Released on 16 February 1940, A Chump at Oxford was Laurel and Hardy’s penultimate film at Hal Roach Studios, and remains one of their all-time classics. It also contains some scenes hearkening back to their silent shorts.
Stan and Ollie are down on their luck as always, with only $6 left. A truck from the city water department pretends to offer them a ride to a job agency, but instead sprays them with hoses. The boys look miserable when they finally arrive, in an equally terrible car.
Their first job offer is as a maid and butler at a party, and Stan is the one pressed into drag yet again. This dinner party is essentially a sound remake of their 1928 short From Soup to Nuts. It also ends just as their 1927 short Slipping Wives did. Those who know the boys’ filmography well will appreciate how Ollie announces “there is everything from soup to nuts.” Obviously, nothing goes right, and they’re fired.
After the disastrous dinner party, the boys become street-sweepers. This too proves a failure, and they resolve to get an education for better job prospects. As they’re discussing this, they’re eating lunch outside a bank, and inadvertently foil a robbery with Stan’s carelessly-tossed banana peel. The bank manager offers them a job, and when Ollie explains they don’t have an education, the manager pays for them to attend Oxford.
The boys endure a lot of hazing when they arrive, and they’re too sweet and innocent to understand what’s really going on. One of these pranks involves getting lost in a maze at night. Some folks complain it’s ridiculous to believe in two grown men scared by an obviously fake ghost, but you have to remember their innocent characters. They’re not playing characters like Groucho Marx or Bud Abbott, but rather man-children like Curly Howard and Lou Costello.
In the morning, another prank is played on them, and they’re told the Dean’s quarters are theirs. They make themselves at home and tear up the place, and the real Dean walks in on them. Not realizing who he is, the boys have some fun with him. He’s furious, until he discovers what really happened. Johnson, the student who impersonated the Dean, is slated for expulsion.
Johnson’s friends are determined to save him from expulsion by getting Stan and Ollie thrown out first. Before this can happen, though, the boys go to their true quarters and meet Meredith, a valet who thinks Stan is someone named Lord Paddington. Paddington lost his memory when a window fell on his head, and wandered away from Oxford. Ollie thinks this story is preposterous, since Stan is the dumbest fellow he’s ever known.
The other students come in to carry out their nefarious plans, and Stan and Ollie try to escape through the window. Wouldn’t you know it, the window falls on Stan’s head, and he transforms into Lord Paddington. He becomes very angry at the students, and his ears wiggle, just as Paddington’s did when he got angry. All the students are thrown out the window, onto a net intended for Stan and Ollie.
Stan no longer recognizes Ollie, and begins treating him quite shabbily. He even throws him out the window as well, furious at the suggestion he once had a much different life. Ollie rankles at being made into a valet, ordered around, and called Fatty. Stan’s performance as Lord Paddington is frequently cited as one of his all-time best, particularly because he’s playing a straight character and using his normal voice.
Ollie is so angry, he up and quits. After this happens, Stan hears students cheering for him outside, and goes to the window. For the second time, the window falls on his head, and he reverts back to his old self. Ollie then storms in, not having finished his tirade against Stan for daring to treat him so shabbily. He even says he’s going back to the U.S. without Stan.
Stan is quite upset Ollie is speaking like this and saying he’s leaving alone, and thus starts possibly my favoritest ending of a Laurel and Hardy movie. It’s so sweet and heartwarming, knowing they were closer than brothers in real life and not really acting.
This is a really sweet, fun, cute movie, and a really good choice for someone just getting into the boys. I’ve loved these two dear, sweet clown prince angels since July of ’96, when I was 16 years old. They meant everything to me my junior year of high school, loving arms around my weeping heart during one of the darkest nights of my soul. In eternal gratitude, the third part of my Hebrew name is Dafna, which means Laurel.