Blu-ray Review: Laurel & Hardy: The Definitive Restorations

Laurel & Hardy were one of the finest slapstick duos in the history of movie. Unlike so many comedy duos of their era, Laurel & Hardy were not one of those tandems that spent years in either burlesque or nightclubs. When they came together, they were already famous as solo acts when each signed with Hal Roach. Stan Laurel was an skinny Englishman who was more into writing and directing. Oliver Hardy was a performer from Georgia who was rather rotund. When Roach brought them together in 1927 for a short, he realized he had a perfect duo. They quickly became iconic stars with their slapstick and verbal interplay pushing them to the front of Hollywood’s comedy set. The duo collaborated on 32 short silent films, 40 short sound films and 23 feature films until 1950.

Back in the ’70s, Laurel and Hardy films were a staple of UHF channels on weekend afternoons until the arrival of the dreaded infomercial. Even classrooms would show their movies in 16mm at the end of the school year when teachers needed a reason to avoid a lesson plan. But that came to an end when the VCR took over the A/V cart. While the duo remained characters people knew about, they rarely saw their films. Luckily Laurel & Hardy: The Definitive Restorations has arrived with the cream of their work. Two feature films, 17 shorts and 2 special shorts will remind you why the comedians are held in such high esteem. Their two ultimate masterpieces Sons of the Desert and “The Music Box” have been upgraded.

Sons of the Desert (65:14) is brilliant from start to finish. Laurel and Hardy are members of the Sons of the Desert lodge and are eager to go to the national convention and represent their oasis. But Laurel’s wife isn’t down for letting them run off to Chicago because they have other plans. They plot against their spouses by having a doctor prescribe two men to take a cruise to Hawaii. Naturally they sneak to Chicago except their plan sinks to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. In barely an hour, they deliver twice more laughs than a 90 minute comedy.

“The Battle of the Century” (27:08) is a silent boxing comedy. Laurel has the odds stacked upon him as he climbs into the ring. He can’t help it with the nickname “The Human Mop.” “Berth Marks” (20:21) comes with both the 1929 Vitaphone soundtrack and the 1936 reissue. It’s kinda like today when they make 5.1 mixes. This is an early sound film for them so the sound allows them to show their verbal interplay. The duo meet up at the train station for physical comedy on the rails.

“Brats” (21:29) comes with the 1930 Vitaphone track and the 1937 reissue optical track. The duo must take care of two kids who look like them. They cause as much mayhem no matter what the age. It is strange to see Hardy without his mustache. “Come Clean” (21:02) has Laurel and his wife unexpectedly showing up at night at Oliver Hardy and his wife’s apartment. They aren’t in the mood for company. “One Good Turn” (20:50) puts them on a road trip to see the wonders of America. When things go wrong, they knock on a door looking for a meal. They earn their meal by wrecking their hosts house. “Me and My Pal” (20:30) has Laurel give his buddy a wedding present that turns into a distraction to get Hardy to the ceremony on time.

“The Music Box” (29:16) takes a simple concept and makes the brilliance shine. Laurel and Hardy are delivering a player piano except the house is up a long flight of steps. The two come up with a half hour of well meaning destruction. Even when they overcome the staircase issue, they find the homeowners are away, but they don’t le that stop their mission of putting the piano in their living room. There few cinematic comedies that are so pure and hilarious as “The Music Box.” Over half of the score is the sound of the piano being lugged around. The movie runs 10 minutes longer with pics from the film to fit the commentary track

“Helpmates” (21:22) has Hardy mess up his house with a wild party when his wife is out to work. He has Laurel come over to help him clean up the place before she gets home at noon. However their attempts to straighten things up turns into a symphony of destruction.

“County Hospital” (19:00) has Hardy in the hospital with a broken leg when Laurel visits to cheer up his chum. Laughter is not the best medicine when you’re in traction. “Scram!” (20:56) have the duo being ordered out of town for vagrancy. The judge gives them one hour to scram. They meet a drunk rich guy who invites them to his mansion for a wild party. Can they have really lucked into such a change of fortune? “Their First Mistake” (21:04) has Hardy’s wife pissed off that he’s spending all night out with Laurel. She threatens to leave him if he doesn’t stop seeing his pal. Plus she wants him to adopt a child. Things don’t go right and Hardy has a new life staring at him. “The Midnight Patrol” (19:44) has Laurel and Hardy as late night cops who can’t get anything right. They bust the wrong person for being in a house. “Busy Bodies” (19:36) has the duo start a new job at the saw mill. Things get quite hairy around the saw blade.

Way Out West (64:42) is the second feature in the boxset. Laurel and Hardy end up in a wild west town of Brushwood Gulch. They deliver a deed to a goldmine to Mary, who works at the bar. Trouble is they tell crooked bartender Mickey Finn about the deed first. Instead of getting his employee, Mickey talks his wife to pose as Mary so they can get their hands on the deed. Are they really going to get away with their scheme? Or will the boys stumble on the truth.

“Hog Wild” (20:14) has Hardy losing his mind as he scream to hear about his lost hat when it’s on top of his head. Making matters more confusing, he drags Laurel onto the roof for a little repair work. They’re really on top of a house so things look quite treacherous as Hardy keeps diving into the front yard’s water features. It’s like they invented HGTV programming. The stunt with Hardy holding onto an upright ladder in a car is Jackie Chan worthy. “The Chimp” (25:36) sends Laurel and Hardy off to the circus to be both ends of a horse. It’s amazing how much destruction they can cause in a one ring circus.

“Towed in a Hole” (21:09) has them driving around and selling fresh fish from the back of their car. They decide to cut out the middle man and doing the fishing themselves and sell directly to the customers. They buy a boat at a junkyard and mayhem ensues. “Twice Two” (20:38) has the boys married to each others’ sister. “That’s That” (8:06) is a gag reel made for Stan Laurel’s birthday by folks at the Hal Roach Studio. The Tree In a Test Tube (10:37) is a Forest Service short made in color. They show off at how many things in their life is made of wood. Learn the truth about rayon.

A while back I had the pleasure of interviewing Chuck McCann (Far Out Space Nuts) and the subject turned to Laurel and Hardy. He had impersonated Oliver Hardy on TV including a long running gig for Anco Windshield Wiper Blades. He had hoped more people would discover the magic of Laurel and Hardy. Hard to not watch Laurel & Hardy: The Definitive Restoration and not wish McCann was around to see his idols looking better than they’ve been in decades.

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The shorts have been restored and resolution beings out the details of the Hal Roach productions. This is the right way to experience the duo. The audio is DTS-MA Mono. The sound is clear so it doesn’t mess with Laurel and Hardy’s dialogues or screams of pain. The movies and shorts are subtitled.

Audio Commentaries from author Randy Skretvedt and Richard W. Bann are featured on the films. The duo know their history of the duo.

Anita Garvin Interview (9:18) was conducted in 1981. She speaks of her first time at the Hal Roach’s studio and meeting Stan Laurel with Hal. She has a tale of how her hair tonic nearly set her career on fire. She speaks of Stan’s directing ability and his attitude.

Joe Rock Interview (9:35) is from 1981. He speaks of what he had to do to make movies with Stan Laurel. Turns out the studio wasn’t big into Stan’s choice of a leading lady.

Roy Seawright Interview (14:56) has him talk about his time on the Hal Roach studio. He remembers when the rumors spread that Stan Laurel was going to be the next star on the lot. The two met and thought they looked familiar.

Oliver Hardy Interview (3:30) meets up with him on a boat in 1951. He talks about how they had never broken up because they are still friends. They are heading to France to make their final film.

Audio Interviews include chats with Joe Rock, Hal Roach, Anita Garvin Stanley, George Marshall, Roy Seawright, Venice Lloyd, Richard Currier, Bert Jordan, Walter Woolf King, Lucille Hardy Price, Harvin Hately,

Sons of the Desert Trailer (2:35) is the Spanish trailer. It’s the only one surviving.

Trailers are provide for Way Out West, Beau Hunks, Pack Up Your Troubles, Babes in Toyland, The Flying Deuces, A Chump at Oxford and Saps at Sea.

Marvin Hatley Music Tracks (25:52) is the music he composed for various Laurel & Hardy films from the original transcription discs.

Galleries include hundreds of pictures from elements of Sons of the Desert, their early careers, Battle of the Century, Berth Marks, Brats, Hog Wild, Come Clean, One Good Turn, Me and My Pal, Hardy Vim Scrapbook, Hollywood Friends, Catalina July 1934, Music Box, The Chimp, County Hospital, Scram! Their First Mistake, The Midnight Patrol, Busy Bodies, A Short History of the Hal Roach Studios, Supporting Players, Crew Members, Studio Hijinks, Snapshots from UK Vacation, Way Out West, Towed in a Hole, Twice Two, That’s That, The Tree in a Test Tube, Portraits out of Costume, Laurel & Hardy and Golf, Special Occasions, Odd Publicity Shots and Stan in Retirement.

L & H Books by Randy Skretvedt (1:53) is a plug for his 630 book that breaks down there 106 films. There are also books on their scripts, live performances and radio work.

MVDvisual and Kit Parker Films present Laurel & Hardy: The Definitive Restorations. Starring: Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. Boxset Contents: 2 features and 17 shorts on 4 Blu-ray discs. Released: June 30, 2020.

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