Silent comedy buffs who've seen the Laurel & Hardy short Habeas Corpus will experience a strong sense of déjà vu while watching this film. In both cases the plot concerns a dotty professor who sends a couple of low comedy henchman -- a big guy and a small one -- to a graveyard to dig up a cadaver. Much of the comedy consists of the fumbling efforts of the two gravediggers to carry out their assignment. Another character who is aware of the scheme drapes himself in a sheet and hides in the graveyard to spy on the duo, scaring the small gravedigger when he sneezes.
The interesting thing is that Moonlight and Noses (love that title!) isn't a shameless rip-off of the Laurel & Hardy comedy, it's a predecessor made three years earlier, directed by Stan Laurel during the period when he preferred to work behind the camera. The lead comic who takes what would become Stan's role is Clyde Cook, a former circus clown who starred in a series of comedies for producer Hal Roach at this time but never graduated to the top ranks. His gruff companion is Noah Young, best known as a foil for Harold Lloyd in many films, variously as a good-natured cop, kind-hearted tough, or sometimes an outright villain. Here, in what would become the "Ollie" role, Young plays it straight and leaves the comic shtick to his partner Clyde. Their employer is good ol' Jimmy Finlayson, who gives a characteristically vigorous performance as Professor Sniff, described in classic style as "goofy half the time and cuckoo the other half." This version of the story also features love interest, for the man spying on the gravediggers (Tyler Brooke) is a suitor for the hand of the professor's daughter, Miss Sniff, who is played by none other than Fay Wray, still a teenager and still a brunette.
Clyde Cook, who wears a Chaplin-style mustache and a blank expression, strikes me as too one-dimensional to score much of an impression, but at times he's amusing in this short, as when he threatens Noah Young with a burst of fancy "boxer" footwork, or when he celebrates his ejection from the cemetery with a Happy Dance. Unfortunately, it appears that only the first reel of this two-reel comedy is known to exist; the surviving footage ends abruptly during the graveyard sequence. I do hope the rest of it is rediscovered some day, for what there is of Moonlight and Noses is quite agreeable and funny. Apparently director Laurel liked it enough to rework the material three years later in the version that, happily, survives intact.
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