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"Laurel & Hardy: The Definitive Restorations" Blu-ray Review

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93 years ago, comedy legends Laurel and Hardy were paired together as a team for the first time. Since then, their movies have been shown, used, and reused, leading to damaged prints.

As of 2011, UCLA’s film and TV archives department, joined by motion picture curator Jeff Joseph/SabuCat and the Library of Congress, have been working to preserve some of these classic comedies. Full restorations of two Laurel and Hardy feature films and 17 shorts, along with over eight hours of bonus materials, are now available for the home viewer in the Kit Parker Films Blu-ray release, “Laurel & Hardy: The Definitive Restorations.” Combined with the very funny motion pictures themselves, the set is a real treat.

The four disc Blu-ray set, also available as a six DVD collection, consists of new 2K and 4K digital restorations from the original 35mm nitrate prints. The movies were photochemically restored from the initial film elements, and then digitally cleaned. So, these Laurel and Hardy films look the best they ever have.

In 2011, RHI Entertertainment released an extensive, 10 DVD box set titled "Laurel & Hardy: The Essential Collection." The films looked and sounded very good, especially considering when they were made. But this Blu-ray set takes the quality up a notch.

Authors Randy Skretvedt (“Laurel and Hardy: The Magic Behind the Movies”) and Richard W. Bann (“Laurel and Hardy”, “The Little Rascals: The Life and Times of Our Gang") provide very informative commentaries for each film in the Blu-rays on the second audio track.

"The Battle of the Century"

The title in the set creating a lot of buzz in the Laurel and Hardy fan community is the restored 1928 silent movie, “The Battle of the Century.” Making its video debut, the film’s been known for having one of the largest pie fight scenes in motion picture history. It’s said 3,000 pies were used in that climactic scene. For decades, the film only existed in fragments. The first reel of the 20 minute short subject was found in 1979. But the full second reel, missing for 60 years and featuring the famous pie fight, was only discovered five years ago by toxicologist and film historian Jon Mirsalis..

The first reel, in a sepia tone, features a boxing match between Laurel and “Thunderclap Callahan.” Lou Costello is seen in the crowd as an extra watching the bout. The second part has an insurance salesman sell Laurel a policy for five dollars. If Laurel gets hurt, he would get paid. So, Hardy hatches an idea for Laurel to slip on a banana peel on the sidewalk, then put in the insurance claim. Laurel walks around the peel, but a policeman falls after stepping on it. He hits Laurel on the head with his baton, causing a big bump, and Hardy thinks he could get $1,000 for that.

Meanwhile, a pie delivery man, holding a crate of the desserts, stumbles on the peel. The delivery man (Charlie Hall) shoves a pie in Hardy’s face. Hardy throws a pie at Hall, but mistakenly hits a woman getting into her car. This starts a chain reaction, and we have “pie-mageddon.”

"The Battle of the Century" pie fight

"The Battle of the Century" pie fight

The Two Feature Films

“Sons of the Desert” and “Way Out West”, two of the duo’s most popular feature films, also highlight the set. Both are barely over an hour in length (68 and 64 minutes long), and are well-paced.

“Sons of the Desert” is classic Laurel and Hardy with funny dialogue, physical gags, Hardy's obnoxious brother-in-law character played well by Charley Chase, and more. The plot line is that Laurel and Hardy attend the Sons of the Desert fraternal organization's convention in Chicago even after Mrs. Hardy tells her husband he's not allowed to go. Hardy fakes an illness, with a doctor (actually a veterinarian) recommending that he recuperate by taking an ocean voyage, joined by Laurel, to Hawaii. It's a ruse so The Boys can go to the convention together. But, trouble comes when the ship they supposedly were going to sail on sinks.

Gags in “Sons” including Laurel eating a piece of wax fruit at the Hardy residence, and making great, puzzled look expressions as he chews. When Mrs. Hardy finds out about this, she tells Ollie, "Oh, so that's where it's been going. That's the third apple I've missed this week." Later, Laurel takes Hardy's temperature..Hardy asks him, "What does it say?" Laurel replies, “Wet and windy.” He’d taken Hardy’s temp. with a barometer. Also, climbing down a drainpipe in his pajamas at night leads Hardy to get even more wet by landing in a water barrel.

Additionally, the picture is a bit brighter and sharper, and the audio better on the Blu-ray versus the RHI DVD.

"Sons of the Desert" poster and Scene Still

laurel-hardy-the-definite-restorations-blu-ray-review
Oliver Hardy, Charley Chase, and Stan Laurel

Oliver Hardy, Charley Chase, and Stan Laurel

“Way Out West” is set in the cowboy town of Brushwood Gulch. Laurel and Hardy travel to the city to deliver the deed for a goldmine inherited by a woman following the passing of her prospector father. Saloon owner Mickey Finn, played by frequent Laurel and Hardy foil James Finlayson (known for inspiring Homer Simpson’s “Doh!” exclamation) and his singer wife Lola Marcel (Sharon Lynn), conspire to get the deed. Rosina Lawrence, the teacher in several Our Gang/Little Rascals films, portrays Mary Roberts, the real heiress.

The movie contains Laurel and Hardy's charming soft-shoe shuffle dance routine sequence as The Avalon Boys Quartet croon “At the Ball,That’s All.” Inside the saloon, Laurel and Hardy sing “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine.” A funny sequence has Laurel all of a sudden performing his part in a deep bass singing voice. Hardy gets a wooden mallet from the bartender, and hits Laurel on the head with it. Laurel then starts to sing in a woman’s soprano voice. Additionally, the movie contains the surrealistic gag of Laurel using his thumb as a lighter.

A nice tidbit Skredvedt mentions on the second audio track is that the actual 1937 rear projection footage in Laurel & Hardy's dance scene was discovered by someone working on the 2018 “Stan and Ollie” feature film. It was then reused in an accurate recreation of the sequence eight decades later.

In 1975, a vinyl single of Laurel and Hardy ‘s “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine” was issued in the UK, 38 years following “Way Out West”’s release. The track went to number two in the singles chart. The only song to beat it out at the top spot was Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

Laurel & Hardy Dance Routine from "Way Out West"

The Shorts

The restored films as a whole look sharper and brighter, and with more detail, than the RHI box set. That’s not a knock on that collection, which at 10 discs is very comprehensive, and includes 58 sound shorts and feature films.

The picture quality of “Helpmates” looks a little more fuzzy on the RHI DVD versus the Kit Parker Films Blu-ray. When comparing “Come Clean” and “The Music Box” from the Dutch 2002 “Laurel & Hardy: Talkies 2” compilation to the U.S. 2011 "Essential Collection"”, and finally the 2020 U.S. Blu-ray, the newest set takes the nod. "Talkies 2" had specks in the picture, the Essential Collection looked better, but the "Definitive Restorations" Blu-ray picture quality was the best.

“Berth Marks” is included with its original 1929 VitaPhone audio track, as well as the 1936 reissued film with altered music and sound effects. “Brats” is similar, in that you get both the original 1930 VitaPhone disc movie and the reissued 1937 VitaPhone soundtracks.

"Hog Wild"

Oliver Hardy, Fay Holderness, and Stan Laurel

Oliver Hardy, Fay Holderness, and Stan Laurel

Among the numerous "Laurel & Hardy: The Definitive Restorations" focal points include the 1932 Oscar winning live action short, “The Music Box”, in which The Boys have to deliver a crated piano up 133 steps to the customer. Laurel and Hardy play themselves and their young sons via camera work and over-sized furniture in the aforementioned “Brats.” Moreover, you get some words of wisdom from Laurel in that film. He tells Hardy that the way to deal with the rambunctious kids is to treat them with kindness, because “You can lead a horse to water, but a pencil must be led.”

“Berth Marks” is included with its original 1929 VitaPhone audio track, as well as the 1936 reissued film with altered music and sound effects. “Brats” is similar, in that you get both the original 1930 VitaPhone disc movie and the reissued 1937 VitaPhone soundtracks.

“The Tree in a Test Tube”, made for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is notable for being Laurel and Hardy’s only surviving color movie. The pair appear for approximately the first four minutes of the short, using pantomime. The idea was to show the importance of wood to Americans’ daily lives during World War II, and as a replacement for metal. While Laurel and Hardy may not have any lines in the movie, it’s still fun to see them in Technicolor.

"The Music Box"

Laurel and Hardy

Laurel and Hardy

"One Good Turn" comparison

"Their First Mistake" comparison

Special Features

Here’s where "Laurel & Hardy: The Definite Restorations" really shines. Eight hours of special features are included, and they’re very extensive and a real treat. 2,500 rare Laurel and Hardy production photos, posters, Pressbook articles, studio files, scripts, and much more can be accessed via the Blu-ray discs.

What’s special, too, are the included interviews Skretvedt conducted with Laurel and Hardy associates using a Kodachrome Super 8 sound movie camera in 1981. The duo’s frequent co-star Anita Garvin describes Laurel as practically being like a second director behind the scenes with their films. Hardy she describes as a shy, sweet man, who would sometimes sit on the set and play his ukulele.

Producer Joe Rock talks about signing Laurel up to star in 12 films before the team of Laurel and Hardy was formed. Hal Roach Studios special effects artist Roy Seawright speaks about first meeting Laurel on the studio lot, as well as his production work on the Laurel and Hardy films “Babes In Toyland (March of the Wooden Soldiers)” and “Swiss Miss.” Audio interviews by Skretvedt are included as well, with Hal Roach, Hardy’s widow Lucille, director George Marshall, Roach Studios musical director Marvin Hatley, and more.

A fascinating series of photos shows a retired Laurel at his Santa Monica apartment from 1959 to 1964 with such celebrity admirers as Dick Van Dyke and Marcel Marceau.

Technical Details

The four Blu-ray discs have an aspect ratio of 1:37:1 with a 1080p resolution. Total running time, not including the bonus features, is 511 minutes. English subtitles are available. The set is region free. No booklet is included with the discs, but the main contents are listed on the back of the multi disc Blu-ray case.

Minor quibbles are that the discs don’t have a Play All feature. Additionally, when the audio commentary tracks from Skretvedt and Bann are played, the sound from the particular movie becomes silent. But, these points don’t take away the enjoyment you get from watching the films. And with Skretvedt and Bann, they’re so knowledgeable about Laurel and Hardy, that it’s like taking a fun, film education class just listening to them.

Laurel & Hardy: The Definitive Restorations” provides hours of entertainment for all members of the family. It’s a must buy purchase for fans of Laurel & Hardy and classic comedy in general. Definitely recommended.

© 2020 Marshall Fish

Comments

Marshall Fish (author) on July 21, 2020:

If you'd like to find out about Randy's book, it's official title is Laurel & Hardy:The Magic Behind the Movies. It's been referred to as the gold standard of Laurel and Hardy books.

Marshall Fish (author) on July 21, 2020:

Randy,

You're very welcome. BTW, I was using your book, The Magic Behind the Movies, to check out some info for the review. BTW, I enjoyed your two appearances on Stu's Show, also.

Marshall

Randy Skretvedt on July 21, 2020:

Thank you very much for the review, Marshall. I'm glad you enjoyed this new release, and found my commentaries informative.

Marshall Fish (author) on July 20, 2020:

Yes, they're definitely definitive!

Marshall