Be Big - Contemporary Film Criticism
John McCabe: "A classic example of Laurel & Hardy theatre-calibrated gag sequences - perfect for the interaction of large audiences - now seeming a bit repetitive for the few or individual viewers. But in any definition still a classic. Fill up the longueurs with buttered popcorn."
Glenn Mitchell: "BE BIG is generally regarded as an overlong exploration of a single gag.... Films such as this serve as illustration of the team's ability to carry slight material through sheer strength of characterization."
William K. Everson: "Similar in structure to their PERFECT DAY, it has far less incident and variety, and indeed rapidly becomes rather tiresome.... One of their weakest films."
Charles Barr: "The main interest of this rather tame film is as a rehearsal for a section of SONS OF THE DESERT."
Roland Lacourbe: "Des longueurs dans ce premier 'trois-bobines' qui équivaut à trente minutes de projection, une durée de 'transition' ne convenant guère à leur style: les duex seules réussites de ce type seront THE LAUREL-HARDY MURDER CASE(1930) bénéficiant d'un scénario plus elaboré, et surtout l' éblouissant THE MUSIC BOX (1932)."
In the face of such deadly logic, who could argue with that?
Randy Skretvedt: "BE BIG is generally regarded as one of Laurel & Hardy's weakest shorts.... The film's chief flaw is an excruciatingly protracted sequence which has Stan trying to pull his boot from Hardy's foot for damn near 20 minutes. Fun is fun, but there are limits."
The sequence is protracted (unless viewed with an audience to persuade one otherwise), but it lasts 12 minutes, not 20. It may seem like 20 minutes, but it lasts 12. In any case there are several aspects of BE BIG business worth acknowledging.
To begin with, Messrs. Laurel and Hardy versus their wives was always an indefective model. So was Anita Garvin, at her beautiful best in this film. The inexplicably sumptuous Art Deco sets (devised by Margaret Roach in one of her rare involvements with studio operations) were visually fascinating to explore, particularly in contrast with the usual interiors where Laurel and Hardy sought refuge from a hostile world.
The 1930-1931 Hal Roach release slate represented a prime period for Laurel & Hardy, just as it did for the studio's comedy units featuring Our Gang, The Boy Friends, and Charley Chase. Compared to its immediate predecessor in the Laurel & Hardy canon, ANOTHER FINE MESS, or to Chase's THE PIP FROM PITTSBURG, The Boy Friends' AIR TIGHT, and Our Gang's TEACHER'S PET, BE BIG may well be a lesser effort. But compared to all the other competing short subjects made then around Hollywood, or for that matter to any single episode of a situation comedy series produced so far throughout the history of television, BE BIG is indeed a remarkably successful effort among those films designed to place audiences at deep ease through comfortable laughter - the laughter of recognition and superiority at a safe distance.
Certainly there are more reasons for repeated enjoyment of BE BIG, critics notwithstanding. Stan Laurel's vacant, innocent stares absolutely pierce the comedy veil. The exasperation of Oliver Hardy leaves him delightfully all in a heap. Certainly is big of him. And as mentioned, the wall-to-wall incidental music score provided primarily by LeRoy Shield is nothing short of rocking, excitement, and slouching.
Plus H.M. "Beanie" Walker's dialogue is textbook definitive. Look at and listen to BE BIG to see and hear how many spoken lines have quietly crept into the daily conversation of every Laurel & Hardy fan, starting with Oliver Hardy's plaintive request of his partner, "Why don't you do something to help me?"
Anyone dismissing BE BIG is only cheating, or chiselling him or herself. As Oliver Hardy himself says, just as the wives are about to ring the door chimes. "What could be worse?"
-- by Richard W. Bann --