LAUREL & HARDY CINEMA CLASSICS COLLECTION THE BIG NOISE GREAT GUNS JITTERBUGS Studio: 20th Century Fox Film Year/Length:[*]The Big Noise (1944) 74 minutes[*]Great Guns (1941) 74 minutes[*]Jitterbugs (1943) 75 minutes Genre: Comedy Aspect Ratio:[*] 1.33:1 Colour/B&W: B&W Audio:[*] English 2.0 mono [*]English 2.0 stereo Subtitles: English & Spanish Film Rating: Not Rated Release Date: April 11, 2006. Box Set Rating: / Starring: Stan Laurel, Oliver Harley Also Starring: Vivian Blaine, Robert Bailey, Arthur Space, Doris Merrick, Sheila Ryan, Edmund McDonald Join Hollywood’s Most Famous Slapstick Comedy Duo! Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy are two of the most well known comedy duos to hit the screen in early cinema. While they each began their careers independently in silent films from 1913-1917, they decided to become a team in the late ‘20s after appearing in several movies together. They went on to star in over 100 films together beginning with 20-minute silent films and then moving on to talkies and full-length features while moving between various movie studios. Their comedy acts were known for gags that included the famous pie-throwing and constantly breaking things or ripping clothes. Their movements were much exaggerated and this helped them become successful comedians as they broke over language barriers to deliver comedy visually. Never witty or satirical in their dialogue, Laurel and Hardy appeared on the level of common folk to gain the largest audience. For what seemed like an absence in Laurel and Hardy films between the years of 1936-1940, only making a handful in comparison to the movie making machine they seemed to have in the years prior, the three films appearing in this Cinema Classics Collection from 20th Century Fox are those films during the war years. Fox’s first film with the comedy duo was Great Guns and was released with an advertising campaign promoting the comedy duo was back on the big screen. Working for a larger studio like Fox proved to be very different for Laurel and Hardy because of new restrictions on their gags and the lack of control the studio allowed them on their work. Some film historians claim that their work during this period was very different from their earlier films, but that is the opinions of some and the decision is left entirely to the audience. I loved watching these three films; all of them are very different from each other. At times they were funny and other times I was just watching and waiting but still entertained nevertheless. While they aren’t perfect films or masterpieces by any means, the films deliver in humour between the slightly smarter Oliver (Ollie) Hardy and the not-so-bright Stan Laurel. The two of them work great on screen and apparently did the same behind the camera. It’s no wonder they are known as cinema classics because the two men were such great friends they made great movies together. Each film is presented on its own disc in its own keepcase and is packaged in slipbox to keep them together. DISC ONE – THE BIG NOISE Scientist Mr. Hartley who creates wacky inventions that no one will ever use (including the electric toothbrush). But after he creates a new super-bomb that he designed for Washington and can blow up city blocks if dropped, he hires Laurel and Hardy as private detectives. Little does the scientist know they are only two janitors who are pretending to be detectives and there is trouble for the two when a gang of crooks want the bomb! This was one of the last three Laurel and Hardy films Fox made and one of the final few the men made ever again. DISC TWO – GREAT GUNS This is the first Laurel and Hardy film released by 20th Century Fox. It features Stan and Ollie as a gardeners and chauffeurs who join the army to protect a 23-year old son of their employer. The boy was drafted and the two men fear that he needs their service; they fear that he is allergic to everything and very sick (as the boy’s doctor says) they stand by his side at almost every moment they can. But the boy is doing alright on his own as he picks up a fine dame from the photo lab while unknowingly outsmarting a colonel who has an eye for her too. DISC THREE – JITTERBUGS This film is considered as the best Laurel and Hardy projects filmed at 20th Century Fox. Highly produced and complicated in plot, Jitterbugs is a comedy-musical that has the men as Laurel and Hardy as the “Original Zoot Suit Band.” While running out of gas at the side of the road in the middle of a desert, the stranded men meet up with a con man named Chester who helps get them a gig at a carnival in another town. When people find out that they have a hand in Chester’s cons (because they were fooled too), the three men make a great escape from the angry crowd. But Chester had just met up with a naïve young lady and sees a financial incentive to keep a con going hoping to acquire more than $10 000 out of it. Since her money was stolen, the three of them figure a way to get it back by having Stanley play her rich aunt and Ollie play a dame-chasing rich Texan. The results turn out not as planned as they try to get money back from these dangerous crooks and the three of them must find ways to keep conning and not end up in the bottom of a lake encased in cement! A very funny film but a little too smart for Laurel and Hardy? THE BIG NOISE: VIDEO QUALITY / GREAT GUNS: VIDEO QUALITY / JITTERBUGS: VIDEO QUALITY / The ratings for these discs are determined by putting all three films against each other and using the best looking one as a reference. In this case, The Big Noise is the best looking disc of the three. I keep thinking back to the Film Noir Classic Laura that Fox released; a title that I was very impressed with in terms of video. If you have Laura, think the DVD quality of that film and then think The Big Noise. The Big Noise, when viewed with a colour temperature of 5400K, has a lower contrast than the other two films. Shadow detail is very good. But let me say that I was very impressed with the clean print quality on my 110” screen. It should be even more impressive on smaller displays. Print blemishes are few and far between if not undetectable! This is the later film of all three of them so that may have something to do with it. Resolution is absolutely excellent and one can even see the fine textures on clothing. Very impressive! Great Guns is almost as good as The Big Noise. The only things distinguishing the two apart would be the amount of artefacts on the print. Artefacts are more noticeable on Great Guns and at times it exhibits a slightly fuzzy image and an occasional shakiness of the print. Film grain is also a little more apparent in the background images like the sky. I did find this film to have slightly better contrast. Jitterbugs is the problematic title of the three. From the opening credits I could see the problem. I’m sorry that I don’t know the correct terminology for this effect nor what causes it (anyone can chime in here with the answer) but the problem is on the film itself and not a problem with the DVD. The effect I see is a ghost that appears in the vertical direction above the images. For example, during the opening credits, the lettering has a white ghost that extends high upwards above them. You can’t read the ghosting image, but you know its there because it contrasts with the background. It doesn’t stop there either: it appears throughout the movie so if we watch Stan and Ollie walk around outside beside their stranded car, there is faint white ghosting image of them moving above their heads to the top of the frame. Again, it is noticeable because of the contrast difference of that effect and the background. Aside from that problem, Jitterbugs is the softest of the three but not dramatically. There also appears to be a hint of edge outlining in some scenes, but that is always subject to debate as far as where that comes from so I’m not going to say that serious edge enhancement was applied on this film. The dark parts of the image are also undefined and there is little detail in those areas. It still looks a billion times better than anyone has seen before and keeps up with the quality Fox has been delivering with their Film Noir, Studio Classics (where have they been lately?) and Cinema Classics Collections. The aspect ratios for all three films are 1.33:1 and they are not windowboxed for overscan on 4:3 displays during the opening and closing credits as virtually all other classics I’ve reviewed here have been. That makes me very happy!! Since I view all DVDs with less than 1% overscan all around my display it is nice not to see big thick black bars all around the image. Viewers will also be happy to know that compression artefacts are virtually absent from all three DVDs. They all look fantastic on such a large screen! AUDIO QUALITY / The audio, available in both Dolby Digital 2.0 mono and stereo, is consistent in quality with all three titles. Background noise is low for the most part give and take a few scenes, but it’s nothing to get specific about here. Dialogue is always intelligible and sound effects are dated but are presented well in the mix. There never appeared to be any strain or distortion in the sound and the music for all three films is well recorded for its time taking a front seat in the mix. While some of you may think that a rating of four stars is high for old films, you must remember that I’m not comparing them to new titles and I was impressed with the audio in relation to other monaural films of this era. The stereo track, for those of you interested, sounds diffused and unfocused. I recommend listening to the mono option. SPECIAL FEATURES / Each disc comes with its own set of special features and what is included is relatively similar between the three of them. All three titles include an audio commentary from author Randy Skretvedt. He wrote the book Laurel and Hardy: The Magic Behind the Movies and seems very knowledgeable on this comedy duo. But what makes these commentaries great is not just the wealth of information, but this author has very good character and is well spoken. You WANT to listen to this guy because he’s interesting and not boring. He uses a lot of intonation and you can hear he is excited to speak on this commentary track. All three titles also feature a photo gallery. The Big Noise has five, Great Guns has the most at eighty, and Jitterbugs has ten. The photos on Great Guns are very interesting because they are everything from promotional ads to newspaper articles that you can read. A Fox Movietone News clip is available on Great Guns and it’s the Opening of the Freemont Theatre. Jitterbugs has the Inauguration of the Railway, which seems to be the worlds smallest passenger railway. I’m not sure if that was actually something that tried to become a commercial success but this train is so small it looks like something you’d find kids riding in a mall. Of course, both of these clips feature Laurel and Hardy at these events. The audio is not consistent between them and even drops out to silence at times. The Big Noise also includes a 30-minute documentary titled The Revenge of the Sons of the Desert. I only watched a short piece of it, but it is about a “club” of Laurel and Hardy fans in the U.S.A. that was filmed by Alexander Marshall. All discs include their theatrical trailers as well as the theatrical trailers for the other films in the set and Bullfighters, the last Laurel and Hardy film that is not included in this set and is unavailable on DVD (a future release, maybe?) Each disc does come with an insert that has a write-up on Laurel and Hardy in as well as a list of chapter stops. There is also original 1941/1944 theatrical press books included with The Big Noise and Great Guns. IN THE END… These Laurel and Hardy films look and sound great and are of the quality that I expect from 20th Century Fox. They will give you a glimpse into the careers of Laurel and Hardy, at least a glimpse at near the end of their career. These films are different from their earlier ones, most likely because there are wartime films – filmed during the Second World War and have obvious allusions to it. These films also fell under control of the studio and out of Laurel and Hardy’s hands so creative control was also different than the past. I think these films are historical for these men yet very entertaining as well. If you haven’t had the chance to look at Laurel and Hardy yet, I recommend this DVD set to catch a glimpse of the men’s successful careers. Michael Osadciw April 15, 2006.