Generally, romantic comedy -- as played by Carole Lombard, William Powell, Myrna Loy and several others -- is what we discuss here. Lombard did take part in some character comedy early in her career (the Mack Sennett shorts), but generally the divide between romantic and character comedy was rarely crossed, particularly during the sound era.
Slapstick was a form of character comedy, but not all character comedy was slapstick. Its top practitioners approached it in several different ways: think of the burlesque violence of the Three Stooges, the anarchy of the Marx Brothers or the wordplay of Abbott and Costello.
But while all three of the above acts were popular, the most beloved comedic team was comparatively gentle. And today, they are being honored with 24 hours of their work at Turner Classic Movies in the U.S.
I am speaking of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.
Their nature is the key to their enduring popularity. For many, the Stooges are too violent, the Marxes too subversive, Abbott and Costello too overbearing. In contrast, Stan and Ollie are downright affable. While Hardy often bosses Laurel around, it's generally to get a job done; there is little, if any, of the bullying Bud Abbott gives Lou Costello. While some may like other comedy teams more than Laurel and Hardy, hardly anyone dislikes them.
In addition, most of the gags in Laurel and Hardy films are exquisitvely crafted, building up to an incredible comedic climax. And Stan and Ollie not only seamlessly shifted from silents to sound (alas, TCM is showing no silent L&H), but from shorts to features. They were Hal Roach's meal ticket throughout the 1930s.
Here's the schedule (all times Eastern), with comments L&H expert Mark Evanier made at his fine Web site, http://www.newsfromme.com. If the gentle, genial genius of Laurel and Hardy can't make you laugh...well, maybe you need to call a casket company's sales department.
6 a.m. "Night Owls" (1930) -- Stan and Ollie help out a policeman played by Edgar Kennedy, agreeing to break into his superior's home so he can arrest them and score points with the boss. Well, what could possibly go wrong with an arrangement like that?
6:25 a.m. "Blotto" (1930) -- Stan and Ollie go out for a night on the town to get drunk...and manage to do so even though, unbeknownst to them, Mrs. Hardy has replaced their booze with tea. One of their funniest shorts.
6:55 a.m. "Brats" (1930) -- Stan and Ollie play themselves and also, thanks to trick photography, their sons. A cute, funny short. Mr. Hardy, sans mustache, makes an especially adorable toddler.
7:20 a.m. "Hog Wild" (1930) -- Stan and Ollie attempt to install a radio antenna on Mr. Hardy's roof. Guess how many times Mr. Hardy will fall off that roof.
7:45 a.m. "Be Big!" (1931) -- Stan and Ollie demonstrate why married men should never try to stand up to their wives. They're trying to go to a convention but spend most of this film trying to get Hardy's boots on and off.
8:15 a.m. "Laughing Gravy" (1931) -- Stan and Ollie attempt to hide a dog from their landlord. They don't do a very good job of this...but then they never did a very good job of anything.
8:50 a.m. "Our Wife" (1931) -- Stan and Ollie attempt to engineer the elopement of Mr. Hardy with a lady of similar girth, which means cramming everyone into a tiny car. A cameo by Ben Turpin makes this one a delight.
9:15 a.m. "Pardon Us" (1931) -- Stan and Ollie go to prison, get out of prison, wind up back in prison, etc. Their first starring feature started out to be a short but it got padded into a longer film and the patchwork shows. Still, there's much to laugh at, especially if you like dentist humor.
10:30 a.m. "One Good Turn" (1931) -- Stan and Ollie try to assist an elderly widow they think (wrongly) is about to be evicted from her home. This is the only film they made where Stan, in essence, turns on Hardy and gets mad at him —- an odd twist in their relationship.
10:55 a.m. "Beau Hunks" (1931) -- Stan and Ollie join the Foreign Legion, as they tended to do from time to time. This was either a very long short or a very short feature but whatever it was, it's exactly the right length for the material.
11:35 a.m. "Helpmates" (1932) -- Stan and Ollie attempt to clean up the Hardy home before Mrs. Hardy returns from a trip. This film is highly educational in that it shows you why you should never ask Stan Laurel to help you clean your home before your wife returns from a trip.
noon "Bonnie Scotland" (1935) -- Stan and Ollie are tricked into joining the Scottish Army, which in this film functions a lot like the Foreign Legion. An okay feature but not one of their strongest.
1:25 p.m. "The Fixer Uppers" (1935) -- Stan and Ollie try to help a woman who feels her husband has been neglecting her. The plan is to fake an affair between Hardy and the lady to make hubby jealous. This is not a good idea.
1:50 p.m. "Them Thar Hills" (1934) -- Stan and Ollie escape to mountain country to soothe Ollie's frazzled nerves and wind up drunk and in a spat with a jealous husband played by Charlie Hall.
2:15 p.m. "Tit For Tat" (1935) -- Stan and Ollie operate an appliance store and quarrel with their neighbor, Charlie Hall. Something of a sequel to "Them Thar Hills"...the only time The Boys referenced one film in another.
2:40 p.m. "The Live Ghost" (1934) -- Stan and Ollie get stuck on a ship that's supposed to be haunted. The Boys didn't do a lot of this kind of storyline but when they did, it was always very funny.
3:05 p.m. "The Devil's Brother" (1933) -- Stan and Ollie in a light operetta about a fabled bandit. This is a very good film about half the time...when no one's singing and the camera is actually on Laurel and Hardy.
4:40 p.m. "Me and My Pal" (1933) -- Stan and Ollie each, in their own ways, manage to screw up Ollie's wedding day. With another superb performance by the great foil, Jimmy Finlayson, who was always worth watching.
5:10 p.m. "Their First Mistake" (1932) -- Stan and Ollie arrange for Ollie to adopt an orphan. This was by no means the first mistake these guys made but it was a pretty big one.
5:35 p.m. "Pack Up Your Troubles" (1932) -- Stan and Ollie get involved with another orphan -— the daughter of an old army buddy. This is one of their better features though what happens is more charming than funny.
6:45 p.m. "Scram!" (1932) -- Stan and Ollie are ordered by a judge to leave town for vagrancy and somehow wind up breaking into his home. You get the feeling their screen characters weren't the brightest bulbs in the batch?
7:10 p.m. "County Hospital" (1932) -- Stan and Ollie deal with Ollie's hospitalization and Stan's attempt to drive him home through the streets of Los Angeles and past a bad rear-screen projection.
7:30 p.m. "The Chimp" (1932) -- Stan and Ollie attempt to remake "Laughing Gravy" but with a chimpanzee instead of a dog and a marital infidelity angle tossed in.
8 p.m. "The Music Box" (1932) -- Stan and Ollie attempt to deliver a piano to a house atop a very long flight of steps. This was their big Academy Award winner and Stan's pick as the best short they ever made.
8:35 p.m. "Sons of the Desert" (1933) -- Stan and Ollie sneak off to a convention without the wives. A lot of Laurel and Hardy fans will tell you this is the best film they ever made.
9:45 p.m. "Way Out West" (1937) - Stan and Ollie attempt to help a young lady reclaim her rightful inheritance from the evil Jimmy Finlayson. A lot of Laurel and Hardy fans will tell you this is the best film they ever made. (Editor's note: To see two charming musical sequences from this film -- Stan and Ollie's soft shoe and "The Blue Ridge Mountains Of Virginia" -- go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Arajua9lxYA and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oNLPQ_k4wx8&NR=1, respectively.)
11 p.m. "Swiss Miss" (1938) -- Stan and Ollie get stuck working at a hotel in Switzerland, where they get involved in a couple's romantic problems. A pretty good film when they aren't dealing with that couple's romantic problems.
12:15 a.m. "Block-Heads" (1938) -- Stan and Ollie reunite after being separated after World War I, and Ollie brings Stan home to meet the wife. Always a mistake. One of their weaker features but it has some great moments.
1:15 a.m. "The Flying Deuces" (1939) -- Stan and Ollie join the Foreign Legion, just for a change of pace. A pretty good film which, because it's public domain, is readily available in real crummy, chopped-up prints. Turner seems to have a good, complete copy of it.
2:25 a.m. "A Chump at Oxford" (1939) -- Stan and Ollie go to College in the unlikeliest of places...and Stan gets a blow on the head which turns him into a brilliant, effete intellectual. A good film with a lame ending.
3:30 a.m. "Saps at Sea" (1940) -- Stan and Ollie are trapped on a boat with a notorious killer. I really like the first half of this film but not so much the second.
4:30 a.m. "Air Raid Wardens" (1943) -- Stan and Ollie are in charge of civil defense during World War II, making you wonder how we ever won. Not one of their best.
Enjoy as much of this as you can. It's simply timeless comedy.