FILM: LAUREL and HARDY

by PETER TATCHELL (copyright 2010)

They were quite simply the best loved comedy double act the world has ever seen. And arguably the funniest.

The humour of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy began in the last years of the silent movie, was triumphant with the coming of sound through the 1930s and found a devoted audience on British variety stages in the late 40s and early 50s. Then, after ill-health had ended their careers, television created an enormous resurgence of interest among a new generation of fans who were quickly mesmerised by their artistry. And half a century later, the technology of video and DVD has ensured their magic can be enjoyed by a never ending stream of devoted admirers.

Stan Laurel was born Arthur Stanley Jefferson in 1890, the son of a successful theatre owner in the north of England. Oliver Hardy’s birth occurred two years later in Georgia, in America’s south, though his father would die while the infant was only ten months old.

Stan’s early years were devoted to finding success in the hugely popular British Music Hall and he was part of the celebrated Fred Karno troupe which toured the U.S. in 1910 and 1912 and propelled a young Charles Chaplin to a career in the movies. In 1914, Stan also branched out on his own, working his way across the vaudeville circuits of America, eventually forming a double act with Australian Mae Dahlberg and adopting the name of “Laurel” in 1917.

Hardy meanwhile had worked at many jobs, occasionally utilizing his fine singing voice, before becoming a projectionist in his early twenties. The setting up of film studios in nearby Florida enticed “Babe” (as he was known to his family and friends) to try his luck in the movies. And for the next decade he became a reliable player in literally hundreds of one and two-reelers on both coasts, with a succession of screen comics like Billy West and Larry Semon.

By 1917, Stan too was finding occasional work on the big screen, though always returning to the footlights with Mae between movie contracts. In 1921, he filmed a short called Lucky Dog and found himself playing opposite a “heavy” named Babe Hardy. But it was just a couple of days work and the pair then went their separate ways.

Five years later, they were reunited at the “Lot of Fun” in Hollywood, otherwise known as the Hal Roach Studios, producers of the popular Our Gang and Charlie Chase comedies. At the time, Laurel was writing gags and occasionally directing, while Hardy usually appeared on screen as a villain.

Eventually they began appearing in the same two-reelers in individual roles, before the inevitable teaming of the thin comic and the fat foil finally occurred to someone.

And lengthy careers in the British Music Hall and American slapstick movies combined to form pure show business gold.

It didn’t take long before audiences everywhere took Stan and Ollie to their hearts. And the lack of dialogue (in those halcyon days of the silent movie) was a distinct advantage for the non-English speaking millions around the world.

In quick succession the boys created some of the funniest two-reel comedies Hollywood had ever seen, now widely regarded as classics of the silent era. In Do Detectives Think? they wore derby hats for the first time, and it quickly became their trademark. The idea of reciprocal and escalating destruction was featured in a number of their shorts starting with the celebrated pie fight in The Battle of the Century, pants ripping (You’re Darn Tootin’), golf course mud slinging (Should Married Men Go Home?), Model T demolition (Two Tars) and the legendary tit for tat as Christmas tree salesman in Big Business.

Marital subterfuge was also a regular occurrence (in Their Purple Moment, We Faw Down, That’s My Wife) and Stan and Ollie were quickly identified as perennially inept in whatever occupation they attempted (The Finishing Touch, Habeas Corpus, Wrong Again).

Happily, while a huge percentage of movies from the silent era are now lost, in the case of Laurel and Hardy, only one short (Hats Off, a prototype for their later Music Box) and the middle section of The Battle of the Century are unavailable for viewing.

The silent movie officially died on the night of October 6 1927, when first night audiences heard Al Jolson sing and talk in the Warner Brothers feature The Jazz Singer. But the Hollywood studios (let alone the thousands of theatres around the country) needed time and lots of money to convert to the new technology. So Stan and Ollie continued in pantomime for another year and a half, before battling the gods of sound in Unaccustomed as We Are in May 1929.

Their translation to the sound era was seamless, their voices perfectly suited to the style of the characters they’d created. With Roach now releasing his films through M.G.M., the boys were added to a line-up of their top stars to showcase the new medium, The Hollywood Revue of 1929. It was Stan and Ollie’s first appearance in a full-length feature.

Throughout the 1930s Depression years, Laurel and Hardy consolidated their success with dozens of two-reelers adhering to the formula they’d created in their silents and in some cases actually remaking storylines, but now in sound. Stan (who was the chief ideas man behind the scenes) felt 20 minutes or so was just the right running time for a comedy idea and initially resisted the urging of studio chief Hal Roach to have the boys make feature films instead.

Beginning with Pardon Us in 1931 Stan and Ollie occasionally ventured into full-length movies, but continued to spend most of their time creating two-reelers, like the classic The Music Box the following year which won an Academy Award for best comedy short subject.

Constantly living and working in the movie town of Hollywood, Stan and Babe were largely unaware of the huge impact their films were having across the country and around the world. But they quickly saw the immense affection they’d created when making a “holiday” trip to Stan’s homeland in 1932. Whenever the duo made a personal appearance along their journey it almost caused a riot.

Whilst in London the boys agreed to make a 78rpm recording for their fans, which also included the catchy tune that had then been part of their movies for a couple of years … The Cuckoo Song (originally an unknown orchestral piece, it had been heard when played over the small radio station then situated at the Roach Studios). The beloved music became the Laurel and Hardy theme from that day forth.

By 1935 Roach had decided that economics meant Stan and Babe should move into feature length films full time and Thicker Than Water was to be the final Laurel and Hardy short.

Throughout the decade, there was increasing tension between Stan and his employer on a number of creative issues, and the situation wasn’t helped by the fact that each of the team was kept on individual contracts (with different expiration dates). On several occasions it was announced that Laurel had quit or was fired, and during one period Hardy was left to appear in a solo venture Zenobia, with silent comic Harry Langdon in support. A later contract even permitted Stan and Babe to make a film for a rival producer (Flying Deuces).

The thirteen features Laurel and Hardy eventually made for Hal Roach before the inevitable parting of the ways in 1940 include some undeniable classics … they were at their peak in Sons of the Desert, Way Out West, Block Heads and A Chump at Oxford and there were musical offerings like Fra Diavolo, Babes in Toyland and The Bohemian Girl. Along the way, Stan and Ollie also made highly amusing guest appearances in Hollywood Party (another “tit for tat” scene, this time with eggs) and Pick a Star.

The start of the 1940s was to usher in a whole new era for the team. They were finally able to form Laurel and Hardy Productions and offer their talents to whichever studio wanted them. Unfortunately, the contract they signed with 20th Century-Fox saw them being engaged as actors only, and didn’t require any input on storylines or the creation of gags.

For five frustrating years, Stan and Babe were shunted through a series of half a dozen B pictures that relied for the most part on their appearance rather than their carefully constructed characterizations. Their non-exclusive contract also allowed then to appear in two M.G.M. movies, with similar disregard for their talents.

By now, America was embroiled in World War 2 and the boys devoted much of their time to bond rallies and long distance train trips raising funds. In 1943, they also made an appearance on the Armed Forces Radio Service programme Mail Call (performing a specially written sketch about Stanley attempting to get married). In 1944 there were hopes for a weekly Laurel & Hardy radio programme, but a 30-minute audition episode recorded at NBC was as far as it got.

When the war ended in 1945 their career in Hollywood was over (though Babe appeared in minor roles in a John Wayne western and a Bing Crosby racetrack comedy a few years later).

Now in their mid-fifties, Stan and Babe searched for career options. If Hardy’s homeland had no further use for them, Stan’s birthplace was another matter. In 1947, the pair was signed for a tour of British variety theatres to perform live to their adoring fans who, like fifteen years earlier, clamoured to see them in the flesh. After appearing around the country they headlined the bill at the famed London Palladium, to enormous acclaim. They also appeared at that year’s Royal Variety Performance in the presence of King George and Queen Elizabeth.

Europe too was still eager for Stan and Ollie (though each country knew them by different names). Joint French/Italian financing was raised to produce a new Laurel and Hardy movie but from the start the venture (originally titled Atoll K) was plagued by language difficulties between all parties and general disorganisation. To make matters worse Stan’s health became a major problem. He had fallen victim to diabetes and various other complications left him looking gaunt and unwell. The resultant film was a sad end to the movie careers of two of the industry’s greatest comedians.

Happily Stan’s health soon recovered and the boys returned to the British Isles for two more variety tours (in 1952 and 1953/4) before Babe suffered minor heart troubles and the engagement had to be cancelled.

Apart from an appearance on TV’s This Is Your Life in December 1954, their performing days were over and both Stan and Babe were felled by a succession of strokes soon after. Hardy died in 1957, but his partner lived to see the team’s “comeback” when their classic movies were released to television. Stan was also given an honorary Academy Award in 1961 for his services to film comedy. He died in 1965.

 

Films

Silent

Lucky Dog (1921 short)
45 Minutes From Hollywood (1926 short)
Duck Soup (1927 short)
Slipping Wives (1927 short)
Love ‘Em And Weep (1927 short)
Why Girls Love Sailors (1927 short)
With Love And Hisses (1927 short)
Sugar Daddies (1927 short)
Sailors, Beware! (1927 short)
The Second Hundred Years (1927 short)
Call Of The Cuckoos (1927 short)
Hats Off (1927 short) NO COPY SURVIVES
Do Detectives Think? (1927 short)
Putting Pants on Philip (1927 short)
The Battle of the Century (1927 short)
Leave ‘Em Laughing (1928 short)
Flying Elephants (1928 short)
The Finishing Touch (1928 short)
From Soup To Nuts (1928 short)
You’re Darn Tootin’ (1928 short)
Their Purple Moment (1928 short)
Should Married Men Go Home? (1928 short)
Early To Bed (1928 short)
Two Tars (1928 short)
Habeas Corpus (1928 short)
We Faw Down (1928 short)
Liberty (1929 short)
Wrong Again (1929 short)
That’s My Wife (1929 short)
Big Business (1929 short)
Double Whoopee (1929 short)
Bacon Grabbers (1929 short)
Angora Love (1929 short)

sound

Unaccustomed As We Are (1929 short)
Berth Marks (1929 short)
Men O’War (1929 short)
Perfect Day (1929 short)
They Go Boom (1929 short)
The Hoose-Gow (1929 short)
The Hollywood Revue Of 1929 (1929)
Night Owls (1930 short)
Blotto (1930 short)
Brats (1930 short)
Below Zero (1930 short)
The Rogue Song (1930) ONLY FRAGMENTS SURVIVE
Hog Wild (1930 short)
The Laurel & Hardy Murder Case (1930 short)
Another Fine Mess (1930 short)
Be Big (1931 short)
Chickens Come Home (1931 short)
The Stolen Jools (1931 short)
Laughing Gravy (1931 short)
Our Wife (1931 short)
Pardon Us (1931)
Come Clean (1931 short)
One Good Turn (1931 short)
Beau Hunks (1931 short)
On The Loose (1931 short)
Helpmates (1932 short)
Any Old Port (1932 short)
The Music Box (1932 short)
The Chimp (1932 short)
County Hospital (1932 short)
Scram! (1932 short)
Pack Up Your Troubles (1932)
Their First Mistake (1932 short)
Towed In A Hole (1932 short)
Twice Two (1933 short)
Me And My Pal (1933 short)
Fra Diavolo (1933)
The Midnight Patrol (1933 short)
Busy Bodies (1933 short)
Wild Poses (1933 short)
Dirty Work (1933 short)
Sons Of The Desert (1933)
Oliver The Eighth (1934 short)
Hollywood Party (1934)
Going Bye-Bye! (1934 short)
Them Thar Hills (1934 short)
Babes In Toyland (1934)
The Live Ghost (1934 short)
Tit For Tat (1935 short)
The Fixer Uppers (1935 short)
Thicker Than Water (1935 short)
On the Wrong Trek (1936 short)
Bonnie Scotland (1935)
The Bohemian Girl (1936)
Our Relations (1936)
Way Out West (1937)
Pick A Star (1937)
Swiss Miss (1938)
Block-Heads (1938)
The Flying Deuces (1939)
A Chump At Oxford (1940)
Saps At Sea (1940)
Great Guns (1941)
A-Haunting We Will Go (1942)
The Tree In A Test Tube (1943 short)
Air Raid Wardens (1943)
Jitterbugs (1943)
The Dancing Masters (1943)
The Big Noise (1944)
The Bullfighters (1945)
Nothing But Trouble (1945)
Atoll K (aka Robinson Crusoeland and Utopia) (1950)

 

Radio

MAIL CALL #66
AFRS November 24 1943
with Lucille Ball, Edgar Kennedy, Patsy Moran (in the skit: The Wedding Night)

THE LAUREL AND HARDY SHOW
NBC (Audition) March 6 1944

MR. LAUREL AND MR, HARDY
BBC Radio 4 Wednesday 11-05am March 31 1976 

LAUREL AND HARDY SLEPT HERE
(celebrating the 1953 stage tour of the British Isles)
BBC Radio 4 Sunday 3-30pm August 30 1987

FUNNY THAT WAY (series 1, programme 1: Laurel & Hardy)
BBC Radio 4 Monday 12-30pm February 20 1989

STAN AND OLLIE – THE ROOTS OF COMEDY
BBC Radio 4 January 7 to 11 2000 (5 x 15 min)

ME AND MY PAL – tribute to Laurel & Hardy
BBC Radio 4 Tuesday 11-30am May 23 and 30 2000

THE BIRTH OF SCREEN COMEDY (part 3: Laurel & Hardy)
BBC Radio 2 Tuesday 9-00pm December 5 2000 (60 min)

 

Television

THIS IS YOUR LIFE
NBC December 1 1954 (30 min)

The 1950s package included 38 Hal Roach sound shorts plus 14 segments from features:
Alpine Antics (from Swiss Miss)
Alter Ego (from Chumps at Oxford)
Better Now (from Blockheads)
Blockheads (from Blockheads)
Do It Yourself (from Blockheads)
Doughboy Daze (from Pack up Your Troubles)
Fun on the Run (from Sons of the Desert)
Gyp the Gypsies (from Bohemian Girl)
Horn Heroes (from Saps at Sea)
Smitherines (from Pack up Your Troubles)
Twin Trouble (from Our Relations)
Whacky West (from Way out West)
Where to Now (from Saps at Sea)
Whatta Stir (from Pardon Us)

The 1979 package of 32 silent shorts (with music by Horace Lapp), included the solo films:
Roughest Africa
Short Kilts
Along Came Auntie
The Editor
Navy Gravy
Smithy coupled with Ship’s Hero (segment from Sailor Beware)

THE SOUTH BANK SHOW – Stan Laurel
LWT January 6 1991 (60 min)

LIVING FAMOUSLY – Laurel & Hardy
BBC2 January 15 2003 (60 min)

 

Recordings

Hal Roach-MGM Present Laurel and Hardy
British Columbia 78rpm DX-370 (August 18 1932)

Naturally High
Douglas LP 10 (1970)
Let Me Call You Sweetheart
You Got a Match?
I Gave It to Him
On the Trail of the Lonesome Pine
A Jiffy
I Love You
I Haven’t Seen You in Ages
Don’t Call Me a You You
The Convention at Chicago
Lazy Moon
A Dog Bit Me
Going Down to Dixie
What are You Eating?

Original Motion Picture Sound-Tracks
Mark 56 LP 575
Furniture Payment
Lighting the Stove
Stair Trek
Let Me Call You Sweetheart
Reunion
Blue Ridge Mountains
Life’s Biggest Moments
Convention
A Dog Bit Me
Way Down South
Wax Fruit
False Charges
Lazy Moon

Babes In Toyland
Mark 56 LP 577
soundtrack extracts

Another Fine Mess
Mark 56 LP 579
Towed in a Hole
The Private Life of Oliver the Eighth
One Good Turn
Scram!
The Live Ghost
The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case
Pardon Us
Swiss Miss
The Fixer Uppers
Brats
The Private Life of Oliver the Eighth
Men O’ War
Come Clean
Twice Two
Their First Mistake
Beau Hunks 

In Trouble Again
Mark 56 LP 600 (1972)
The Clock
The Big Fight
Why Don’t You Keep Your Mouth Shut
I Can’t Get My Hand Out
Quiet Noise
Here’s a Dollar
Where Were You Born?
Oh Gaston
Mark My Words
There’s No Such Place
No Education
A Day of Learning
We’re Going Now
 

No U Turn
Mark 56 LP 601
Hornomania
Rejuvenation
A Cup of Coffee
The Dentist
Car 13
Forge Ahead
Clean Up

Way Out West
Mark 56 LP 688 (1975)
soundtrack extracts

Sons Of The Desert
Mark 56 LP 689 (1975)
soundtrack extracts

The Rogue Song
Pelican LP 2019
soundtrack extracts

On The Air
Radiola LP/CD MR 1104
Hal Roach-MGM Present Laurel and Hardy (parts 1 and 2)
The Marriage of Stan Laurel (Mail Call #66)
The Life and Times of Stan Laurel (1959)
This is Your Life

The Best Of Laurel And Hardy
Murray Hill 3LP M60165

The Golden Age Of Hollywood Comedy
United Artists LP UAG 29676 (1975)
Introduction from Another Fine Mess
Fresh Fish
Victims of the Depression
Furniture Payment
Let Me Call You Sweetheart
What Flavour Have You?
High Endeavours
Mistaken Identity
The Trail of the Lonesome Pine
Long Distance
Oh Gaston
Stagecoach Manners
At the Ball, That’s All
The New Recruits
There’s a Dollar
Hard-Boiled Eggs and Nuts
Where Were You Born?
United We Stand
Annual Convention
We’re Going Now
Way Down South

Another Fine Mess
United Artists LP UAG 30010 (1976)
Introduction from Pardon Us
Turn on the Radio
Even as You and I
A Clean Sweep
The Future Mrs. Hardy
Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining
Lazy Moon
When the Cat’s Away
Danger by Clockwork
Food for Thought
Court Again
Dual Deceit
Goodbye

Voices From The Hollywood Past
Delos LP 25412
features a 1959 interview with Stan Laurel

Stan Laurel Talks with Don Marlowe
Don Marlowe 45rpm 181-23918

Legends of the 20th Century
E.M.I. CD 522 816-2 (1999)
Fresh Fish
Furniture Payment
The Gay Caviars
What Flavours Have You?
Higher Endeavours
Mistaken Identity
The Trail of the Lonesome Pine
Long Distance
When the Mice are Away
Danger by Clockwork
Lazy Moon
Big Sucker
There’s a Dollar
Hard-Boiled Eggs and Nuts
Where Were You Born?
United We Stand
Oh Gaston
Stagecoach Manners
At the Ball, That’s All
Turn on the Radio
A Clean Sweep
Dual Deceit
Even as You and I
Court Again
Way Down South
Hal Roach-MGM Present Laurel And Hardy (parts 1 and 2) 
 

Laurel & Hardy
E.M.I. Gold CD 28605 2 (2000)
Introduction from Another Fine Mess
Fresh Fish
Victims of the Depression
Furniture Payment
Let Me Call You Sweetheart
What Flavours Have You?
Higher Endeavours
Mistaken Identity
The Trail of the Lonesome Pine
Long Distance
Oh Gaston
Stagecoach Manners
At the Ball, That’s All
The New Recruits
There’s a Dollar
Hard-Boiled Eggs and Nuts + In the Good Old Summertime
Where Were You Born?
United We Stand
Annual Convention
We’re Going Now
Way Down South + I Want to be in Dixie

Laurel & Hardy Collection
H.M.V. Easy CD 32048 2 (2001)
Introduction from Another Fine Mess
Another Fine Mess
Turn on the Radio
Even as You and I
Long Distance
The Trail of the Lonesome Pine
Stagecoach Manners
Way Down South
A Clean Sweep
The Future Mrs. Hardy
What Flavours Have You?
Hard Boiled Eggs and Nuts
There’s a Dollar
Higher Endeavours
Where Were You Born?
Court Again
United We Stand
When the Cat’s Away
Mistaken Identity
Food for Thought
Danger by Clockwork
Goodbye

Babes In Toyland
Disconforme/The Sound Track Factory CD SFCD 33546
soundtrack extracts from Babes in Toyland, plus
The Trail of the Lonesome Pine
Stagecoach Manners
At the Ball, That’s All
I Want to be in Dixie
In the Good Old Summertime
Lazy Moon
When the Mice Are Away
Fresh Fish
Turn on the Radio
We Are the Sons of the Desert + Honolulu Baby
Furniture Payment
Let Me Call You Sweetheart

Way Out West
Another Fine Mess CD LHOST 1CD
soundtrack extracts from Way Out West

Sons Of The Desert
Another Fine Mess CD LHOST 2CD
soundtrack extracts from Sons of the Desert

Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy – 1
Another Fine Mess CD  MESS CD 1
Cuckoo Song intro
At the Ball
The Trail of the Lonesome Pine
There’s Gonna Be a Fight
Eloping
We Want to Get Married
All Aboard
Ice Cream Shop
School Room
Lazy Moon
Where’s My Clothes
Higher Endeavours
Four Rounds Tonight
Hat Eating
Way Down South + Dixie

Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy – 2
Another Fine Mess CD MESS CD 2
In the Good Old Summertime
Oh Gaston
You Are the Ideal of My Dreams
At the Hotel
Phone Call
Looking for Mr. Smith
We Don’t Sell Ice Cream
Annual Convention
Honolulu Baby
Let Me Call You Sweetheart
Box 204J
On the Quayside
Get Out of Town
Hard Boiled Eggs and Nuts

Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy – 3
Another Fine Mess CD MESS CD 3
Fresh Fish
The New Recruits
We’re Going Now
Furniture Payment
Long Distance
Drowning
Shine on Harvest Moon
Bed Strings
High Multitude
Victims of the Depression
Court Room

Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy – 4
Another Fine Mess CD MESS CD 4
Fra Diavolo
Highway Robbery
Never Mind, Bo Peep
The Future Mrs. Hardy
I Can’t Get Over the Alps
Even as You and I
I Dreamt That I Dwelt
Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining
A Clean Sweep
Cricket Song
Danger by Clockwork
Turn on the Radio
Laurel & Hardy on Stage (Mail Call #66)

Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy – The Best
Another Fine Mess 2CD LH 100CD
Cuckoo Song intro
At the Ball
The Trail of the Lonesome Pine
There’s Gonna Be a Fight
All Aboard
Ice Cream Shop
School Room
Lazy Moon
Higher Endeavours
Way Down South + Dixie
In the Good Old Summertime
Oh Gaston
Annual Convention
Honolulu Baby
Let Me Call You Sweetheart
Box 204J
On the Quayside
Get Out of Town
Hard Boiled Eggs and Nuts
Fresh Fish
The New Recruits
We’re Going Now
Furniture Payment
Long Distance
Drowning
Shine on Harvest Moon
Bed Strings
Fra Diavolo
Never Mind, Bo Beep
The Future Mrs. Hardy
I Can’t Get Over the Alps
Even as You and I
I Dreamt That I Dwelt
A Clean Sweep
Cricket Song

The Golden Age of Comedy – Laurel & Hardy
Castle/Pulse CD PLS CD 602
Mr. Slater’s Poultry Market (NBC  audition 1944)
The Marriage of Stan Laurel (Mail Call #66)
This is Your Life

Trail of the Lonesome Pine
Hallmark 701272 (2002)
Trail of the Lonesome Pine
Let Me Call You Sweetheart
Lazy Moon
Could You Say No?
The Ideal of My Dreams
I Want to Be in Dixie
Swing Along Chillin’
Shine on Harvest Moon
Honolulu Baby
The Mousetrap Song
The Heart of a Gypsy
At the Ball, That’s All
I Want to Go Back to Michigan
Never Mind, Bo Peep
The Cricket Song
I Can’t Get Over the Alps
Fra Diavolo

Laurel & Hardy at the Ball
Pegasus CD PGN 873 (2003)
The Trail of the Lonesome Pine
Commencement to Dancing
Shine on Harvest Moon
Furniture Payment
Lazy Moon
The Curse of an Aching Heart
Mr. Slater’s Poultry Market (2 parts)
Honolulu Baby
I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls
Never Mind, Bo Peep
At the Ball, That’s All
I Want to Be in Dixie (Way Down South)

Another Fine Mess
Delta Leisure CD 6672 (2007)
The Trail of the Lonesome Pine
Another Fine Mess
The Annual Convention
Let Me Call You Sweetheart
Hard Boiled Eggs and Nuts
Fresh Fish
Food for Thought
The Card Salesman
Victims of the Depression
What Flavours Have You?
Furniture Payment
There’s a Dollar
Where Were You Born?
When the Cat’s Away
The New Recruits
Shine on Harvest Moon
Honolulu Baby
The Cricket Song
Way Down South + I Want to Be in Dixie
We’re Going Now
Goodbye

 

DVDs

(text by Keith Scott)

In the VHS era of the early 1980s, Laurel & Hardy were represented in a virtual plethora of video releases from official to bootleg, as rights to the duo’s canon kept changing hands. Probably the best were the Nostalgia Merchant series which at least used the cleanest TV prints available (and occasionally included bonus shorts from the Hal Roach library featuring teams like Thelma Todd and Patsy Kelly).  But, as in the case of The Three Stooges, there was no attempt to put the boys’ body of work in a definitive chronological retrospective.  So in those days the fans took what was available.

Laserdiscs proved a bit kinder.  Image produced some excellent transfers of some of the silent comedies in a series called “The Lost Films of Laurel & Hardy.”  These also appeared, in altered sequence, as early DVD titles starting in 1998.  But once this fine-looking series was out-of-print, copies became very hard to find.  And a couple of US DVD releases by Hallmark (which had rights to the Roach films for a while) from 2003 and 2005 were simply opportunistic cash-ins done with no care, and topped off with very disappointing transfers.

The main DVD set that L&H buffs rejoiced over was the large 21-disc British shoe-box edition, “Laurel and Hardy: The Collection,” from 2004.  That one had many of the same silent shorts as those on the Image DVDs (although strangely several of the Image silents were still from better looking prints), as well as all the Roach sound shorts and features.  It also boasted redundant colorized versions, which it’s a safe bet didn’t get watched by those who love the comic duo.  But that giant set, as much of a boon as it had been to all Stan & Ollie enthusiasts, was still not right.  The discs were programmed by comic themes rather than chronologically, and some prints were still in need of a good clean-up.  Overall however the large fan-base was enormously grateful and hugely relieved that virtually everything was now out on the shiny discs.

STAN LAUREL & OLIVER HARDY – THE COLLECTION
Universal 21-DVD set
1 A Chump at Oxford + From Soup to Nuts + Another Fine Mess
2 County Hospital + Them Thar Hills + Tit for Tat + Perfect Day + They Go Boom + Leave ‘Em Laughing
3 Way Out West + One Good Turn + Thicker Than Water
4 Beau Hunks + Our Wife + Helpmates + Me and My Pal
5 Our Relations + Brats + Twice Two
6 The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case + Berth Marks + Oliver the Eighth
7 Blockheads + Unaccustomed As We Are + With Love and Hisses + Should Married Men Go Home
8 Chickens Come Home + Come Clean + Love ‘Em and Weep + Sugar Daddies + Early to Bed
9 The Bohemian Girl + On the Loose + That’s My Wife + Along Came Auntie
10 Laughing Gravy + The Fixer Uppers + Slipping Wives
11 Saps at Sea + You’re Darn Tootin’ + Below Zero
12 Scram! + Night Owls + The Second Hundred Years + Call of the Cuckoo + Duck Soup + Forty-Five Minutes from Hollywood + Big Business
13 Sons of the Desert + We Faw Down + Their Purple Moment + On the Wrong Trek
14 Busy Bodies + Double Whoopee + Hog Wild + Dirty Work + The Finishing Touch + The Music Box
15 Pack Up Your Troubles + Their First Mistake + Putting Pants on Philip
16 The Live Ghost + Sailors Beware + Two Tars + Men o’ War + Any Old Port + Why Girls Love Sailors + Towed in a Hole
17 Swiss Miss + The Chimp + Flying Elephants
18 Blotto + Be Big
19 Pardon Us + The Hoose-Gow + The Battle of the Century
20 Going Bye Bye + Do Detectives Think? + Habeas Corpus + Angora Love + Bacon Grabbers + The Midnight Patrol + Liberty + Wrong Again
21 Brats + Thundering Fleas + Fluttering Hearts + Prudence (plus a documentary tribute)
the set also includes colorized versions of nearly all the talkie shorts and features, plus foreign language versions of a number of early talkie shorts

 NOTE: For completists who want all the 1930s material, you will still need the fine TCM Archives 2-disc set called “Laurel and Hardy Collection” which contains the features still under MGM’s control (The Devil’s Brother from 1933, Bonnie Scotland from 1935, and the Laurel-Hardy sequences from The Hollywood Revue of 1929, Hollywood Party, 1934, and Pick a Star, 1937), as well as the single discs of Babes in Toyland, 1934 (on the MGM disc The March of the Wooden Soldiers) and the public-domain title The Flying Deuces, 1939 (the best copy is from Kino/Lobster).

LAUREL AND HARDY COLLECTION – TCM ARCHIVES
Warner Home Video 2-DVD
includes The Devils Brother, Bonnie Scotland, plus L & H segments from The Hollywood Revue, Rogue Song, Hollywood Party and Pick a Star
(also features a documentary The Hollywood Shorts Story)

MARCH OF THE WOODEN SOLDIERS
Good Times Home Video DVD
includes a colorized version of Babes in Toyland

FLYING DEUCES
appears on numerous DVDs (apparently copyright protection has expired)

LAUREL & HARDY: THE ESSENTIAL COLLECTION
RHI Entertainment/Vivendi Entertainment 10-DVD set
This new set is less than one-tenth the size of the British box.  It has been produced by RHI, the current owner of the Roach film library.  And this time experts were consulted for crucial input.  First up it should be mentioned that this collection covers the talkies only.  That said, there’s more than 32 hours of prime material here covering all the L&H sound shorts (forty in all and in correct order starting with 1929’s Unaccustomed As We Are all the way to 1935’s Thicker Than Water) plus the following features: Pardon Us, Pack Up Your Troubles, Sons of the Desert, The Bohemian Girl, Our Relations, Way Out West, Swiss Miss, Blockheads, A Chump at Oxford, and Saps at Sea.
But the chief difference between this latest box and the larger and slightly clunky UK set from 2004 is that this new collection contains brand new high-definition transfers, scanned from restored fine-grain copies of original 35mm release versions borrowed from European masters stored in Munich (which means all the original opening titles featuring Leo the lion are restored to their rightful place for the first time, instead of all those battered, phony openings with Film Classics distributor names).  The images now look much cleaner, and the soundtracks are finally crisp and clear.  In truth, these are not totally new restorations: for that to be a reality, all original negatives and film elements must be sourced from the world’s archives and given to UCLA’s film restoration facility, a long-term project thankfully already underway.
Another plus is that the new set contains classy English-subtitled versions of the surviving foreign language feature films.  This makes viewing the non-English language films far more enjoyable.  The foreign versions are often considerably longer than their English-language cousins, with gags not seen in the American versions.
A third advantage is that these new versions are not affected by the UK set’s PAL format speed-up that subtly marred the earlier box set for American viewers watching on a PAL/NTSC converting player.  Indeed we are seeing far and away the best-looking/best-sounding copies of these shorts since audiences first saw them in the 1930s.  And that includes even the earliest talkies, which are sadly victims of the late 1920s method of recording sound on disc, and on location with its attendant hazards of ambient noise, noticeable in the otherwise delightful Men O’War.
Features that are new to this excellent collection are alternate soundtracks for Perfect Day (the original 1929 track and the 1937 reissue track); two similar tracks for Brats; the 31-minute three-reel foreign version of Laughing Gravy; the 70-minute uncut Pardon Us; and the two versions of A Chump at Oxford, both the 63-minute version and the 42-minute “featurette” release.  A trailer for this movie contains material seen in neither cut.
The attractive box itself is like a compact book featuring concise liner notes covering each title, written by knowledgeable Roach studio historian Richard Bann, a familiar name to all Laurel & Hardy scholars.  His contributions contain the usual information like director and supporting players, but are “plussed up” by unusual facts about locations, alternate versions and other vital ephemera. That said, the discs can be a little hard to remove so they should perhaps be transferred to paper sleeve holders, and the box retained for its handy reference points while viewing the films.
Finally, there are some bonus items, including an interesting “Tribute to Laurel & Hardy” featuring talking heads like Dick Van Dyke, Chuck McCann, Tim Conway and others, along with a truly embarrassing appearance by Jerry Lewis who spouts a gushing tribute to this great comedy team that is riddled with inaccuracies.  A fascinating interactive map-cum-featurette (“On Location with the Boys”) displays then-and-now filming sites for various L&H entries and a look at the Roach studio in Culver City.  Theatrical trailers are included for Pack Up Your Troubles, A Chump At Oxford and Saps at Sea.  The Laurel & Hardy cameos appear on Disc Ten, with On the Loose (a 1931 Thelma Todd-Zasu Pitts entry), Wild Poses (their 1933 Our Gang guest shot), and On the Wrong Trek, the 1936 Charley Chase short in which Stan and Ollie make a gag appearance.  Plus we get an improved version of their only colour film, the 1942 public domain short The Tree in a Test Tube, this time from the original camera negative.  Along with some informative audio commentaries, this set is an essential purchase for real fans of the boys, and come to think of it, who isn’t?

NOTE: Mention should be made of Laurel & Hardy’s Fox films of the 1940s. Although derided by many buffs, they have some moments and are still a major part of the full L&H story. All the Fox features have been released in two excellent quality DVD volumes by 20th Century-Fox home video.

LAUREL AND HARDY DOUBLE FEATURE
Warner Home Video DVD
includes Air Raid Wardens and Nothing But Trouble

THE LAUREL AND HARDY COLLECTION
20th Century-Fox 6-DVD set
includes The Big Noise, A-Haunting We Will Go, Jitterbugs, Great Guns, The Dancing Masters and The Bullfighters 

UTOPIA
appears on numerous DVDs (apparently copyright protection has expired)

THE LAUREL & HARDY COLLECTION – volume 1
Rajon DVD
includes Lucky Dog, The Tree in the Test Tube, The Stolen Jools, Mud and Sand, West of Hot Dog and Oranges and Lemons

 

Books

MR. LAUREL & MR. HARDY
by John McCabe (Grosset & Dunlap, 1966)
THE FILMS OF LAUREL AND HARDY
by William K. Everson (Citadel, 1967)
LAUREL AND HARDY
by Charles Barr (University Of California Press, 1968)
THE LAUREL & HARDY BOOK
edited by Leonard Maltin (Curtis Books, 1973)
THE COMEDY WORLD OF STAN LAUREL
by John McCabe (Robson, 1975)
LAUREL & HARDY
by John McCabe, Al Kilgore and Richard W. Bann (E.P. Dutton, 1975)
ANOTHER FINE MESS – THE BEST OF LAUREL AND HARDY
by Richard Anobile (1975)
THE HISTORY OF LAUREL & HARDY
(E-Go Enterprises magazine, 1976)
STAN – THE LIFE OF STAN LAUREL
by Fred Lawrence Guiles (Stein & Day, 1980)
THE LAUREL AND HARDY SCRAPBOOK
by Jack Scagnetti (Jonathan David, 1982)
LAUREL AND HARDY – THE MAGIC BEHIND THE MOVIES
by Randy Skretvedt (Moonstone Press, 1987, 1996)
LAUREL & HARDY – CLOWN PRINCES OF COMEDY
by Bruce Crowther (Columbus, 1987)
FOLLOWING THE COMEDY TRAIL: A GUIDE TO LAUREL & HARDY AND OUR GANG MOVIE LOCATIONS
by Leon Smith (Pomegranite Press, 1988)
THE BOYS – THE CINEMATIC WORLD OF LAUREL AND HARDY
by Scott Allen Nollen (McFarland, 1989)
BABE – THE LIFE OF OLIVER HARDY
by John McCabe (Citadel Press, 1989)
LAUREL & HARDY – A BIO-BIBLIOGRAPHY
by Wes D. Gehring (Greenwood Press, 1990)
THE LIFE AND TIMES OF LAUREL AND HARDY
by Ronald Bergan (Greenwood Press, 1992)
LAUREL & HARDY
by Annie McGarry (Chartwell Books, 1992)
LAUREL & HARDY – THE BRITISH TOURS
by A.J. Marriot (1993)
THE LAUREL & HARDY ENCYCLOPEDIA
by Glenn Mitchell (Batsford, 1995, revised by Reynolds & Hearn, 2008)
LAUREL OR HARDY – THE SOLO FILMS OF STAN LAUREL AND OLIVER HARDY
by Rob Stone (Split Reel, 1996)
LAUREL & HARDY IN “BIG QUIZNESS”: TRIVIA AND FILM FACTS ON THE BOYS
by Robert and Tracie McFerrin (Plumtree Publishing, 1997)
STAN AND OLLIE: THE ROOTS OF COMEDY
by Simon Louvish (Faber & Faber, 2001)
THE POCKET ESSENTIAL LAUREL & HARDY
by Brian J. Robb (Pocket Essentials, 2001)
THE ART OF LAUREL AND HARDY – GRACEFUL CALAMITY IN THE FILMS
by Kyp Harness (McFarland, 2006)
LAUREL AND HARDY – FROM THE FORTIES FORWARD
by Scott MacGillivray (iUniverse, 2009)
THE FINAL FILM OF LAUREL & HARDY
by Norbert Aping (McFarland, 2009)

  

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