Thursday, December 8, 2011
LAUREL & HARDY RETURN… AGAIN & AGAIN & AGAIN!
For those who came in late: Laurel & Hardy are my all-time favorite movie comedians. And right now is a great time to be a Laurel & Hardy fan in America. Especially if you live on the East Coast. But more on that in a moment...
It’s been a great year to be a Laurel & Hardy fan due primarily to an event that has been long-in-coming: a DVD set of the team’s classic sound shorts and features that is worthy of their legacy. As die-hard Laurel & Hardy fans know, the team spent most of their careers at the Hal Roach Studios, and this is where their masterworks were created. While other DVDs have been released in the past featuring Roach material, they have either been of an inferior quality (like the ill-conceived Hallmark and Artisan releases utilizing TV prints with added music and fade-outs for commercial breaks that never appeared in the original theatrical prints) or very good but limited in content (the “TCM Archives: Laurel & Hardy” from Warner Brothers). One exception was the official MGM/Sony DVD release of “Babes in Toyland/March of the Wooden Soldiers” in a crisp black and white print with the original titles.
Late October however brought “The Essential Laurel & Hardy” DVD collection from Vivendi Entertainment. This phenomenal set contains all the talkie Hal Roach Laurel & Hardy material not controlled by Warner Brothers or MGM, which is to say it’s the majority of Stan & Ollie’s Roach output, and by default, the crown jewel in terms of US-released Laurel & Hardy DVD collections. It also contains some of the team’s greatest horror-comedies, specifically the three-reeler (30 minute) short “The Laurel & Hardy Murder Case” (both the original US theatrical version and its longer “featurette” version from Spain called “Noche De Duendes” which inserts Laurel & Hardy’s bumpy train ride from “Berth Marks” into the story as Stan & Ollie’s mode of transportation to the reading of Uncle Ebeneezer Laurel’s will), “Oliver the 8th” and “The Live Ghost.” It also contains some of their “horror-onable mentions” like “Dirty Work” with its mad (but benign) scientist and “A Chump at Oxford” which contains a brief sequence where unlikely college students Stan & Ollie (watch for yourself to see how that happens) are scared silly by other students in skeleton outfits including the future Hammer horror star Peter Cushing. The set is getting enthusiastic reviews including this one from long-time fan Leonard Maltin. Here’s a trailer for the set – it’s available at a discount from several online retailers and highly recommended:
Now upfront I mentioned that it was also a good time to be a Laurel & Hardy fan on the East Coast. Why? Seven little words: Laurel and Hardy on the big screen! Yes, if you live in the Tri-State area you’ll have not one but two opportunities to experience the world’s most beloved comedy team as they were originally seen: in a crowd of laughing movie-goers enjoying the duo in a movie theater! Your first chance will be this Friday, December 9th at 8PM at the landmark Loews theater in Jersey City, New Jersey (easily accessible from the PATH station). This classic movie palace will be showing a 35mm print of “March of the Wooden Soldiers” on their huge 50 foot screen. The film, originally titled "Babes in Toyland" is a whimsical fantasy classic that contains quite a bit of spooky content and you can read my review when you click here. Admission is $7 or adults and $5 for children and seniors. Get more details by clicking here.
The following day, on Saturday, December 10th it’s another “Silent Clowns Film Series" screening, with the focus on “The Merry Gentlemen: Mr. Laurel & Mr. Hardy.” The Silent Clowns Film Series is renown for its screening of vintage silent comedies with live piano accompaniment from musician Ben Model. Each presentation is programmed by film historian Bruce Lawton, who along with Model and fellow film historian Steve Massa of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts engage the audience post-screening with an informative and entertaining Q&A.
On the program this Saturday are four classic shorts that loom large in the duo’s history: “Leave ‘em Laughing,” “Two Tars,” “Wrong Again” and “Big Business.” Each of these films features wild and crazy scenarios that are sure to leave the audience... well, sure to leave ‘em laughing! “Two Tars” and “Big Business” feature what would become a familiar Laurel & Hardy mofit: the war of “reciprocal destruction/tit for tat.” The latter features Stan & Ollie selling Christmas trees so there’s a holiday tie-in, too. And while there are no horror-comedies on tap for this screening, “Wrong Again” does feature an ornate mansion inhabited by an eccentric millionaire, a staple of horror-comedies. This special presentation is held at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center, Bruno Walter Auditorium. Showtime is 2:30 PM. Admission is free. Find out more details by clicking here. And enjoy a sample of “Leave ‘em Laughing” below:
Last but not least, we head back to New Jersey for what one man thinks is the quite literal “return” of Stan & Ollie – in the form of my pals, Josh and Danny Bacher. These performing brothers from New Jersey (who bill themselves as "The Bacher Boys") are huge fans of Laurel & Hardy and Danny is one of the foremost collectors of Laurel & Hardy memorabilia in the world (some items in his collection: Stan Laurel’s bowtie, Oliver Hardy’s pants from “Way Out West,” a pair of complete suits from the team’s 1940s films, a fez fro “Sons of the Desert,” the painting of the dean from “A Chump at Oxford” which ended up being used later in two different horror-comedy projects: the feature “Who Killed Doc Robin” and a 1955 episode of “My Little Margie” titled “Corpus Delecti”).
Well, real-life MD Dr. Walter Semkiw is quite convinced that my friends are the reincarnation of Laurel & Hardy (read more here and here). My friends, their love of Stan & Ollie notwithstanding, are quite convinced that they aren’t the reincarnation of the team. So what did they do? They teamed up with the doctor to produce the documentary below about the doctor’s claims. Well, maybe it’s a documentary from the doctor’s point of view. From the Bacher Brothers’ point of view, it’s a mockumentary. Depending upon your own belief systems and sense of humor, you may find the following hysterical (I'm sure you can guess which side of the cosmic joy buzzer I'm on). Or perhaps you’ll just get a sense that it’s déjà vu all over again!