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Thursday, 6 October 2011

'ITS ALIVE!!!' Mad Scientists of The Screen: #1 Professor Noodle (Laurel & Hardy's 'Dirty Work')

- Presenting a guest blogpost by writer, performer and all round evil genius Ian Champion -

Yes, I thought I'd create a series of themed blogs while I'm rehearsing the part of a classic mad scientist Dr Von Baildon in Revenge of the Grand Guignol. This inspired me to take very much a personal trip through some of my favourite medical mad-hatters, the historic Machiavellian men of medicine of the screen. Hopefully these will rekindle some pleasant film and TV memories for you, and maybe introduce one or two psychopathic physicians and deranged doctors whose screen appearances are well worth seeking out for the first time...

I've noticed there are definite rules to being a 'Mad Scientist'. Ironically for such unconventional crackpots, these white-coated whackjobs do in a sense conform to a code of conduct. I decided to crystallise them into (so far) the Four Principles of Mad Science that my Hall of Fame adhere to. (Yes, we may find more as we go along, so relax your sphincters...)

Rather than the Hippocratic Oath and any admonition to 'Do no harm', the candidate for inclusion must:

1) Voyage into uncharted medical territory.
2) Describe their goals in the most hyperbolically overblown terms possible.
2) Believe passionately that only they themselves can succeed in their experiments.
4) Have complete disregard for the morality that prevented anyone else from going there before them.

You do have to be mad to work here. And it helps...

Ou first 'Insane in the membrane' is the deliciously doolally Professor Noodle from the Laurel and Hardy 1933 classic short Dirty Work as played by Lucien Littlefield.

Stan and Ollie are a couple of chimney sweeps hired to work in the home of the highly-eccentric Professor Noodle. They proceed to trash the entire property including the nutty Professor's formula he's been lovingly working on for rejuvenation. Right from the special-effect opening credits featuring a bubbling conical flask, and tracking in to Noodle's desk of complicated experiment paraphernalia, we know we're in the presence of the archetypal batty boffin images we all know and love. Noodle has the smoking jacket of the gentleman and the perched-glasses-on-nose of the scholar, coupled with a tufty, almost bald head and a look of maniacal determination as he stirs the tall frothing milkshake of his liquid labours. His long-suffering butler Jessop has spent twenty years hearing him declaim his goal of rejuvenation with 'just a few drops' of his serum. The mood of Noodle's boasting is aptly punctured with the cuckoo clock sounding followed by the doorbell.

As Stan and Ollie enter and begin to elaborately destroy the house, Noodle delights in his list of nonsensical ingredients to be added. When ready for his final test, he places an unfortunate adult duck 'subject' into a bathtub, and with a single drop from a teat pipette of his serum, the water boils like a jacuzzi resulting in the duck reverting to a cute little duckling. This causes the 'good' doctor to perform a madcap jig of celebration around the room. This whole sequence is a wonderfully bizarre high-point of Littlefield's performance. He is bursting with such joy that he can barely contain his glee in front of the boys in a glorious display of deliriously-committed ham. Littlefield actually pulls off a hilarious 'literal' crowing of his achievements, his cry of exultation that the greatest scientific breakthrough of the age (hyperbole is a must here) is 'Mine! All mine!' ia seamlessly followed by his un-self-consciously insane cockerel crowing sound. His triumphant excitement at having Stan and ollie witness his work is such that after leaving the room with them in eager pursuit, he can't resist turning back on them to re-enter with a full-throated cackle. Now that's job satisfaction! 

The be-sooted boys are then shown a continuation of the previous experiment where the poor duck's bio-markers are now further reversed to the form of an egg. With a surprisingly uncharacteristic burst of self-preserving intelligence, Ollie reacts to this brightly with 'Well, be seeing you...'. Inevitably, while the Professor exits to find his butler, Stan and Ollie get busy with the fizzy, using a heroic dose, and poor Ollie is accidentally reduced to an impossibly retrograde self: a chimp.

All in all, a fast-paced gem and a neat concentrated injection of medical mayhem to kick off this little series, with all principles intact, if not any scruples or sanity.

There's more to come. And remember: You can't keep a good man down...unless you have Chloroform.

Don't touch that dial! Or the second switch...

- Ian Champion

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