“Putting Pants on Philip” from 1927 is officially the first film in which Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were seen as a duo. However, the first film in which they were shown together, “The Lucky Dog”, dates back to 1919. Why did it take so long for the men to realize that as a duo they had more eternal value than solo? According to Joe Rock, the studio credits for whom Laurel worked in the early 1920s, Stan and Olli actually could have made their first film as a comedy duo as early as 1925, but Laurel initially held off. In “Half a Man” (1925), after years of searching for his own character, “the thin one” seemed to have finally found his way. He was not (yet) interested in playing with a partner because he was still looking for his own identity. In other words, Stan was not interested in competition.
A few years later, however, he had fueled enough confidence to dare to share the attention with Oliver Hardy, and we all know what grew out of that fruitful partnership. Was Laurel’s fear justified? Anyone who has seen his solo work is inclined to say yes (with a few exceptions). Stan without Olli is generally not nearly as funny as Stan with Olli (that also applies the other way around). Take “White Wings”, a 1923 two-act in which the native Briton plays a street sweeper (called a “White Wing” at the time because of their white overalls). When he accidentally mistakes a pram for a trash can, he gets a cop after him. He tries to outsmart them in a variety of inventive ways, including by mimicking a living statue and posing as a dentist, then getting into trouble with a disturbed patient (played by James Finlayson, who would later become a regular in the Laurel & Hardy films).
The story is hardly anything at all; this is purely about the slapstick and the comical situations. And while some of these jokes are quite nice, the video as a whole is unfortunately not very memorable. The best jokes were “borrowed” from colleagues Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, and even Stan Laurel can’t get away with that. “White Wings” is therefore a disappointment, despite the beautiful photography. You simply expect more from a film with Stan Laurel and James Finlayson, directed by “Keystone Cop” George Jeske.