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DVD Review HTF REVIEW: Laurel and Hardy Vol. 2

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Michael Elliott, Mar 5, 2005.

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  1. Michael Elliott

    Michael Elliott Lead Actor

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    [​IMG]

    Laurel & Hardy Vol. 2






    Studio: Lions Gate/Hallmark
    Year: 1931/37/38
    Rated: G
    Film Length: 150 minutes
    Aspect Ratio: Standard (1.33:1)
    Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
    Subtitles: None
    Retail Price: $19.95





    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 put a smile on your face.

    Two years ago Artisan (now Lions Gate) released the first volume of Laurel and Hardy films but they hit with a storm of controversy. New remasters had been released throughout the world with a lavish box set available in the U.K. and Germany but Artisan used old video masters for the American release. This new set, which includes three classic films, won’t be needed by the owners of either of those massive sets but sadly, many are still not region free so their only chance at seeing this legendary duo is right here. On March 15th, Lions Gate brings us Volume 2 of the Laurel and Hardy Collection, which includes Way Out West (1937), Block-Heads (1938) and the 1931 short Chickens Come Home.


    Way Out West (1937)

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    Laurel and Hardy head out west to deliver a gold deed to Mary Roberts (Rosina Lawrence), which was left to her by her deceased father. Upon arriving in town the two men run into issues with the Sheriff and are eventually duped into giving the deed to the wrong woman by a conniving couple (Sharon Lynn, James Finlayson) who have control over Mary. Once they realize their mistake, it’s up to Laurel and Hardy to break into the house and try to recover the claim.

    Way Out West isn’t the duo’s greatest film but it still manages to keep the viewer entertained, due in large part to Laurel and Hardy’s natural charm that can keep a smile on anyone’s face. I’m not sure what it was about the Old West but it seemed every comedian from the 1920’s through the 1950’s had to go there at least once in their career. Even with the short running time of 65-minutes I couldn’t help but think this film would have been better served as a short but the lightening pace more than makes up for that.

    There are several key scenes that most Laurel and Hardy fans rank among their favorite. The most famous scene is where Hardy begins singing “On the Trail of the Lonesome Pine”, only to be interrupted by Laurel. Another memorable scene occurs in the bedroom where villain Sharon Lynn tickles Laurel into handing over the deed. As with most Laurel and Hardy shorts or features, the ending is left for a madhouse with various object being broken, Hardy falling through roofs and floors and the manic direction by James M. Horne keeps all of this well timed and played out.

    Block-Heads (1938)

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    WW1, 1918, Laurel and Hardy are in the trenches when the commanding officer orders Laurel to guard the place and do whatever it takes to keep it safe. Flash forward twenty years and Laurel is still there guarding the same trench unaware that the war ended two decades ago. He is eventually brought back to America and gets his picture in the paper where Hardy sees him and decides to bring him back to his place for dinner.

    While I haven’t seen every Laurel and Hardy feature this one here is without a doubt the funniest I’ve seen and I’d probably go as far as calling it one of the best comedies ever made. With a short running time of under an hour, Block-Heads really doesn’t have any plot to think of but instead we’re treated to all sorts of wonderful site gags as well as some funny lines that kept my eyes full of tears due to how hard I was laughing. Then opening five minutes inside the trenches isn’t too funny and contains some rather violent stock footage of the war but after that everything is on the up and up.

    Things kick off in a high gear right when the duo are reunited in a wonderful segment where Hardy thinks Laurel has lost one of his legs and insists on carrying him around. When things get back to an apartment building we get a very long segment (nearly half the film) of the two trying to climb thirteen levels of stairs and getting into all sorts of trouble including a wonderfully hilarious scene with L&H regular James Finlayson as well as a run in with Our Gang member Tommy Bond. Like other Laurel and Hardy films, the pacing is lightening fast with gags running left and right and to me, every single gag worked in this film including the mind numbing scene where the desk clerk gets a football upside his head.

    Chickens Come Home (1931)

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    Hardy is ecstatic that he’s in the running for Mayor but this joy soon turns to fear when a woman from his past shows up with a photo of the two that could cause trouble if it reaches the press. The woman, wanting money to keep quiet, tells Hardy to be at her house that night but the wannabe Mayor is having a dinner for various judges so he sends Laurel to do his dirty work. Laurel, being too weak to stop the woman, gets in trouble with his own wife who thinks he’s having an affair but the real havoc occurs back at Hardy’s house when the three meet head on.

    Chickens Come Home isn’t considered the best L&H short but it still manages to get some big laughs all the way to the outrageous end. The one thing that’s always amazed me about the L&H shorts is, usually, they run towards the thirty-minute mark yet it feels as though these films run mere minutes due to the high energy level brought to the screen by the two stars. The story of blackmail isn’t any original or new but the boys make it seem as fresh and full of life as if this had been the first time we’ve ever seen something like it.

    The biggest highlight comes towards the end of the film when the boys must try and sneak the blackmailer out of the house without Hardy’s wife finding out about the past. This little scene has the boys putting the woman on their back and making it appear she’s walking out on her own. Another wonderful segment is when Laurel goes to the woman’s house and does all in his will to keep her there. This includes a hilarious scene where he blocks the door with all sorts of items only to have her throwing the stuff back at his head. The dialogue is also very fresh and we get several laughs from it. The best moment is when Laurel asks the blackmailer if he can smoke and she tells him he can burn if he wishes.


    VIDEO---The good news is all three films are presented in the Standard (4:3) ratio, which is correct. I guess we should be thankful Lions Gate/Hallmark didn’t matte these or colorize them. I haven’t seen any of the R2 versions but after viewing various screenshots I feel very safe in saying there’s certainly no need to upgrade to these. Owners of the R2 set can pat themselves on the back for skipping any plans Lions Gate has for these films and they can rest easily knowing all that money went for a better product than what we’re getting here in the States.

    Chickens Come Home is in really, really, really bad shape. I guess I should comment on how I review things but I never really fault these older films for having speckles, a few lines or whatever because we really can’t expect everything to look like Casablanca. In a perfect world yes but in reality studios can’t spend too much money on all of their films but that’s not an excuse for this poor transfer because we already know there’s a better version out there. On the previous set I really wasn’t too hard on the video quality because I hadn’t heard of the other releases and (from memory) it appeared the films looked better than they did on VHS. I really can’t say that here because there’s a lot of speckles, dirt and scratches all over the print. Again, I understand why Lions Gate didn’t make these look brand new but a little work should have happened but sadly it didn’t. There isn’t a single frame in the entire film that I’d consider looks good or even fair. Right from the start during the opening credits the print’s detail is all over the place. The black level looks more gray and white more than black and the flickering is also quite distracting. As already mentioned, there are speckles and scratches all over the print and while some of this can be expected, there’s just way too much here to be overlooked. At the twenty-four minute mark there some print damage I haven’t seen since I got a DVD player. The only way I can describe it is imagine the barcode scan on the back of your DVD case. Those little black lines run all the way down the print on the left side of the frame covering about 25% of the image. This problem goes back and forth for about a minute before eventually going away. I’m not familiar enough with these films to know if this was on previous versions but it really stands out here.

    Way Out West features all of the above problems but thankfully it’s not as bad. Once again the biggest problem is scratches and speckles, which run throughout the entire film. It’s very easy to see that absolutely no work went into cleaning these things up. I really wasn’t expecting Warner quality here but Universal would have been nice. There are constant lines running from top to bottom and a few digital artifacts can be seen in a couple scenes. Perhaps some of this wouldn’t be so noticeable had the print not been so soft but this softness leads to other problems including weak blacks and the whites seem a bit too bright. There are a few clean shots in the film but this are rare and not that often. Block-Heads looks the best of the three and while there are still minor problems, this transfer overall had me very pleased to the point where I really wouldn’t nitpick had it not been for the bad transfers of the first two films. As with the other two, there are speckles throughout the film but thankfully none of them are overly obvious, although the larger your screen is the more noticeable they’ll be. There are a few lines running down the print but again, thankfully none of them were overly obvious and only lasted a second or two, which is better than before. Softness is another problem but the black levels are a lot better this time and whites look clean for the most part.

    AUDIO---All three films come with a Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono track. Chickens Comes Home, like the video, is quite poor in the audio department due in large part to large amount of hiss and scratches on the track. There isn’t a single second where hiss can’t be heard but I’m sure some might say this is suppose to be there. Perhaps some hiss should be heard, ala Universal’s Frankenstein but the stuff here is so loud at time that it interferes with what’s being said on the screen. For the most part dialogue is easily heard, although there are a few moments where it’s a bit tangled. Way Out West has clear dialogue throughout and the music score sounds just fine but again, we’ve got all sorts of hiss in the soundtrack as well as some cracks and pops, which are quite annoying, although they never really took me out of the film. Another problem occurs at the five minute mark when some loud static can be heard, which distorts some of the dialogue but it remains hearable throughout this section. The static only lasts around thirty seconds thankfully. Block-Heads features a clear track throughout, although at the thirty-minute mark when the boys are sitting on the stairs before the big fight there’s some sort of audio hiccup that has about a second cut. The music score cuts off but there’s no dialogue missing in this splice. I’m not sure if this problem is on all version of the film though. The rest of the track is free of any hiss or other scratches and dialogue is clear throughout.

    EXTRAS---The only extra is a 55-second promo trailer for the first volume of this collection. There’s also a play off feature.

    OVERALL---To recommend or not recommend is the biggest question here and one that really doesn’t have a simple answer. It’s a no brainer if you already own the R2 set, this one here is quite worthless due to the poor transfers. If you don’t own that set and are region free you’d certainly be best advice to pick that up since it’ll give you a complete collection as well as better prints. If you downright refuse to go region free, even with the bad prints, I’d still recommend this due to the wonderful films but hopefully you won’t be expecting too much quality wise. It’s a shame Artisan and now Lions Gate has done absolutely nothing to make Laurel and Hardy welcomed to DVD but I guess they think the things won’t sell, which is hogwash. We had to wait two years to get volume 2 and I was hoping this delay was due to the films being remastered but that’s sadly not the case.

    In the end, the films are way too good for you not to see. If you can afford the region 2 set then there’s doubt you should go with that one. If you refuse to go region free then this disc from Lions Gate will have to do. If we refuse to buy them then that could cancel the rest of the films from being released so there’s really no winning here when it comes to the Lions Gate product. Buy lousy transfers or don’t see any future releases.


    Release Date: March 15th, 2005
     
  2. Patrick McCart

    Patrick McCart Lead Actor

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    I recently saw "Chickens Come Home" via the old Video Treasures tape (They released all of the talkie Hal Roach shorts and features on VHS, with intros by L&H's granddaughters)...

    The print used for that VHS looked very good (most of the Video Treasures prints were from nice Blackhawk Films 16mm/35mm materials). It didn't have that excessive film damage.

    It's really sad when a Video Treasures VHS from the early 1990's can outdo a 2005 DVD. Hallmark and Lion's Gate should be ashamed of themselves.
     
  3. Steve...O

    Steve...O Producer

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    Thanks for the excellent review Michael!

    Even though I own excellent R2 L&H DVDs I had planned on buying this (as I had Volume 1) to show support for additional L&H in R1. However your review has saved me money.

    It appears that Hallmark/Lions Gate has done the unimmaginable: made their poor Volume 1 look good by releasing an even worse Volume 2. It is apparent that they are unwilling to make even miniscule efforts to put out a quality product.

    The individuals responsible for this should be ashamed and embarrassed.

    Steve



    Steve
     
  4. EricSchulz

    EricSchulz Producer

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    I recently picked up Volume One of the UK R2 series (A Chump at Oxford plus two others) and Amazon.UK had them for 5.97 British pounds each. Since they knock off VAT, they come out to about $11 each. Better quality, better price, better investment.
     
  5. LaurenceGarvey

    LaurenceGarvey Second Unit

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    It's enough to make a Laurel & Hardy fan cry.
     
  6. BarryR

    BarryR Supporting Actor

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    It's mind boggling such key figures in vintage Hollywood comedy are being put through this treatment. Imagine if WB owned the rights to the Hal Roach library!!!!!!
     
  7. Roger Rollins

    Roger Rollins Supporting Actor

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    This is so heartbreaking.

    I love Laurel & Hardy, and Hal Roach releases in general.

    I don't have a multi-region player, and cannot avail myself of the far-superior international releases.

    BarryR makes a wonderful point. If the Roach library (most of which was originally released by MGM) was part of WB, can you imagine the wonderful releases we'd be getting?

    But there is some good news in the offing. As the result of a lawsuit settlement more than 60 years ago, MGM (and therefore now Warner Bros.) retained a handful of Roach features. Thankfully among them are a few L&H features, two of which, THE DEVIL'S BROTHER (a/k/a FRA DIAVOLO) and BONNIE SCOTLAND are in that WB group. A good friend is a member of the L&H fan club "SONS OF THE DESERT". He told me that WB is prepping restorations on their L&H material, and plans a very cool collection.

    Meanwhile, WB should just buy Hallmark's pathetic video division and get all that stuff back under its roof. Imagine what they could do with the original Roach Our Gang series!
     
  8. BarryR

    BarryR Supporting Actor

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    I had no idea WB had the rights to those L & H titles! That's wonderful news. To me, leaving L & H out of movie comedy is like overlooking Mt. Everest when big mountains are being counted. I mean, c'mon, L & H are classic, timeless and worthy of the highest attention, as is the Hal Roach legacy. I'm amazed at the ignorance or apathy of the actual rights holders, who have no concept of the vital library they have. It's found gold. Imagine if the legacy of Chaplin was being occasionally released as indifferent public domain editions!!

    Yes, WB should definitely buy up the Hal Roach library, and elevate the library's standing as >profitable< and >historically important
     
  9. Jeffrey Nelson

    Jeffrey Nelson Screenwriter

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    Man, multi-region PAL-to-NTSC converting players can be had for way under $100. Skip a couple DVD releases you've wanted, buy the bloody multi-region player, and go to town on all the juicy imports you want. Both the Kinowelt (German) and Universal (UK) L&H sets are reportedly excellent, and each contain different extras. I'm going to go with the Kinowelt, because they've apparently done some extra restoration work on the prints, and they also include other Hal Roach shorts as extras, some of them quite rare such as Charley Chase's LIMOUSINE LOVE.
     
  10. Joe Karlosi

    Joe Karlosi Producer

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    Michael, I've only just now found your review. Sounds like another sad release, but since BLOCK-HEADS is one of my very favorites, I might bite the bullet.

    I still don't have a region free player and that 21 disc L&H Region 2 set is the only thing that has ever gotten me thinking about taking the plunge. However, I know that once I finally stop procrastinating and purchase the foreign set, THEN we'll see WB acquire the R1 rights! I don't know what to do.
     
  11. Roger Rollins

    Roger Rollins Supporting Actor

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    I've heard the European releases are wonderful, especially because Roach expert Richard W. Bann was involved...

    I didn't know a multi-region conversion player could be had for so little money. Where?

    ...and to Barry, yes, it's very fortunate that WB has a few Roach features. It stems as the result of a period when there was a lawsuit between MGM and Roach, and the settlment ended up with MGM getting a handful of Roach featrures, the only ones of which are of commercial value were indeed releasd on LD a while back-DEVIL'S BROTHER, BONNIE SCOTLAND, GENERAL SPANKY, and PICK A STAR.

    There's more info on this issue on the Google newsgroups, which is where I learned why MGM (now WB) retained a few of the Roach features, but not all....
     
  12. Michael Elliott

    Michael Elliott Lead Actor

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    Roger, just search the web for Nerd Out Forum. They have a huge list of region free players with their hacks. I've had three since 1999 and they've all worked perfectly. The one I currently have only set me back $39. Do some research and you'll notice dozens at stores like Wal Mart, Target, Best Buy, Circuit City and nearly any other store.

    A region free player and one of the R2 sets would probably set you back under $200. The first volume from Artisan and this one here, if you bought the discs for $15 each, would come up to $30 and you've got a lot more to buy in the U.S. so in the end,the total would probably be close.

    However, people need to be very clear that if this Lions Gate release doesn't sell good enough then there will be no future volumes. Apparently the first one didn't sell well and that's why we've waited nearly two years for volume two. As you can tell, no quality control or effort went into these so that just shows Lions Gate doesn't care. If they don't care today they certainly aren't going to care tomorrow when these don't sell.

    Lions Gate pretty much has a gun to fans heads. You either buy bad quality or you don't get any more films. I think the best thing to do would be for people to buy the overseas set. In the end, it would be cheaper and you'll have all the films right now, in good quality. With Artisan, we've gotten three features and (I think) five shorts in 8 years. And again, if this doesn't sell well then we won't be getting any more.

    It's a bad situation for fans.

    Since reviewing here I've gotten to know two people at Lions Gate and both have told me they are embarrassed by these releases plus other releases. They aren't involved in this department so there's nothing they can do but if fans wish, they can voice their comments here and I'll make sure these guys give the comments to the right department at Lions Gate. I doubt it'll do any good but fans can try.

    In the end, Lions Gate has no interest in these "B&W" films. Stuff like TOOLBOX MURDERS, MADHOUSE and THE STRIP CLUB all got good releases and these are direct to DVD films. I've reviewed six of their direct to DVD titles over the past month and all of them got better treatment than this L&H set. I think that speaks very highly.
     
  13. Patrick McCart

    Patrick McCart Lead Actor

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    Well, besides the possibility that materials would have been lost in a fire.... Warner Bros. would probably be able to use camera negatives to produce brand new fine-grain positives for DVD transfer. Apparently, Hallmark still has a ton of original negatives to the Hal Roach library. Also, the Laurel & Hardy films end up being used as collateral whenever Hallmark wants to finance some huge TV miniseries.

    So, all we need to do is to go to Hallmark's headquarters and pose as Christmas tree salesmen sometime this summer...
     
  14. Rob W

    Rob W Supporting Actor

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    Just to set the record straight, the Region 2 discs are very nice but far from perfect. Almost all of them contain speckles and marks and two of the first three selections I watched had splices in the print material. However, they are very nice in both greyscale and picture sharpness and I am very happy I bought them. The box set has also gone down considerably in price lately , so anyone interested should hop over to amazon.uk and take a look.

    Michael, I have to take issue with your comment that Way Out West isn't considered one of the duo's best features. Most L & H devotees would argue for days that either Way Out West or Sons of The Desert is the team's best feature. My vote goes for WOW, but of course it's just an opinion and you are entitled to yours !
     
  15. Roger Rollins

    Roger Rollins Supporting Actor

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    I knew the Lion's Gate set sucked but bought it anyway to show support for L&H (It is like blackmail, isn't it). When I finally opened it up to see how bad it was, I saw it was as horrible as everyone said.

    People tend to overreact to the way old films look on DVD, being spoiled by the technology (Oh look, there's a speckle!, oh, look there's a scratch). But with the Lion's Gate L&H set, there was no exaggeration. It looked worse than the L&H LDs I have from the mid-80s, which were very soft (although much better than the 16mm prints we had seen on TV up to that time).

    Let's hope Lion's Gste/Hallmark or whoever realize the gold mine they're sitting on. Why is it that Europeans appreciate American works more than our own population? Oh yeah, they'd rather watch AMERICAN IDOL or that awful new Vin Diesel movie which got scathing reviews and did huge business over the weekend (*sigh*)
     
  16. EricSchulz

    EricSchulz Producer

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    Roger,
    Check out this site for info on "hacking" many domestic DVD players to accept other region DVDs. I payed $40 for a Phillips DVD player at Target and it took me 60 seconds to enter some codes into the remote and now I collect DVDs from all over! Mine also has a PAL to NTSC converter built in!
     
  17. ChrisPearson

    ChrisPearson Second Unit

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    The UK set is still a bargain at £84.97 here. And if you order from the US, you won't pay VAT, so you'll get it for even less. If I didn't have a multi-region player and liked L&H, I'd simply buy a cheap one to watch this set and factor it into the cost.
     
  18. Tommy G

    Tommy G Screenwriter

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    Thanks for the review Michael. Already pre-ordered this baby! [​IMG]
     
  19. BarryR

    BarryR Supporting Actor

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    The British edition looks fascinating, but I'm curious about the German one too. Of the latter, is it, uh, full of German subtitles? Where does one order it? And how does the price compare. One other thing, is there any appreciable difference in the bulk of the contents?

    Thanks, mein herr!
     
  20. ChrisPearson

    ChrisPearson Second Unit

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    Barry, this thread should answer your questions. Don't be daunted by the length – it's an interesting read!
     

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