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THE REAL STAN & OLLIE

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Jan. 25, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: It may be too much to hope for but it would be great of ‘Stan & Ollie’ (see above) motivated young people to seek out Laurel & Hardy comedies on video. Amazon streaming and YouTube are easy places to go, and there are lots of DVDs out there as well. The best of the latter is the excellent collection of their early sound films that was released eight years ago and includes most of their best work. Here’s my review of that set, published in the Deseret News on Nov. 11, 2011.

In Germany they are Dick & Doof, literally “fat and stupid.” But I’ve always thought of them more as Dumb & Dumber — long before Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels co-opted that title.

We’re talking Laurel & Hardy, of course, still considered by many the greatest comedy team of all time.

Yet the duo’s best shorts and features have long been out of print on VHS, and most have never been released on DVD. Until now.

“Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy: The Essential Collection” (Vivendi, 1929-40, 10 discs) collects in a trim box all of their sound shorts and most of their early sound features, each digitally remastered and restored — and they look and sound great.

Laurel was the skinny one, lanky and obtuse, grinning in a goofy manner or scratching his fright-wig hair in befuddlement or bursting into tears at being berated by his pal Ollie. And he took everything literally, never questioning anything, no matter how ridiculous.

Hardy had the large girth and twiddled his tie, sometimes looking down in a moment of embarrassment, sometimes letting out grunts of exasperation at the bizarre antics of his friend and sometimes simply turning to the camera as if to say, can you believe this guy? And once in awhile he’d just lay it on the line, telling Laurel: “Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into.”

     

Stan and Ollie were solo performers for years in silent movies before being teamed up. They even appeared in a couple of early silent films together when they were still solo comic actors. But in 1927 that all changed as they were paired for a short comedy — a fortuitous bit of casting that changed the trajectory of their careers.

It was at this point that they began developing the character traits they would use to play off each other on screen and stage over the next three decades, until Hardy’s death in 1957. And audiences loved them.

That is to say, audiences really loved THEM, not just their movies.

Laurel & Hardy were gentle clowns, despite the cartoon violence they often caused or which occurred around them. Their onscreen characters were benevolent, well intentioned and loyal to each other, but they were also very much like little children and not above “tit for tat” revenge.

Even when their characters were henpecked husbands, or when they bickered with each other, even when they might seem childish in their antics — they never stopped being innocent and childlike.

Laurel & Hardy became huge stars at the end of the silent era. And when sound debuted in 1927, they watched as many of their peers struggled: Charlie Chaplin wouldn’t let his Little Tramp speak until 1940, and Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd, though active, never matched their silent successes.

But Laurel & Hardy made a seamless transition. They kept their films visual, retained the meticulously timed slapstick they had honed in their years of churning out literally hundreds of silents, and when they did speak, they kept it short, sweet and hilarious.

Typical verbal exchanges might have Laurel saying something completely off the wall or mixing up popular phrases, as when he tries to recite the months of the year: “ … Septober, Octember, No Wonder … ” Or when he says to Hardy, “It was so dark I didn’t think you could hear me.”

Or this exchange when he tells a woman that everyone thought he was dead. She asks sharply, “How did you find out you weren’t?” Laurel replies, “Well, I saw my picture in the paper.”

     

Hardy could be equally obtuse, of course. As when they are in the Army on KP duty and Hardy asks a superior what they are supposed to do with all the garbage they’ve collected. The cook sarcastically tells them to “take it to the general.” So they do.

Or when Laurel asks Hardy, “What’s a knick-knack?” And Hardy replies, “Oh, a knick-knack is a thing that sits on top of a whatnot.”

Audiences would later go mad for Abbott & Costello and then Martin & Lewis, who performed slapstick but were much more aggressive and primarily verbal comics. The same could also be said of many other lower-tier comedy duos in 1930s and ’40s flicks, most of whom are now forgotten — Olsen & Johnson, Wheeler & Woolsey, Brown & Carney.

But no one had the kind of warmth and generous spirit demonstrated by Laurel & Hardy.

There are so many wonderful films — both shorts and features — in this set that it’s impossible to single out “the best.” You can’t go wrong with any disc here. (The set contains 58 shorts and features, including some foreign-language versions with Laurel & Hardy speaking phonetic Spanish and French.)

But I do have many favorite moments, such as when Laurel inadvertently gets drunk while trying to fill wine bottles in “The Bohemian Girl.” Or when Hardy picks Laurel up in his arms in “Block-Heads” because he thinks Laurel has lost a leg, and then doesn’t notice when Laurel is walking around, so he picks him up again. Or when Laurel has a laughing fit as a woman tickles him while trying to steal a map in “Way Out West.” Or the little girl in “Pack Up Your Troubles” who, in her own unique way, tells a sleepy Laurel the story of Goldilocks.

There’s much more but suffice to say this “Essential Collection” is a long-awaited dream come true for Laurel & Hardy fans.