Saturday, 30 January 2010

Laurel and Hardy - The Collection

I recently splashed out on a box set of 21 Laurel and Hardy DVDs. As they haven't been on TV nearly as often as they were in my childhood, I've enjoyed reminding myself why I love them so much.

In case anyone reading this has never heard of Laurel and Hardy (unlikely but possible) they were a comedy film double act who started in silent movies in the 1920s around the same time as Charlie Chaplin, had their greatest successes with their sound short films of the 1930s and ended their joint career in the 1950s with stage tours of the UK. While Chaplin's films have dated fairly badly and now come across as clever but very rarely funny, L&H's films are still hilarious for people with a certain sense of humour.

At their best (which means in the 1930s Hal Roach films, almost all of which are included here) they aren't just funny - behind the slapstick is a warmth, somehow an affection for each other and the viewer. This also comes across in Stan Laurel's replies to fan letters, being collected and shown on line in the fascinating Stan Laurel Correspondence Archive Project. The films are also fascinating as social history, painting a vivid picture of life in the early 1930s and offering some bizarre insights into Stan Laurel (the thin one and the "brains" behind the act) and his relationships with women. Almost without exception, the women in Laurel and Hardy films are suspicious battleaxes, vengeful when deceived (which they frequently are) and liable to attack the duo with axes and guns!

Laurel and Hardy - The Collection contains perhaps 80 short films (20 or 30 minutes, probably around three quarters of them with sound) and approximately 7 feature films. It's difficult to be specific about the numbers as there are foreign language versions of a few films that duplicate the content, and some of the silent films are incomplete.

There are a few niggles about this box set. The animated menus feature the same scene (from Way out West) on every disc in the set. Why? This very quickly becomes annoying. The crudely colourised versions are also a waste of disc space, and the final disc contains a shoddy documentary. This runs around an hour and a half and is very lazily produced, including large chunks of the colourised films and featuring clips of various US TV personalities praising the duo. None of the films and none of the interviewees (apart from the presenter, Dom DeLuise) are identified! Worst of all, at the end, DeLuise says "Stan Laurel was holding Hardy's hand when he died in the hospital". I can only think the filmmakers made this up - by all accounts, 'Babe' Hardy died at his mother-in-law's house in the early hours of the morning. Stan knew that the end was near but didn't hear that his partner had died until some hours later.

Despite all this, at its current very low price (I think I paid £40 from HMV) the box is a must for lovers of Laurel and Hardy.

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