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DVD Reviews

HTF REVIEW: Laurel and Hardy



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#1 of 92 OFFLINE   Michael Elliott

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Posted July 31 2003 - 03:04 PM

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Laurel & Hardy







Studio: Artisan/Hallmark
Year: 2003
Rated: G
Film Length: 160 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Standard (1.33:1)
Audio: DD 1.0 Mono, 2.0 Mono
Subtitles: None




Hollywood has thrown many comic duos at us throughout the years but Stanley Laurel and Oliver Hardy are probably the most known and recognizable. Although there were many duos, Laurel and Hardy had something very unique, which shines through decades later making them perhaps the most recognized figures next to Charlie Chaplin. Even if you haven’t seen one of their films or shorts, the image of the skinny Laurel and chubby Hardy can still make you smile.

For the past six plus years of DVD, fans of the comic duo have been begging and pleading with Artisan to release some of their shorts onto the format. Most of the time these demands were answered with “maybe next year” but the studio has finally came through and along with Hallmark, August 19th will see the duo on DVD with the feature-length Sons of the Desert along with four bonus shorts.

Sons of the Desert

Lifelong buddies Stanley and Hardy live side-by-side and pretty much do everything together. One of their many habits is a club known as “Sons of the Desert”. While at the club one night the boys are sworn by oath that they’ll attend a conference in Chicago the following week. The boys agree to the oath but Stanley is worried that his wife won’t let him go. Hardy, being the man that he is, tells his friend to become the man of the house and not ask his wife but tell her that he’s going. As it turns out, Hardy’s wife won’t let him go either so he fakes a nervous breakdown. By doing this, the boy’s say they are going to Hawaii for medical treatment but they head off for Chicago. Soon the wives learn of their lie and go after them.

The due is best known for their shorts mainly because the feature films weren’t ever that good. There are some decent ones but most of the features don’t capture the charm of the shorts. Sons of the Desert is considered their best feature film and I’m pretty sure most would agree. The film is a wonderful delight running just over an hour the film pretty much packs the comedy in at every turn. Classic moments include a wonderful introduction to the boys and a hilarious scene with a boiling pan of water. While the sight gags are plenty we are also treated to a wonderful screenplay, which gives the boys a story to work with along with some classic lines.

The Music Box, winner of the 1932 Academy Award for Best Short Subject Comedy, features our boys trying to move a large piano up a huge flight of stairs. With their backs not strong enough to carry it and with people constantly getting into their way, this little job turns out to be a lot harder than planned. Another Fine Mess has the boy’s running from a cop and they take shelter in an abandoned mansion, which just happens to belong to a big game hunter. All seems fine until the hunter returns home and realizes that Hardy has taken his identity and house. County Hospital finds Hardy in the hospital with a broken leg so naturally his best friend Laurel comes to visit. This turns to disaster with bodies hanging out windows and Hardy being injected with a sedative. Busy Bodies features the boys at a woodshop where they make a mess of each other and anyone who gets in their way.

The Music Box is considered by many fans to be the duos best short and I certainly won’t argue with them, although it’s not my personal favorite. We are treated to hilarious sight gags including a brilliant scene where Hardy is ran over by the piano. Another classic moment is right at the start when Hardy decides to use his back to carry the piano. Another Fine Mess is very good, although I don’t consider it one of their best. The short is highly watch able but at the end we really don’t laugh too much. The rolling curtain is the highlight here. Busy Bodies is another huge favorite amongst fans probably because of all the physical work done by the duo. We get various site gangs, some hilarious and others beyond hilarious. Finally there’s Country Hospital, which is my personal favorite episode. While this is the most childish of their shorts, the humor is in the right place and we get a wonderful scene with a certain somebody hanging out a window.


VIDEO---The feature and four shorts are shown full frame (1.33:1), which is the correct ratio. Sons has always looked pretty poor but this new transfer is certainly the best I’ve seen. There are still many problems like small speckles and some scratches but the image is pretty steady throughout. Previous versions were full of dirt, which is thankfully missing here. The four shorts all look better than previous versions but again, they are far from flawless. Speckles and scratches are on the prints but the black and whites certainly look better than before.

AUDIO---You get the choice of the original 1-Channel Mono and a new 2.0 Mono track. I really have no idea what this 2.0 track is supposed to be but I suggest sticking to the original. The 2.0 track has all the dialogue sounding as if it is being spoken in a large hall, which causes echoes that just doesn’t sound like it should. On the audio menu page there’s a small warning about the sound mix so we’re pretty much told what to expect. I was a little disappointed that the audio hadn’t been clean up much, if any. The feature and shorts are full of hiss in the background, which at times is very loud. Another problem, especially on the shorts are some loud cracks and pops, which are somewhat distracting. If this is the best track possible then fine but I believe a little more work could have been done.

EXTRAS---We start off with some well written bios of Laurel, Hardy and Hal Roach. Up next is a Location Tour, which shows what the studios looked like back then and what they look like today. Pretty boring stuff. Next is a photo montage, which shows stills from the feature film and shorts. Again, pretty boring. Next up is a text interview from 1987 with Hal Roach. This here is rather short but the interview is pretty interesting. It’s funny hearing what he has to say about Chaplin. Finally we get a 10-minute tribute called “Kings of Laughter”. This here features many clips from their films and a few interviews. It’s narrated by Leonard Maltin and is mildly enjoyable, although we really don’t learn anything other than the fact that L&H were funny.

OVERALL---Fans have waited awhile for L&H to hit DVD and I think they’ll be happy. The feature film is certainly their best and the shorts are a good selection to start off with. The video quality is the best I’ve seen the films look but don’t expect some Citizen Kane like transfer. The audio on the other hand is a little bothersome and it appears no work was done on it. We get a new 2.0 track but I find this pretty bad. The small amount of extras are pretty worthless as well but it’s the films that count and that’s enough of a reason to buy this set.




Release Date: August 19th, 2003

#2 of 92 OFFLINE   Patrick McCart

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Posted July 31 2003 - 03:46 PM

Thank you for reviewing this.

My uncle recently got me into The Boys' films and I'm hooked. It's great that Artisan went for good quality this time.

I hope the next two volumes feature Pack Up Your Troubles and A Chump At Oxford.

#3 of 92 OFFLINE   Paul Drake

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Posted July 31 2003 - 03:46 PM

Micheal,

Thanks so much for your review. I've been waiting for this set for a long time, but I feel a little let down. Perhaps it's because I've heard so many wonderful things about the German imports that I was expecting similar here.

Don't get me wrong, I in no way expected flawless prints but it bothers me that the audio wasn't cleaned up and that there are no capitions. It sounds like that the video is better than before but no real restoration was done. After promising us exciting extras, it would seem that these are pretty shallow.

Supposedly Hallmark put this out only because Walmart (which had a lot of customer requests for L&H) pressured them to. There are no indications that more are coming so unless this sells big, it might be the only L&H set available.

By the way, regarding their features: in my opinion, "Way Out West" is a comedy classic and should be the anchor of volume 2. I think their early features hold up very well. It's only when you get into the '40s and the Fox films that the inevitable decline sets in.

#4 of 92 OFFLINE   Karl_Luph

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Posted July 31 2003 - 04:07 PM

Compared to the vhs tapes I have of L&H, the dvds will be welcomed in my library. I've come to be grateful for what I can get on dvd of the old classics. Thanks for the review Michael!

#5 of 92 OFFLINE   Deane Johnson

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Posted July 31 2003 - 11:30 PM

Michael:

Can you set the disc up so all of the features play through, or do you have to select each one manually from a menu?

Thanks.

Deane

#6 of 92 OFFLINE   Randy_M

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Posted August 01 2003 - 12:34 AM

Really looking forward to this.

I believe they should issue ALL the sound material from the Roach studio.

IMO, that stuff is 100% worth watching.
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#7 of 92 OFFLINE   alan halvorson

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Posted August 01 2003 - 01:47 AM

Totally disagree that Laurel & Hardy's feature films were inferior; only their later films, which seemed to be a rehash of earlier material, don't hold up.

I will get this, but I'm also glad I have the German 10-dvd box set and my laser discs; the sum of all this makes for a pretty good L&H collection.
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#8 of 92 OFFLINE   Michael Elliott

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Posted August 01 2003 - 02:28 AM

Quote:
Can you set the disc up so all of the features play through, or do you have to select each one manually from a menu?


You've got to select each one from the main menu. There are also chapter stops on the feature and shorts.

Someone sent me an e-mail asking if these were the colorized versions and they are NOT. All are the original B&W.

#9 of 92 OFFLINE   Derek_McL

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Posted August 01 2003 - 03:17 AM

Thank goodness these aren't colourised atrocities but I've got to agree the extras are very disappointing. I was expecting a full length documentary about Roach or Stan and Ollie at the very least. Unfortunately a definitive programme or documentary series about the Boys still doesn't exist. Reading between the lines it looks like Artisan/Hallmark have been dragged kicking and screaming to release this. I really hope this isn't the end of the story for Region 1 fans.

Randy_M : I couldn't agree with you more all the Roach sound material is worthy of release but I would go further and say why not more of the silent stuff too and not just from Roach.

For fans of classic comedy The Slapstick Encyclopedia which features over 50 classic silent comedy shorts is an absolute goldmine. I would love to see a second volume possibly with items like the Chaplin Keystones, more Larry Semon, Harry Langdon, Ben Turpin doing his parodies of Von Stroheim and Fairbanks, early Harold Lloyd glasses' shorts which are in the Public domain and much more besides. It might be interesting too to see a few of the Educational talkies made by Buster Keaton and Harry Langdon. The recent release of the Edgar Kennedy and Leon Errol collections encourages me in my belief that some of this material might come out in some format at some point.

All the Roach material in existence I remember reading somewhere was restored in Europe. I don't know if this is the material Hallmark are using for their transfers. Its unlikely its ever going to compete with the restoration of a major feature film like Kane. The sound too is going to be limited in its fidelity as they are generally 70 year old movies from the early talkie period. I can only relate my experience with the discs I own.

I have eight of the German Kinowelt discs ; the picture quality on these for the sound shorts and features I would rate as very good to excellent compared to other DVD releases from the early 30s. The only film which gives them any competition is Universal's Frankenstein (1931). The sound is more problematic : generally good but a persistent noisy soundtrack was found on Helpmates not unlike those described here. There aren't many extras on these discs either but at least you usually get at least one bonus silent which generally looks a bit rough but watchable. They also repeat the rather boring still galleries and have plenty of text extras if you can read German.

In Britain Sons of the Desert, Way Out West, The Music Box/Towed In A Hole/Busy Bodies and Be Big/Laughing Gravy are available from Universal who seem to own the rights to these films here. Way Out West is the undoubted star among these transfer wise. Busy Bodies also looked pretty pristine so maybe Hallmark aren't using the same materials I don't know. The others all show their age a bit but not anywhere near enough to interfere with enjoyment.

Through buying all these and DVD recordings off the BBC I've now got a pretty comprehensive collection of Stan and Ollie on disc. The more I see and some of these films I haven't seen in years the more I'm appreciating them. The beautiful transfers help certainly. The Kinowelt Our Relations is stunning and another excellent one is Going Bye Bye/Them Thar Hills/Tit for Tat. All their Roach films have at least a few moments to treasure.

Yes some of the features like Pardon Us or Pack up Your Troubles are disjointed but as long as they aren't bogged down by romantic subplots or corny dated operetta numbers as they were on occasion the features up to perhaps 1938 have much to recommend them.

If you have multi-region PAL compatible equipment I would highly recommend the German discs. If not buy the Hallmark disc and keep the memory of these two comedy legends burning bright.

#10 of 92 OFFLINE   Randy Korstick

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Posted August 01 2003 - 03:52 AM

Couldn't agree more Alan.
Their feautures through 1938 are the cream of the crop L and H to me. I only think a handful of the shorts stand with the films.

Way Out West
Bohemian Girl
Sons of the Desrt
Our Relations
The Devils Brother

All prime Laurel and Hardy
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#11 of 92 OFFLINE   Deane Johnson

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Posted August 01 2003 - 08:24 AM

Quote:
You've got to select each one from the main menu. There are also chapter stops on the feature and shorts.
Thanks Mike. That's bad news for me. My handicapped son is a Laural and Hardy fanatic, but selecting from menus doesn't work for him. If he can just push play and have it play all it works great. Otherwise I have to pass.

Deane

#12 of 92 OFFLINE   BarryM

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Posted August 01 2003 - 12:02 PM

I wish that some at Hallmark would do an interview on HTF and 'get the word out' on the titles released so far. Once upon a time, L&H were pretty popular....with lots of local TV showings. But, since the 1980's, when Hal Roach was involved in their own VHS releases, this stuff has been fairly scarse and I fear people have forgotten them. I hope not.

I hope this won't be their only DVD release. If Hallmark's smart, they'll release that there plenty of other good Hal roach material worthy of DVD release. (Has anybody ever heard of Charley Chase, one of the primary inventors of the style of slow-down situation comedy that still influences TV sitcoms?

#13 of 92 OFFLINE   Keith Paynter

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Posted August 01 2003 - 03:15 PM

Totally disagree that Laurel & Hardy's feature films were inferior; only their later films, which seemed to be a rehash of earlier material, don't hold up.


I'll agree to that, but expand on the latter point - the Fox years were bad because the boys had little control over their work, in spite of what Fox promised them in order to get them to sign. They were simply turned into contract players.

Way Out West presents an important credit, giving Stan Laurel a producer's credit for the first time - well deserved in exemplifying his creative input to making their work so enjoyable by movie audiences for years.

Considering the quality of what we've had to put up with for video quality in the past (poor to modest Blackhawk/Nostagia Merchant, Video Treasures, Hal Roach Colorized, and Cabin Fever issues), the DVD - and hopefully its brethren - is welcome in North America, and not just for England and Germany, where they are just as popular (and well marketed) as ever.

More money flying from my wallet this month...
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#14 of 92 OFFLINE   SteveP

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Posted August 01 2003 - 05:59 PM

I have to say that along with SONS OF THE DESERT, THE MUSIC BOX and WAY OUT WEST, the pre-MGM L &H films are some of my favorites of all time--particulary recall PACK UP YOUR TROUBLES and the wonderful sequence from SWISS MISS with the gorilla on the footbridge!

#15 of 92 OFFLINE   Sarah S

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Posted August 02 2003 - 04:52 AM

I hope that they release Saps At Sea myself. Regardless, with all the other dvds coming out this fall, the German collection will have to wait. Hopefully this collection should tide me through.
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#16 of 92 OFFLINE   Josh Sieg

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Posted August 02 2003 - 07:25 AM

I've loved Laurel and Hardy since I was a kid. Can't wait to see them on DVD. Good review.
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#17 of 92 OFFLINE   Ronald Epstein

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Posted August 05 2003 - 09:57 AM

Wow! What a terrific DVD! Let me talk
about my love for Laurel & Hardy and why this
DVD is so special to me.

Not unlike today, when I was a teenager, my most
expensive passion was Home Theater. That's right,
around 1977 I had a home theater in my basement.
I purchased a Eumig Super 8mm projector and saved
all my money from my paper route job to buy
Super 8mm movies through BlackHawk Films.

My Home Theater consisted of a large movie screen
with stereo speakers on either side. I simply
attached a microphone to the projector speakers
and amplified it through my stereo receiver. Funny
how some of us never outgrew our childhood passions.

Many times each month I would invite family and
friends over for movie night. In a short period
of time I had bought about 8 Laurel & Hardy Super
8mm film shorts including Liberty, Busy Bodies,
The Laurel & Hardy Murder Case, The Music Box

and County Hospital.

By 1980, video killed Super 8mm. I sold my entire
8mm film collection. To this day, the only remnants
of that collection that I still own is a few movie
trailers and an original Laurel & Hardy BlackHawk
films short.

It has been well over 23 years since I have
watched a Laurel & Hardy film. I just never looked
for them on any format, that is, until Artisan sent
me a screener of Laurel & Hardy last week.

I just finished watching this disc, and I can't
begin to describe the flood of memories that rushed
back to me. I remember all these shorts as if I
had seen them yesterday. All the gags came back to
me, and they still seemed as fresh and funny as
the day I saw them in my primitive Home Theater
back in the late 70s.

These films look pretty darn good. It is quite
obvious that restoration was done to these prints,
though there is still a fair amount of blemish and
film jumps throughout. What's really nice is that
there is a newly restored 2.0 track that sounds
considerably cleaner and vibrant than the original
mono track (also included).

The real treat of this DVD lies in the film's
Special Features area. There's a terrific
King of Laughter tribute to the boys by
the likes of Dom DeLuise, John Hughes and Mel Brooks.
Even more interesting is the Then and Now
Location Tour
that takes us through Culver
City where many of the L&H films were originally
shot. Though sadly the Hal Roach studios were
torn down in the 1960s, we do get the chance to
see the original "Music Box" steps that still
stand today. We even get a look at Stan and
Ollie's final resting place.

Anyone who is remotely a fan of Laurel & Hardy
(and I am sure there are many) owe it to themselves
to pick this DVD up.

 

Ronald J Epstein
Home Theater Forum co-owner

 

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#18 of 92 OFFLINE   Anthony Neilson

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Posted August 05 2003 - 10:36 AM

In the case of Laurel and Hardy, I'm actually GLAD those little film jumps haven't been removed. These flaws - the way the music tracks are so randomly played in the background, the over-long reaction shots (presumably to allow the audience to laugh hysterically) - and the generally odd grammar of their short films only add to the hilarity imo. It's surreal and unique and whether it was by design or stock deterioration, I wouldn't change a second !
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#19 of 92 OFFLINE   Rob Gardiner

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Posted August 05 2003 - 11:36 AM

Quote:
My Home Theater consisted of a large movie screen
with stereo speakers on either side. I simply
attached a microphone to the projector speakers
and amplified it through my stereo receiver. Funny
how some of us never outgrew our childhood passions.

Ron,

I'm still doing this myself a home. Is there newer equipment available that I should know about? Posted Image

I'm looking forward to this disc very much! I don't want to tell my dad about it so I'll be able to surprise him with it as a gift (2 generations of L&H fans here).

Does anyone know the name of the short where our two friends are stuck in a traffic jam? That one was always my favorite.

Thanks for the review, Michael!

#20 of 92 OFFLINE   Keith Paynter

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Posted August 05 2003 - 02:23 PM

Does anyone know the name of the short where our two friends are stuck in a traffic jam?


That would be the silent classic, Two Tars. If you've seen the silent short, Big Business, you're in for another destruct-o-fest!
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