LAUREL & HARDY: THE DEFINITIVE RESTORATIONS (Blu-Ray) (MVD /Kit Parker Films/Sprocket Films) B&W, Color .4 Discs. 511 Minutes. Not Rated. Release date June 30,2020. $79.95 srp. (also available on DVD). REGION FREE.
BUY IT. A MUST HAVE COMEDY COLLECTION.
What? Oh, you need more in a review. Oh, very well.
Laurel & Hardy remain iconic touchstones of cinematic comedy. As recently as January 2020, Stan Laurel (and Charlie Chaplin ) were the subjects of a London stage show (https://www.thestage.co.uk/reviews/the-strange-tale-of-charlie-chaplin-and-stan-laurel-review-at-wiltons-music-hall-london–expressive-physical-comedy ) as well as magnificent tribute film in 2018 (STAN & OLLIE ,BBC FILMS). Their body of work inspires and continues to influence comedians and comediennes.
recent London Mime Show
A comedy duo (officially since DUCK SOUP, Roach,1926, even though they had appeared together in THE LUCKY DOG, 1921,Sun-Lite) who remained friends until Oliver Hardy’s passing in 1957,and who will forever be linked in the minds of film fans as a tandem force.
Their films can be watched and enjoyed by all ages, due to their child like innocence as well as their constant battles with everyday events.
Now, a collection of their works has been restored and presented to both new and old fans alike in a release that should please all. The shorts are well represented, with some odd omissions. For example, they do a magnificent job on the one silent presented, THE BATTLE OF THE CENTURY (Roach/MGM,1927),but skip their first talkie (UNACUSTOMED AS WE ARE, Roach/MGM ,1929),as well as many other classics . Were there legal issues or lack of acceptable elements, or just the ones that UCLA has restored so far? Perhaps if this set sells well, we might expect a second edition, or even a third that would include their silent (yes please).
The restorations of these films are nothing short of miraculous. New 2K/4K masters have been made from the best elements available, and while they still have a few specks here and there, plus the sound is variable due to the technology of the time , one is doubtful one will ever see these classics in any better presentation.
THE BATTLE OF THE CENTURY (Roach /MGM ,1927), on Disc One, to me, made the disc a special delight. Robert Youngson used the remaining footage available in his 1965 compilation LAUREL & HARDY’s LAUGHING 20s (MGM,1965). For years, that tantalizing footage had fans wishing to see the entire short.
In the 1980s, most of the first reel was discovered. Missing still is a sequence wherein Eugene Pallette (best known as Friar Tuck in THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, WB,1938) is an insurance agent who sells Ollie a policy ,wherein if Stanley sustains injury, there will be a nice payout. This footage is set up nicely with a few remaining stills and a title card explaining the set up. It then jumps to Ollie dropping banana peels to make Stan fall, only to have it backfire and make long suffering foe Charlie Hall as a pie man topple, leading up to the huge street filling pie fight. In the extras, Anita Garvin identifies herself as the woman who falls and sits upon a pie, stands, and tries to regain her dignity. She did this brilliant comic gem of a moment in an unpaid appearance during her lunch break as a favor to Stan!
Also, on Disc one, there is BERTH MARKS (Roach/MGM,1929) their SECOND talking picture. Even though sound had just become popular and wider used just two years earlier, the team was already using it and drawing attention to its humorous potential. Notice how they use the stationmaster (Pat Harmon, a familiar face in films ,often in unbilled roles) who yells out the train destinations in an incoherent though loud way, then asked if Pottsville is one of the stops, he yells louder and even less coherently!
BERTH MARKS is available in two versions on this disc ; the 1929 release version with original sound, as well as the 1936 re issue with added music and different sound effects. The 1929 version has not been seen for 84 years so it is a real significant find.
The brilliant fourth L&H feature, SONS OF THE DESERT (Roach,MGM ,1933) was called “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the U.S. Library of Congress in 2012 and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. Once you watch this pre-code comedy, you will see why. The print is so much sharper than previous releases, with nice shades of gray and good sound.
There are extras galore on this and the other discs .
There are fact filled running commentaries by either Randy Skretvedt or Richard W. Bann on the various shorts and films. Seriously, you will learn about where certain sequences were shot, actors who appear, often as uncredited extras, just a wealth of information.
Producer/actor/director Joe Rock (aka Joseph Simberg,1893-1984). Rock basically saved Stan from an unhappy marriage that was ruining his career. Freed of her, Stan starring silent vehicles included the wonderful spoof DR PYCKLE AND MR PRIDE (Selznick,1925). It is too bad that the sound is so terrible in this interview, with a buzz so loud that words are often drowned out.
Roy Seawright (1905-1991) was Hal Roach Studios Head of Animation , the man responsible for all of those animated effects in the films, as well as the stop motion in BABES IN TOYLAND /MARCH OF THE WOODEN SOLDIERS (Roach /MGM ,1934) .
(not from the blu ray, but an interesting bit of film history below )
The only known existing original trailer from SONS OF THE DESERT (Spanish).
A plug for Skretvedt’s book (which appears on several of the discs.)?
That is just the first disc!
Extras on Disc 2 include audio interviews with many associated with the comedy team, while disc 4 has several of the comic duos’ feature trailers, as well as music tracks from Marvin Hatley (1905-1986), best known for his work for the team.
There are also thousands of rare photos posters, scripts, and production notes from their many shorts and features.
(TWICE TWO ,1933 )
Disc 2 also has BRATS (1930, available in two versions) ,HOG WILD (1930) ,COME CLEAN (1931), ONE GOOD TURN(1931),and ME & MY PAL (1933) ,all Roach/MGM releases , all looking vastly sharper than they have in other releases.
Disc 3 has 8 shorts, including THE MUSIC BOX (Roach/MGM,1932), winner of the FIRST Academy Award for Best Short Live Action (Comedy) and was preserved in 1997 in National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.
The other shorts on Disc 3 are HELPMATES(1932) , THE CHIMP (1932) ,COUNTY HOSPITAL (1932) ,SCRAM! (1932), THEIR FIRST MISTAKE(1932) ,THE MIDNIGHT PATROL(1933) ,and BUSY BODIES (1933) (all Roach /MGM ).
Disc 4 has the feature WAY OUT WEST (Roach/MGM,1937). This is the comedy which will have your sides ache in the sequence where they chase each other around the room with a purloined deed. This is the film that is referenced so perfectly in the beginning of STAN & OLLIE, with an exact copy of their dance.
It also has three other Hal Roach produced shorts(TOWED IN A HOLE(Roach/MGM 1932) ,TWICE TWO(Roach /MGM 1933),THAT’S THAT(1937 , a private reel of out-takes compiled for Stan’s birthday and was not publicly distributed), as well as their only existing professionally shot color footage in TREE IN A TEST TUBE, a 1942 short made for the U.S. Dept of Agriculture!
The packing really beings up my one tiny nitpick – the case has a flip book to hold the various discs, which often shift making the box hard to close. Be careful so as not to scratch or damage the discs.
This is hours and hours of entertainment and information in a well-made release. Hopefully, it will be a success so that we may see 4 K releases of their other Hal Roach films (including the silent era) to Blu Ray.
Stan: What do you want?
Policeman: I don’t want you. I want that other monkey.
[Stan whistles to Ollie]
Stan: He doesn’t want me! He wants the other monkey!
[Ollie looks around]
-from THE MUSIC BOX
You don’t want that other monkey. You want this collection!! Must own.
–Kevin G Shinnick
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