to what actually counts — enjoying a dog as a dog, and not as a status symbol. It’s charming. There is often a healthy subversive streak to early comedies that makes them quite exhilarating, despite rudimentary camera work and poor archival preservation.

A tangential question: when and why did we (perhaps just Americans?) stop using the term thoroughbred to describe purebred dogs? I think sometimes that it’s a term worth reviving, if only to distance oneself from the more lurid connotations that ‘purity’ invokes.

Finally, in the climactic scene where the dog carries a lit stick of dynamite out of the living room, it’s fairly clear that the object is strapped to his face, as he paws uncomfortably at his muzzle a couple times mid-action. Alas, this tiny but completely noticeable detail ruins the whole finale for me. It’s a pity that they went through the trouble to make so many other special effects appear seamless through technical manipulation, but they were unable to account for the one living illusionist by training the dog to carry an object properly. That is, the filmmakers regarded the cute mutt as just another prop in the film’s production, and not really an “actor” in his own right. So he gets no coaching, no credits, nothing!

Hopefully he wasn’t just another disposable backlot dog, forgotten after the film. That would be a cruel punchline indeed.

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