BLU-RAY REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
Laurel & Hardy perform the soft-shoe routine “At the Ball, That's All” with The Avalon Boys as singing backup, during the feature-length “Way Out West.”
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“LAUREL & HARDY: THE DEFINITIVE RESTORATIONS”
Blu-ray, 1927-1943, not rated
Best extra: The commentary on the long-lost, 1927 silent short “The Battle of the Century” by author Richard W. Bann
IT’S ABOUT TIME.
The films of Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton have been getting the attention they deserve, but for some reason – none of them good – those of Laurel and Hardy have collected dust on the back shelf.
Serious kudos to the UCLA Film & Television Archive, the Library of Congress and archivist/historian/author Jeff Joseph’s SabuCat Productions for giving Stan and Ollie their due – and then some. The trove of features and shorts collected on this four-disc set were painstakingly remastered in 2K and 4K mostly from 35mm nitrate prints and negatives.
You want “definitive”? Here it is. These classics have never looked better.
“Way Out West” (1937)
(1) “Way Out West” was filmed at the Hal Roach Studio in Culver City, Calif. and north of Los Angeles in Santa Clarita. (2) Saloon singer Lola Marcel (Sharon Lynn). (3&4) Stan and Ollie travel by mule and sled to the western town Brushwood Gulch. (5) Not a warm welcome by the Sheriff (Stanley Fields). (6) Ollie falls into a deep river pool. (6) The boys finally find their late partner’s daughter Mary Roberts (Rosina Lawrence).
You might think, then, that picking out THE highlight might be challenging. It’s not. “The Battle of the Century,” the 1927 short that, until now, had been unseen in its entirety for decades, takes the cake – make that pie. As author Richard W. Bann explains in his commentary – also the highlight among the eight-plus hours of extras included with the collection – “Together with the still lost and deeply mourned ‘Hats Off’ (1927), this treasure has been the Holy Grail of silent comedy.”
It was rushed into production on October 5, 1927, two weeks after world heavyweight champion Gene Tunney beat former champ Jack Dempsey in their still-contested rematch at Chicago’s Soldier Field. The first half, which was sourced from a 35 mm preprint, has Stanley going toe-to-toe with a big bruiser (look closely and you’ll see 21-year-old Lou Costello among the 125 extras), but the second half, an “apocalyptic” pie fight to end all pie fights, Bann says, had only surfaced in a three-minute except that was included in Robert Youngson’s 1957 compilation “The Golden Age of Comedy.”
Five years ago, though, a 16 mm reference print struck in 1956 was discovered in a private collection, and just in time, too. It’s been deteriorating ever since, Bann says. Any drop-off with the first half, which is in sepia tone, is hardly noticeable, and a still-missing sequence at the end of the first reel is compensated for with stills and title cards.
Those aren’t complaints. The print looks fantastic and, as billed, the pie fight is unrivaled. Bann says 3,000 real cream pies were used because they “stick and hang on the face.” The icing, so to speak, is the rollicking, crystal-clear new score by Donald Sosin.
“This is orchestrated chaos,” Bann says. “Mutual abuse. Reciprocal destruction. You gotta love it.”
(1&2) “The Music Box” (1932), in which the lads deliver a player piano. (3&4) “County Hospital” (1932), Stanley takes Ollie home with his broken leg.
Just to whet your appetite even more, the collection also includes two feature films: 1933’s “Sons of the Desert” and 1937’s “Way Out West.” In “Sons,” Stan and Ollie, dead-set on attending a convention in Chicago, trick their wives into believing that Hardy needs to take a cruise for his health. Their ruse – surprise – fails spectacularly. In “Way Out West,” they deliver a deed to gold mine to a young woman after her father passes. It ends up in the wrong hands, but all’s well that ends well. Did you see 2018’s “Stan & Ollie” starring Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly? Then “Way Out West” will ring a big bell.
Among the shorts are the Oscar-winning “The Music Box” (1932), in which the lads deliver a player piano up an impossibly long flight of stairs; “County Hospital” (1932), where Ollie is convalescing from a broken leg – until Stanley, bearing a bag of hard-boiled eggs and walnuts, visits, and “That’s That” (1937), a gag reel that longtime producer Hal Roach compiled for Stan’s birthday in 1938.
Other extras include 2,500 rare photos and posters, vintage interviews, alternate soundtracks, and trailers.
What more can you ask?
“Laurel & Hardy: The Definitive Restorations” is sure to end the year on more than a few best-of lists and belongs in your collection.
- Craig Shapiro
“Sons of the Desert” (1933)
(1) “Sons of the Desert” was select No. 96 in AFI’s 100 Years...100 Laughs as one of the Top 100 funniest movies in American cinema. (2) Leader of the California order - Sons of the Desert. (3) Stan and Ollie agree to take the oath and attend the national convention in Chicago. (4) During the convention, the boys are captured on Newsreels and their wives Mrs. Lottie Hardy (Mae Busch) and Mrs. Betty Laurel (Dorothy Christy) discover their mischief and lies.