Hal Roach Studios ( 1928 ) Two Reels
Cast: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Richard Carl, Charlie Rogers
Producer: Hal Roach
Director: James Parrott
Professor Padilla decides that he needs a dead body to prove a theory that human brains are flat. The doorbell rings and it is Stan and Ollie begging for food. The professor invites them in and tells them both that he will pay them both $500 if they do a job for him. Stan and Ollie try their best to ignore the professor putting the ash from his lit cigarette in his breast pocket and ask what the job is. He tells them he wants them to go to the graveyard and dig up a body for him. They agree to the job and off they go. However, professor Padilla’s butler has been spying on him. It turns out he is undercover police detective Ledoux, and he calls his captain to tell him what the professor is up to. The captain tells Ledoux to follow Stan and Ollie to the graveyard and try to stop them from digging any bodies up. Ledoux follows Stan and Ollie with a white sheet wrapped around him. The rest of the police force show up to arrest the mad professor who does a tango as he is lead off into custody. While searching for the graveyard Stan and Ollie see a street sign. It is too dark to read it so Ollie offers to climb up the sign post. Once up he reads the sign which says “WET PAINT”, and sure enough he has white paint all over the front of his suit. They reach the cemetery gate and Ollie forces Stan to go in by himself. Ledoux has reached the graveyard first and is hiding in the bushes. He sneezes which causes Stan to panic and run out of the graveyard. Ollie yells at Stan and forces him to go back in. Once back inside the cemetery Stan begins digging up one of the graves. A security guard spots him and begins running towards him but then trips over Ledoux who was crouched down behind a bush. Stan hears the commotion and runs out of the graveyard and past Ollie who has to chase after him. The guard, seeing Ledoux in a white sheet, is spooked too. The guard runs out of the cemetery, locking the gate behind him as he leaves.
Ollie brings Stan back to the front gate only to find it locked. Stan will have to climb over the wall to get in. While that sounds simple it winds up taking Stan many minutes to figure out how to climb over the wall with Ollie giving him a boost. Once over Stan lands in an open grave and panics. Ollie sticks his head over the wall and tells Stan to calm down and go back to digging up the grave. Stan puts his lamp on what looks like a rock and gets back to work. But the rock turns out to be a turtle’s back, and while Stan does not notice his lamp walking away Ollie does and ducks back behind the wall frightened. Stan is bothered by a mosquito and attempts to smash it between his hands. This makes a clapping sound which Ledoux hears and repeats. Stan hears it, claps his hands again, and hears Ledoux clap his hands again in response. Ollie pokes his head over the wall and tells Stan that it is only his echo. Stan tests this theory out by pretending to clap his hands but miss and still hears Ledoux responding. Outside the wall Ollie is chased down the block by a black cat. In the graveyard Stan is harassed by a bat, but instead of running away attempts to hit it with his shovel. Just as Ollie returns and sticks his head over the gate Stan smashes it with his shovel. Meanwhile the Turtle has walked behind Ledoux who is still crouched behind the bush. The lamp on its back sets fire to Ledoux’s sheet and sends him running around the cemetery. Stan sees this, panics, and jumps over the wall. Ollie is fed up and decides to climb over the wall and finish the job himself. But while climbing the wall it collapses into a pile of bricks leaving a sizable hole behind and Ollie grasping his foot in pain. Ollie pushes Stan into the grave he was digging up while he removes the shoe from his injured foot and massages it. Ollie then hears a noise and flips over to look. He does not notice that Stan has begin burying his foot under grave dirt. When Stan stops digging he notices Ollie’s toe sticking out of a pile of dirt and not knowing what it is shows Ollie who in turn grabs Stan’s shovel and smashes it. Recoiling in pain Ollie runs back through the broken wall followed by a panicking Stan. Ollie looks at his bare foot and sees his big toe now throbbing. Meanwhile Ledoux climbs into the hole Stan was digging. When Stan goes back in to dig again Ledoux rises up in his white sheet and Stan runs away. Stan tells Ollie about the moving body and assuming he is imagining things Ollie goes in himself and puts Ledoux into a sack not realizing he is only pretending to be dead. Ollie puts the sack on Stan’s back and as they begin to walk away Ledoux’s feet break through the bottom and also begin walking. Stan hears the footfalls behind him but can not figure where they are coming from. Ledoux’s hand comes out of the sack and reaching over removes Ollie’s hat, followed by the same hand rubbing Ollie’s face after he has confirmed the hand does not belong to Stan. Ollie runs off screaming but at the corner falls into a bottomless puddle. Stan runs past the same puddle with the Ledoux behind him and while Stan makes it across Ledoux falls in. Stan returns to the puddle and Ollie asks him where the body is. Stan points to the puddle and they both watch as Ledoux rises up. As Ledoux climbs out of the puddle Stan and Ollie run away in terror.
“Habeas Corpus” was the second of Laurel and Hardy’s horror themed movies following their pre-team movie “Do Detectives Think?” In that movie their characters pass the same graveyard only to have the wind blow their hats in and Ollie send Stan into the yard again and again to retrieve them. Since in that movie they were really suppose to be playing supporting characters to James Finlayson they were not allowed to develop that scene beyond a few minutes. “Habeas Corpus” allowed Laurel and Hardy to expand on the graveyard jokes. The other horror themed movies were “Laurel-Hardy Murder Case”, “Oliver the Eighth”, “The Live Ghost”, and “A Haunting We Will Go” with honorable mention to “Babes in Toyland” for their Boggeyland scenes. Amazingly while the writers at 20th Century Fox did screen Laurel and Hardy’s Roach movies for ideas when writing them scripts the only gag used from former Laurel and Hardy movies in “A Haunting We Will Go” is the broken statue gag from “Wrong Again”. It was not until “The Big Noise” that gags from the previous horror themed movies were used, including the painted street sign gag from “Habeas Corpus” as well as the premise of a mad scientist, the idea of a black widower from “Oliver the 8th” as well as gags from the dinner scene in the same movie, and the knife welding gag from “Do Detectives Think?” as well as the premise of sending over an agencies two worst detectives to guard a worried client. And the hand twisting gag from “Wrong Again” shows up in “The Big Noise” as well. This leads one to suspect that “The Big Noise” was made up of gags rejected from the “A Haunting We Will Go” script.