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Laurel and Hardy: An Appreciation


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As part of the Essentials series, TCM recently showed a Laurel and Hardy double-feature with the short "The Music Box" and the longer length "Sons Of The Desert" and just these two films alone show what a great comedy team they were.

 

I don't think any other comedy act comes close to how they performed their routines. The Three Stooges were too mean-spirited and frenetic, and with the changes to the original Stooges following Shemp (Curly Howard, Joe Besser, Curly Joe DeRita) showed that some members weren't irreplaceable. Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin weren't really a comedy act per se, with Dean not really being a comedian to begin with and acting as the straight man to Jerry's crazy antics. With Laurel and Hardy though, it was as if every line, every step was scripted for maximum effect (and often they were; despite being such a close team on film and in real life, Stan Laurel wrote the gags).

 

It's interesting that more than seventy years after the films first played, they're still funny and can be enjoyed by almost every age. How many comedies today will be as enjoyable in as many years to the next generation? (Some already seem dated only a few years after their release such as the parody movies.)

 

Laurel and Hardy will be long remembered because they did comedy so well and so flawlessly. There's hardly a bad scene in any of their shorts or full-length movies. And again, this is more in debt to Stan Laurel who not only wrote material for himself and Oliver Hardy, but continued to write gags for other artists after Hardy's death. (Laurel said after Hardy's death that he was irreplaceable and would never act with anyone else.) Laurel was so well thought of, that at his funeral, no one less than the great Buster Keaton was reportedly heard to say ""Chaplin wasn't the funniest, I wasn't the funniest, this man was the funniest".

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Wow, great write-up!!! I agree, fully!!! It's ironic, as L&H are one of the last of the great comedy teams of the classic era for me to become familiar with! Before TCM aired huge blocks of their films and shorts back in April a few years ago (when they featured classic comedy all month), I had only seen them in documentaries and compilation films which did not serve to enjoy their particular style that well. Man, once I started to really get into their films, I am hooked forever!!! I just laugh and laugh!!! Just like Rose McGowan said (paraphrasing somewhat) in the intro to "The Essentials" it doesn't matter even if you know what's going to happen next, every time you watch a film like *THE MUSIC BOX* it just cracks you up totally! And that is true of all of their films, particularly their Roach stuff from the early to mid-30's, wow, that stuff is sooo rich and funny!!! Good stuff! Keep 'em coming, TCM!!! More L&H, more, more!!! :)

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Stan almost didn't want to team with Ollie early on. He knew how good Ollie was. He didn't want to share the limelight. He thought he'd be a good solo act like Chaplin and Keaton. How lucky for us he changed his mind.

 

I think we get a good sense of their friendship in their films. I never always felt that with Abbott and Costello or even Martin and Lewis (maybe more so on stage.) That part has aways added another level of enjoyment for me.

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  • 5 months later...

Laurel & Hardy are good for a few hours, but after that, it becomes repetitive and tiresome. 24 hours straight is MUCH too long. Personally I would just as soon TCM drop their "summer under the stars" programming. It too has become old and stale. While I'm on a roll, "The Essentials" can leave without a tear being shed by me. There are no more essential films to see. None. They've done them all. Now they just keep repeating themselves. If they were to introduce some foreign films into the essentials category I wouldn't be writing this. There's plenty of great foreign films that could be viewed as essential, but they don't use them (with a few notable exceptions). I realize that they may have some trouble getting copies of some of the foreign films, but they ought to try. Godard, Truffault, Fassbinder, Bergman, Antonionni and many others have great films made that have rarely seen the light of day in America. I know there's a certain prejudice toward domestic films and probably some xenophobia as well, but the medium of film transcends all borders, both physical and psychological and TCM (and the viewing public) would benefit greatly if these boundaries were dropped. As long as they stay in the Hollywood realm, the essentials are over.

 

Bob C.

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I agree, smokey!!! I would have loved to have been treated to some of their silent shorts, but I was grooving with what we did have! Unlike some others, I grooved on the 24 hours of the boys!!! I was like an addict getting my fix and I was actually bummed when the day was over!!! I felt like I was immersed, and that is the thing I do like about SUTS. Even on days when I don't fully get into the star or the film selection, I sort of dig that you know you'll be in the middle of "whatever star" day at any moment of the day or night within that day.

I also grooved on Marie's day...I have dug quite a few of them this year, but certainly L&H was among the best, and it came at a perfect time when I needed a nice break from work and reality!

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  • 7 months later...

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/cumbria/8006614.stm

 

BBC NEWS

 

Statue honours Laurel and Hardy

 

A bronze statue immortalising the comedy genius of Laurel and Hardy has been unveiled in the Cumbrian town where Stan Laurel was born.

 

Fundraisers spent 10 years raising ?60,000 for the sculpture which will be placed outside the Coronation Hall theatre in Ulverston.

 

Comedian Ken Dodd, 81, has written a tribute to mark the occasion.

 

In a partnership lasting 31 years, the comedy duo made 106 films spanning the silent era until the 1950s.

 

The statue was designed and created by Graham Ibbeson who is also known for his work on the statue of Eric Morecambe.

 

Stan Laurel was born in June 1890 in Argyll Street, Ulverston, and returned to the town with Ollie in 1947 when the duo waved to a crowd of fans from the balcony of the Coronation Hall.

 

Mr Ibbeson said: "I sculpted Stan and Ollie over a winter period a few years ago, it was cold and miserable in the workshop, however, when I took the cover off the boys every morning it uplifted my soul.

 

"Stan and Ollie were looking down on me with grins on their faces, and I was looking back at the greatest clowns that have walked this Earth with affection and joyous memories."

 

The statue is the centrepiece of a major project to improve the centre of Ulverston.

 

Published: 2009/04/19 08:58:06 GMT

 

? BBC MMIX

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  • 4 months later...

http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2009/aug/28/laurel-hardy-slapstick

 

A fine mess: the enduring appeal of Laurel and Hardy

 

In the Great Depression, they bypassed the pathos of Charlie Chaplin and went straight for slapstick laughs every time. No wonder Laurel and Hardy can still crack us up

 

Sanjeev Bhaskar The Guardian, Friday 28 August 2009

 

It is almost 100 years ago that a 20-year-old Lancashire lad called Arthur Stanley Jefferson boarded a ship bound for America with a comedy troupe. The troupe's main attraction was a rising London-born music hall star called Charles Chaplin. These two British lads were going to revolutionise film forever.

 

Though Chaplin took fewer than two years to find a foothold in the burgeoning new art form known as cinema, Jefferson needed a further 20 years, a name change to Stan Laurel, and being teamed with a studio player called Oliver Hardy to cement what is still regarded as the foremost comedy double act of all time.

 

I first "discovered" them, like most people, from the endless showings on television when I was about six years old and became ? and remain ? totally smitten. Back then, one of the joys of the summer and Christmas holidays was to be able to tune in to BBC2, see fabulous double bills and hear the whole family laugh together. Today, alas, there are fewer telly programmes that can be a shared family experience, and classic comedy shorts are rarely to be found despite the plethora of channels.

 

Laurel and Hardy's slapstick routines, simple dialogue and plots (mainly consisting of turning everyday tribulations into Herculean trials of endurance) were easily appealing to a kid. As I grew older, I began to appreciate the choreography of those routines and, more importantly, the sophistication of the sparse, spoken gags. At a time when screwball comedies were delivering comic verbal duelling at a pace that still impresses, Laurel and Hardy relied on the simplicity of a good line and an exasperated look directly into the camera.

 

This breaking of the fourth wall is as delightful and involving to a contemporary audience as it was intended to be almost a century ago. Stan and Ollie knew that to speak to the audience was to shatter the illusion and that too many glances would render them impotent. But catching Ollie's eye after the umpteenth brick has landed on his head still comes as an unexpected surprise.

 

Much has been made of the fact that the Stan and Ollie characters were basically children in adult bodies, that they represented more innocent times, with simpler values. However, much of their output was under the dark clouds of the Great Depression and prohibition ? hardly innocent and simple times. They represented the ordinary guy with no handout, no education and seemingly no prospects, who nevertheless strove forward dealing with life's absurdities in an even more absurd manner.

 

The childlike curiosity of Stan ? pressing the button marked "Do Not Press" ? is the curiosity we're born with but society knocks out of us. The pomposity of Ollie ? one we all develop to varying degrees ? is the riposte to society's pressure to be an achiever. Both attitudes are constantly and remorselessly pricked in their movies. However, for me, the most engaging aspect of their movies is their relationship. Long before The Simpsons suggested that family dysfunction did not necessarily lead to decay, Laurel and Hardy's on-screen friendship endured, no matter what comic calamities and infighting attempted to derail it. Part of the comfort in watching them was to know that by the end of the movie, the relationship would remain intact.

 

Also, unlike Chaplin, there was no room for pathos. Stan Laurel was a writer and director as well, but only interested in comedy. Whereas Chaplin's social themes and political thoughts were played out in his films, Laurel and Hardy's sole focus was to make us laugh. Arguably, they rode the transition from silent movies to talkies better than anyone else and, more importantly, their relationship endured.

 

A touching postscript about their personal friendship is illustrated by the anecdote of when, in the 1950s, they undertook a theatre tour of Britain. As their ship docked, thousands of fans were waiting. The boys assumed there must be royalty on the boat, too. When they were mobbed and lifted into the air and thus realised that all this adulation was for them, Stanley, moved beyond measure at the welcome by the land he had left 40 years earlier, promptly burst into tears.

 

I rediscovered Laurel and Hardy about 10 years ago when I first invested in a large plasma screen television. I set about watching my favourite films, enveloped in surround sound and crystal clear DVD technology. Blade Runner, Apocalypse Now and the James Bond films never felt so good. The biggest surprise, however, were those old black-and-white classics that I had only ever seen on a normal-sized telly at my parents' house. Celebrated Laurel and Hardy shorts (such as Blotto, where Stan and Ollie get drunk on cold tea; Busy Bodies, where they make expected mayhem at a saw mill; and the feature classics Sons of the Desert and Way Out West) all seemed somehow funnier and more eventful on a big screen with big sound.

 

Now I have the opportunity to truly view these masterpieces as they were intended, on a cinema screen, with live entertainment and as a shared experience with an appreciative audience. We decided to mark the 80th anniversary of Laurel and Hardy's switch from silent film-making to sound, and are lucky enough to have as a guest one of the few people surviving to have worked with Stan and Ollie ? Jean Darling, an original member of the "Our Gang" series of films. By being in her presence, one can claim one degree of separation from the beloved comedy duo themselves.

 

When I was asked to choose a couple of my favourites to be screened that evening, I was gobsmacked. After getting myself up off the floor, I chose Thicker Than Water (1935) and the Oscar-winning The Music Box (1932). You know the one: it's where Stan and Ollie have to deliver a piano up a monumental flight of stairs.

 

Having said all this. I must confess to coming very close to seeing Laurel and Hardy on the big screen before. In 1971, I was in India on a family holiday and my uncle suggested treating me to a trip to the cinema, where he excitedly told me they were showing the aforementioned The Music Box. Being seven years old, I was almost as excited as he was (and also relieved it wasn't going to be a three-hour Bollywood melodrama). We reached the largest cinema in town, called the Ashoka ? just as the air raid sirens went off. India and Pakistan had, rather inconveniently, started a war. We went back home, stuck some cotton wool in our ears and waited for the all clear. The moment was lost.

 

Lost, as it's turned out, until now. If an air-raid siren goes off on the 9 September, I will be staying put this time. Why? Well, to quote Stan from one of his films: "Any bird can build a nest, but it isn't everyone who can lay an egg!"

 

Sanjeev Bhaskar hosts Laurel and Hardy's Comedy Mayhem at Bristol's Colston Hall on 9 September, as a benefit for the Slapstick film festival.www.slapstick.org.uk

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Very simple - they put a false thumb over Stan's actual one and lit it. You'll notice that when he "flicks" his thumb, there is a shot cut to the thumb being actually lit. Simple but very convincing technique.

 

Stan and Ollie are celebrated regularly by the nearly 300 tents of the Sons of the Desert. Thanks to Blackhawk Films, thousands of collectors own 16mm prints of many, most and, in some cases, all of the Boys' films (at least the Roach pictures).

 

While tv exposure may grow and wane, the Sons keep them alive without interruption.

 

Here's our recently charted tent in the Catskills:

 

http://www.themtharhills.org

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My comments here may be of more interest to the dedicated Laurel & Hardy fan rather than the casual viewer of their films, so away we go.

 

In 1961 I was perusing the Los Angeles telephone directory and there, staring me in the face, was: "Stan Laurel". I called and made an appointment with Stan at his residence, the Oceana Hotel in Santa Monica, California. The physical effects of a stroke were apparent but mentally he was a sharp as a tack. What impressed me most, other than his persona being quite different from his on-screen character, was his quite remarkable blue eyes. On the films of the day these light blue eyes did not register but probably was a positive addition to his film character, at least in my opinion.

 

Some of the conversation, as I remember it, went this way. He really disliked the L.A. freeways, "Those bloody freeways", he called them. After Hardy's death he gave all their movie clothes, suits, derbies, etc. to the Salvation Army. Sadly, they did not receive any royalties from the re-showing of their films, which I expect was a financial burden to them.

 

When I mentioned their ubiquitous movie foil, the late Jimmy Finlayson, Stan became quite emotional. Apparently they had been quite close friends. Thuggish tough guy Walter Long, another adversary, evoked this comment. Stan said that contrary to his screen image "he was the mildest mannered fellow and wouldn't hurt a fly". An almost unbelievable revelation to those of us familiary with Walter Long's screen appearances.

 

Another response was in answer to my comment that their laughing scene in "The Devil's Brother" when they are in their cups (one of my particular favorites) seemed so real rather than acting. Stan said it that it actually was real on their part and resulted from initial laughing that became a contagious fit.

 

This was an hour that I thoroughly enjoyed and I wish that I could remember more. Alas, too many years have gone by.

 

At this time the Laurel and Hardy fan club "The Sons of the Desert" was quite active, due to their films being reintroduced on TV. While Stan could not participate due to health problems, he did originate the club motto: "Two Minds Without A Single Thought".

 

I was at the time a member of the Orange County, Calif. tent "Unaccustomed As We Are" (I think that was the name ). I do remember a few of the guests. One whose name escapes me, was the heroine of "Swiss Miss". Another, Roy Searight, special effects wizard for L&H films and others such as "Topper" and "One Million B.C." who remembered while working in his office hearing the boys next door laughing as they planned their future pratfalls.

 

All-grown-up-now Darla Hood of Our Gang and L&H films appeared. Unfortunately her husband had just passed away and the poor gal cried continually during the interview. The only reason she had attended with the hope it would somehow cheer her up. It didn't.

 

Another was talented Anita Garvin, always at odds with the duo. One of their better silents, "The Battle of the Century" (which had the pie fight of the century) had Anita appear only in the final seconds of the film. She was a beautiful 1920's flapper walking down the street when she slips on a pie and ends up sitting on it. She rises, embarrassed, and as she walks away, tries to wiggle the pie stuck to her rear, as the film fades. Appearing before the Sons of the Desert, the elderly Miss Garvin, did a fine interpretation of her famous movie wiggle -- at least in the opinion of this far from expert judge of wiggles.

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