DVD Review HTF REVIEW: TCM Archives - The Laurel and Hardy Collection (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED).

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Herb Kane, Apr 15, 2006.

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  1. Herb Kane

    Herb Kane Screenwriter

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    [​IMG]
    TCM Archives - The Laurel and Hardy Collection






    Studio: Warner Brothers
    Year: 1933 & 1935
    Rated: Not Rated
    Film Length: 90 & 80 Minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Standard
    Audio: DD Monaural
    Color/B&W: B&W
    Languages: English & French
    Subtitles: English, French & Spanish
    Genre: Comedy
    MSRP: $39.98
    Package: Two discs in a three panel Digipak with a cardboard slipcover case





    The Feature:
    In TCM Archives: The Laurel And Hardy Collection, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, Hollywood’s most-beloved comedy appear on DVD in a new release built around two of their best, but rarely seen, feature films. The slapstick team’s The Devil’s Brother (1933) and Bonnie Scotland (1935), both newly restored from original nitrate film elements and includes a second disc with a bevy of bonus features. Previous TCM Archives sets have featured, The Lon Chaney Collection, The Buster Keaton Collection and The Garbo Silents and have all proven to be worthwhile for fans of classic film.

    As TCM host Robert Osborne introduces the films, he states, “there were a lot of comedy teams over the years, but Laurel and Hardy was the best of them all.” One of the greatest and most prolific of the comedy teams consisted of British born, slender Stan Laurel and the intolerant but corpulent, Oliver Hardy. They were first purposely teamed together toward the close of the silent era by producer Hal Roach in the slapstick film Slipping Wives (1926). Director Leo McCarey at Hal Roach Studios recognized their potential as a team and capitalized on their contrasting, disparate physical differences (Stan: the "thin" man and Oliver: the "fat" one - each with derby hats) and classic recurring gestures (bewildered head-scratching, neck tie-fiddling, eye-blinking and baby-like weeping). They were among the few actors who successfully made the transition from silents to talkies.

    Although Laurel and Hardy worked together as a successful comedy team for more than 20 years (and were precursors of the 50s team, Abbott and Costello), they were not equal partners - Stan considered himself the creative force and "brains" of the team. Their dozens of short films and twenty-seven feature-length films were produced over three decades (the 20s to the 40s), including such film classics as Sons of the Desert (1933) - arguably their best film, Way Out West (1937), The Flying Deuces (1939), and A Chump At Oxford (1940). One of their funniest skits includes the move of a piano up a set of stairs in The Music Box (1932). Laurel and Hardy's last Hollywood film was The Bullfighters (1945).

    The team’s modus operandi consisted of situational gag mishaps or incidents to trigger chaos and personal jeopardy, usually with the dignified, yet pomposity of Ollie trying to succeed and boast, only to be frustrated, exasperated and sabotaged by the simple-mindedness, childishness and brainlessness of Stan. Audiences were amused by their endearing qualities of naïveté, clumsiness, innocence, and stupidity as they sunk deeper and deeper into trouble – though the critics were rarely as receptive.


    The Devil’s Brother (1933) (aka... Fra Diavolo)

    This rustic film, set in 18th-century Italy, starts with operatic singing and a tale about how Marquis de San Marco, aka Fra Diavolo (played by Dennis King) swindles the rich. While rich ladies like Lady Pamela Rocburg (played by Thelma Todd) fall for his charms but weep over their losses, men set about to find the Marquis and other robbers. Meanwhile the blundering “Stanlio” and “Ollio,” themselves victims of robbers, decide to rob the rich and give to the poor. This is where the charm of The Devil’s Brother begins as Laurel and Hardy add their characteristic and trademarked antics they’re known for to this film.

    The buffoons are so inept they end up giving their first victim their own money when they try to rob him. Upon meeting Diavolo, he hires them to go after Lady Rocburg’s jewels. This of course, turns into another chaotic episode. Laurel and Hardy set the tone for their musical romps to come (The Bohemian Girl, Swiss Miss, Babes in Toyland) with this delightful comic interpretation of the 1830 Auber operetta, “Fra Diavolo.”


    Bonnie Scotland (1935)

    When Mr. Stanley MacLaurel (Stan) learns that he has inherited the MacLaurel estate in Scotland, he and his companion Mr. Hardy (Ollie) respond in kind. Upon arrival things aren’t so cut and dry. Actually the estate has been left to Lorna MacLaurel (played by June Lang), who is too young to inherit it, so she’s assigned, under the guardianship of Col. Gregor McGregor (played by Vernon Steele), who is presently on military duty in India. Stanley learns that his inheritance is not an estate, but a set of bagpipes and a snuffbox. Without money to return home, pay their inn bill, or even eat, the men accept an offer, but end up in the wrong place and find themselves enlisted in the army and headed to India.

    Lorna MacLaurel’s beau, Allan (played by William Janney), is missing her by now, so he too enlists and joins Stanley and Ollie on the boat. Once in India, he’s heartbroken to learn that Lorna and Gregor are engaged. Allan gets arrested and asks the guys to take Lorna a note, but it gets intercepted by Col. McGregor who sends them to Sergeant Finlayson (played by James Finlayson). McGregor’s sister Lady Violet Ormsby (played by Anne Grey) is doing everything she can to keep Allan and Lorna apart so her brother can inherit Lorna’s money. Meanwhile Stanley and Ollie are up to their usual shenanigans, which doesn’t please Sergeant Finlayson. He sends them off to impersonate officers at the palace of Mir Jutra to foil a murder plot, which is exactly what they. The love triangle ends rather abruptly, but is really only a plot device to showcase more of Laurel and Hardy’s endearing comedy.

    As for the packaging, this two disc set comes in a uniquely thin - three panel Digipak with a cardboard slipcover case. Now the bad news; the single plastic panel in the center houses BOTH discs which overlap each other, therefore forcing you to remove the top disc in order to get to the bottom. While the packaging itself is attractive - it's not very practical. The use of two slim keepcases or a double Amaray would have served this set much more effectively.

    The Features:
    The Devil’s Brother 4/5 - [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]
    Bonnie Scotland 3.5/5 - [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]



    Video:
    Both features are presented here in the standard AR’s of 1.33:1 and both look terrific. Bonnie Scotland fares a little better in terms of the overall presentation, but L&H fans are going to be – and should be - pleased with these. Black levels with BS were a bit deeper although in terms of contrast, was also just a tad lighter and brighter.

    Image definition was fine and what we would expect from films of this period. There is a fair amount of grain, particularly with TDB but not an amount that ever becomes annoying or distracting.

    While there is still a fair amount of shimmer and jitter (presumably due to shrinkage issues), these look much better than I anticipated in this manner. There are also signs of scratches, blemishes, dust and dirt, but again – and considering the age of the films, I was most impressed by the appearance of these films. Again, BS looks slightly cleaner and slightly more stable – however both are excellent. The only note of interest is the windowbox that appears around the opening credits of The Devil’s Brother which quickly dissolves when the actual film begins.

    Video:
    The Devil’s Brother 4/5 - [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]
    Bonnie Scotland 4.5/5 - [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]



    Audio:
    Not much to say with regards to the audio portion of the tracks here. What hinders many of these vintage films is a predominant amount of hiss. Thankfully, such is not the case here. While a slight amount of hiss is present and noticeable, never does it become a distracting factor. As an aside, the cleanup of such hiss does not appear to have affected the overall fidelity of the tracks (i.e. doesn’t sound muffled or compressed at all).

    Dialogue was usually always bold and intelligible becoming only slightly edgy during some of the zanier or more hectic moments. There is really nothing to discuss in terms of depth or punch as the tracks are about as basic as we would expect – with very little complain about. And considering the age of the films, and the limitations of the period, we couldn’t ask for anything more.

    Audio:
    The Devil’s Brother 4/5 - [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]
    Bonnie Scotland 4/5 - [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]



    Special Features:
    While the majority of special feature material has been reserved for Disc Two, the set looks like this:


    Disc One:
    [*] Both films include Commentaries by Laurel and Hardy aficionados Richard W. Bann and Leonard Maltin. Both men work well together and talk about everything from the titles, to the locations where the films were made as well as other tidbits relating to the production histories. Their knowledge about Laurel and Hardy is fantastic, but they also share a lot about other characters such as Thelma Todd in The Devil’s Brother and Mary Gordon, who plays Mrs. Bickerdike in Bonnie Scotland and made more than 300 films. On top of the commentaries, disc one has an introduction by TCM's Robert Osborne as he sets the films up nicely, offering a brief smattering of trivia before the films. I could listen to this fella all day talk about film (2:45).
    [*] The Theatrical Trailers also appear for both films and are in fair condition - although the Bonnie Scotland trailer is in better shape. A comparison of the trailers to the feature films should serve as substantive proof of the effort these films were afforded. Duration 2:44 (The Devil's Brother) and 2:28 (Bonnie Scotland).


    Disc Two:
    [*] The meat and potatoes of the supplements is an informative documentary entitled, Added Attractions: The Hollywood Shorts Story which is based on Leonard Maltin's book, "The Great Movie Shorts". Chevy Chase narrates a selection of shorts including clips from Bugs Bunny, the Little Rascals (Our Gang), The Three Stooges and many other slapstick comedy routines of the period. Chase talks about early filmmakers such as Mack Sennett, whose voice is actually played during some segments. Other voice clips include Harold Lloyd and Hal Roach. Hal Roach took the shorts like the Our Gang films and turned them into his niche, which lasted for many years. Some of the cast from the Our Gang comedies is included in this reel. A superb feature which fans of L&H will enjoy. Duration: 86:03 minutes.
    [*] Up next is a vast assortment of Laurel and Hardy Cameo Appearances in films and shorts. Many of these are rarely seen including a scene from the lost Technicolor film The Rogue Song.

    - The Hollywood Revue of 1929 - Magic Act Segment a young Jack Benny introduces Laurel and Hardy who go through a magic comedy routine. (6:22)

    - The Rogue Song (1930) The only surviving footage (Stan and Laurel and an uninvited guest) from this “lost film”. Rough in terms of appearance but appreciated nonetheless. (1:39)

    - Hollywood Party (1934) Main title/Doorbell Skit (4:11)

    - Hollywood Party (1934) The Egg Skit (4:41)

    - Pick A Star (1937) The Introduction (00:40)

    - Pick A Star (1937) Mexican Tough Guy Segment (3:46)

    - Pick A Star (1937) Dueling Harmonicas Segment (4:41)

    The condition of the shorts in terms of A/V varies greatly as we might expect, with the rare footage from The Rogue Song faring the worst. However, all of these show better than expected.

    Full marks for an outstanding ensemble of special features.

    Special Features: 5/5
    [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]

    **Special Features rated for the quality of supplements, not the quantity**



    Final Thoughts:
    While the two MGM feature films offered up here with the latest TCM Archives Collection might not be considered “top-tier Laurel and Hardy” by diehard aficionados, there is enough of the duo’s endearing brilliance that shines through, making the set a worthwhile venture.

    Considering how many of us remember the God-awful presentations of these old L&H features (a point which might even be as synonymous with the comedy team as much as the memory of their films themselves), fans are going to be pleasantly surprised with the A/V presentations. On top of that, the set contains a surplus of healthy supplements, all of which complement this wonderful collection. If you’re a fan of the early comedy team, you’ll want to add this collection to your cart next week.

    Overall Rating: 4.5/5 (not an average)
    [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]

    Highly Recommended…!



    Release Date: April 18th, 2006
     
  2. Michael Elliott

    Michael Elliott Lead Actor

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    Excellent review Herb.

    I don't normally disagree with anything Warner does but I wish they would have included the other two L&H films. I know they aren't considered great but how else will they get released if not on a L&H set? I was able to tape one off TCM the other night and it wasn't too bad.

    Either way, I picked up the set just a few minutes ago thanks to a store breaking the street date. [​IMG]
     
  3. JohnPM

    JohnPM Second Unit

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    Checked these out myself tonight, and they look fine. The packaging does leave something to be desired, but the art and design is really nice. As for extras, the trailer for "Devil's Brother" is missing the graphics, but since it was that way on the laser disc, there was no surprise here.

    http://greenbriarpictureshows.blogspot.com/
     
  4. Roger Rollins

    Roger Rollins Supporting Actor

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    I can't wait to get this set. We L&H fans must consider ourselves fortunate that MGM (and now Warner Bros.)was able to get the rights back to THE DEVIL'S BROTHER and BONNIE SCOTLAND. MGM originally distributed all the L&H Hal Roach features up through 1938, but then the two entities severed ties, and Roach ended up at UA.

    Through some kind of machinations, MGM was able to regain these two L&H films plus a bunch of other Roach films. When we see the damned awful product put out by Artisan/Hallmark of Stan & Ollie's bst work, it makes one sad to think what great releases we would have in WB's hands.

    But, this is not a time to lament, but to celebrate. A splendid release awaits us.

    ....and I personally applaud WB for having the smarts not to denigrate this special set with the later L&H MGM films.
    They are far from terrible, and they are probably a bit better than the awful Fox movies, but nothing L&H did after they severed ties with Roach shows them off at their best.

    While once a television staple, we hardly ever see Stan & Ollie anymore, and these DVD releases (along with rare TCM airings) are the only way new fans can discover their genius. That being said, I trust that WB is smart enough to know that die-hard L&H fans would want their two later MGM films, and would hopefully pair them together in a value-priced double feature or something.

    The TCM ARCHIVES line is a "prestige" series that WB has seemingly created with their sister Time Warner company, and each release has been wonderful. Thanks to another great Herb Kane review, I now can trust that WB's new LAUREL AND HARDY set certainly meets that criteria. I can't wait until Tuesday!
     
  5. Dale MA

    Dale MA Screenwriter

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    Great review Herb [​IMG]

    Looking forward to this set, I'm just waiting for it to be delivered, I already own the 21 disc UK Laurel & Hardy set but there's no such thing as owning too much of Laurel & Hardy's work is there? [​IMG]



    I'm hoping that we'll see a Laurel & Hardy Vol. 2 from WB at some point Michael.
     
  6. oscar_merkx

    oscar_merkx Lead Actor

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    great news once again
     
  7. Michael Elliott

    Michael Elliott Lead Actor

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    Do they own anything other than the two titles mentioned in the other thread? They also own several more Keaton titles that didn't make that set so perhaps they can release a "Comedy Legends" set with some of the lesser known titles.
     
  8. John Hodson

    John Hodson Producer

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    Thanks Herb.

    Got my Warners/TCM set this morning; no complaints whatsoever about the content, and I'm very pleased with the transfers which look lovely, but the packaging...

    I rarely bitch about packaging, after all, it's just a means of storage. But this is just awful. The TCM 'Buster Keaton' set was in a rather sturdy and handsome digipac, the 'Greta Garbo' TCM set, in a double Amaray, not as pretty but more hardwearing.

    This is the flimsiest, (slim) digipac I've ever seen, worst of all, the discs are laid over each other. To get at the extras you have to remove the film, and it's not packaging that will stand alot of repeat handling; it certainly doesn't reflect the set's high retail premium. For the price, and for a 'prestige' line, one would expect a little perceived value, but this smacks of accountant lead penny-pinching.

    Grrrr...
     
  9. Herb Kane

    Herb Kane Screenwriter

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    Thanks Guys. Totally agree John re: the packaging. Very cheap and flimsy. Just got the Lucy & Desi Collection and they are finally using the Slimcases - they are great. Two sided insert allows for a listing of chapter stops viewable from the inside. Very nice. More about that set very soon.

    Herb.
     
  10. Dale MA

    Dale MA Screenwriter

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    A slimcase would've worked perfectly with this set. I recieved my set also this morning, transfers look good, I haven't had chance to check out the extras just yet though.

    Cover art is very nice looking, just a shame about the filmsy packaging, ah well, it's great to have the films.
     
  11. Steve...O

    Steve...O Producer

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    Thanks Herb!

    I spent the weekend with this set and am very pleased. It was a bit jolting going from the nearly flawless print quality of the Fox films to the older and grainier Warners films, but given the source material, I'm very pleased. During their commentary for DEVILS BROTHER Maltin and Bann point out some of the spliced scenes which can be quite jarring so it is evident that these have been there from day one.

    I enjoyed their BROTHER commentary which was quite informative. It seemed like there was more dead air in the SCOTLAND commentary but it was obvious that neither considers it a favorite so perhaps they ran out of nice things to say?

    The bonus disc was wonderful and having all those clips in one place is invaluable. I do have a bone to pick with Warners though. It seems that the shorts documentary was edited down from the TCM broadcast for the DVD version by a few minutes, perhaps for PC reasons? Whatever the reason, they shouldn't do that.

    Robert Osborne's researchers made a blunder when they cited the LUCKY DOG (the first film to have both Stan and Ollie) as being made in 1918. Research by Randy Skretvedt, Rob Stone, and others (published over a decade ago) have shown this to be made later, probably in late 1920 or 1921. Other than that, it was a classy touch adding him to this set and I hope Warners continues to utilize his talents.

    If Warners does release the other two films they own, I hope they go for sturdier packaging, perhaps a double disc slimcase. I had read the earlier comments on the flimsiness of the package but until I had it myself I had no idea how flimsy and cheap feeling it was. The artwork was nice though.

    Thanks Warners.
     
  12. Jay E

    Jay E Cinematographer

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    Just wanted to let everyone know (who has a multi-region player) that the UK 21 DVD boxset of Laurel & Hardy films is now around $130 from Amazon.co.uk....a Great Price!!

    With the 21 dvd boxset & the new Warner & Fox DVD sets (and single copies of Babes in Toyland & Flying Deuces), there are now only a handful of L&H films left for me to complete my collection.
     
  13. Art_AD

    Art_AD Stunt Coordinator

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    Love all the films and the extra film clips. Disliked the box wish it was like the Keaton and Chaney box (the Garbo one is in a larger box so it does not have to match). What I am disappointed about (and maybe this is not justified) I wished they included all found clips from The Rogue Song not just the L & H ones. Also they could have included the restored trailer from The Rogue Song, If not here when are we going to get a chance to see all of these fragments. I do not see a "Dawn of Sound" style dvd set on the horizon. Also everywhere I read everyone dismisses the Hollywood Revue, it is a very interesting film &I would buy it on DVD in an instant.
     

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