Senior HTF Member
- Jul 11, 2003
- Real Name
- Michael Elliott
Laurel & Hardy Vol. 2
Studio: Lions Gate/Hallmark
Film Length: 150 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Standard (1.33:1)
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
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)
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.
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)
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