Laurel & Hardy: The Definitive Restorations
MVD/Kit Parker Films
Growing up in the 1970s few things were as ubiquitous in a kid’s life than Laurel & Hardy. From school to summer camp to Shakey’s Pizza we laughed at the duo’s antics in Scotch tape spliced 16mm prints of County Hospital, Towed in the Hole, and of course the Academy Award winning short, The Music Box. Laurel and Hardy were such icons even decades after retirement their likenesses appeared on advertisements, a Laurel & Hardy cartoon series, and even a guest spot on Scooby-Doo. With many of their films falling into the public domain Laurel & Hardy became fodder for cheap VHS releases and were greatly maligned by early attempts at colorization. Over time their place in the cultural zeitgeist waned and apart from the odd showing of The Music Box, Way Out West, or Sons of the Desert on TCM they faded into the background noise of an overabundance of choices. In the last few years the pair has made a bit of a comeback with renewed interest in their antics including Jon S. Baird’s sentimental 2018 biopic Stan & Ollie, and efforts to restore the original films by the Library of Congress, UCLA Film & Television Archive and others. The fruits of those efforts have manifested themselves in this 4 disc Blu-ray set presenting 2k and 4k restorations of two features (Sons of the Desert and Way Out West) and 17 shorts.
Watching these films for the first time in ages I was struck by how deliberately paced they are, especially compared to the frenetic pace of the Three Stooges or the Marx Brothers comedies of the same era. The pacing allows time to build up the gags and for Oliver Hardy’s brilliant slow burns and asides, often complete with fourth wall breaks to have maximum impact. Another facet of the act that sometimes gets overlooked is how good-natured it is. For all of his bluster Oliver Hardy never takes his berating of his partner into uncomfortable territory as opposed to so many comedy teams that just seem to exist solely as instruments of ridicule and abuse. And if it gets too close to the edge, Stan only has to break out his crying face to break the tension and slay the audience. You are always Stan and Ollie’s side as they wreck havoc on each other and the world around them.
Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were both established comedians and actors before they teamed up but they became huge stars with over a hundred shorts and features to their credit in their nearly 40 year career. So obviously this Blu-ray set is far from complete but it is easily the best looking and rewarding Laurel and Hardy collection on the market. All of the films are not only restored, to varying degrees of quality, but they all are accompanied by audio commentary tracks, with Laurel and Hardy scholars Randy Skretvedt and Richard W. Bann splitting the load. These tracks are bursting with biographical information on the bit players, historical context, production stories and even Los Angeles geography. The discs also house loads of archival interviews and clips with people associated with Laurel and Hardy and a plethora of trailers, stills and poster galleries to make this an easy purchase for even the most casual fan.