Watch the Laurel and Hardy: The Definitive Restoration for comedy gold while getting inspired to help film preservation.
If you’re anything like me your knowledge of Laurel and Hardy is rudimentary at best (Hardy is the stout guy and Laurel always plays with his hair, right?). You may have seen Babes in Toyland or March of the Wooden Soldiers, but aren’t quite sure which is which or if they’re the same movie (Hint: Keanu Reeves would star in the remake more than fifty years later).
IT’S A GENERATION THING
Is the general lack of knowledge a generational thing? The bulk of their movies and shorts were released in the late ‘20s and ‘30s. The duo’s last movie was Atoll K aka Utopia in 1950. However, Charlie Chaplin was releasing shorts and features at the same time. Chaplin’s last notable movie was released in 1952. Today most people know Chaplin or at least they know the image of the Little Tramp. Maybe the lack of knowledge isn’t a generational thing.
Chaplin’s movies have never disappeared from the cinema landscape. They’ve been available on several different formats,networks, and are now available to stream on various boutique streaming services. The Criterion Collection has collected eight of Chaplin’s films. Meanwhile the movies of Laurel and Hardy haven’t always been available or readily available to view. When their movies and short features have been available, either on DVD or a few streaming services, the quality of the picture has been average at best. At present, The Criterion Collection has zero Laurel and Hardy films.
Laurel and Hardy films aren’t as “high brow” as Chaplin’s films. It’s comedy of errors, situations, and language. In Sons of the Desert Hardy’s elaborate plan to get to a convention in Honolulu rests on the diagnosis of a doctor. When the doctor arrives he turns out to be a veterinarian. Hardy asks, “Why did you get a veterinarian?” Without hesitation Laurel answers, “Well I didn’t think his religion would make any difference.” It’s the casual delivery that makes the scene.
Volumes have been written on and about Chaplin and his movies. You could start a college course on Chaplin and his movies with everything that has been written. There hasn’t been a lot of studies on the slapstick stylings of Laurel and Hardy. There should be a lot more written on the comedy duo, but most of what is available has been by the arm-chair author without an academic sense of purpose.
Now MDV Visual and Kit Parker Films have released Laurel and Hardy: The Definitive Restoration, not to be confused with a definitive collection. The four disc collection brings together two feature films (Sons of the Desert and Way Out West) and nineteen shorts.
The movies and shorts have been restored to 2K and 4K brilliance. Some of the charm of seeing an old movie is gone. The grainy images plagued by other releases are a thing of the past. There’s not a spider line or a cigarette hole to be seen. Perhaps these are what the films looked like when people first saw them.
The collection is also packed with extras. There’s an interview, although hokey by any standard, with Oliver Hardy before he left to start filming Atoll K. There’s a list of books about the duo that will probably only be of interest to the already initiated. However, “Laurel and Hardy: The Magic Behind the Movie” by Randy Skretvedt is worth reading. Each disc also has a gallery of Laurel and Hardy film stills and portraits.
Each disc has commentaries by Skretvedt. Skretvedt is a font of Laurel and Hardy knowledge and it shows in the commentaries. You will learn more about Laurel, Hardy, Hal Roach, and the various co-stars than you’ve ever wanted to know. In addition, there are several interviews with actors and crew members of Laurel and Hardy movies.
More important than the commentaries, the photo stills, or anything else the collection has to offer is the fact that these movies have been restored and saved. Films, shorts, and various short subject matter from the early days of cinema are being lost for good. The Library of Congress has estimated fourteen percent of movies from the silent era have been lost.
Preservation is of the utmost importance. Organizations like Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation and The UCLA Film and Television Archive are only two of the many organizations whose mission it is to restore and preserve films for future generations. The UCLA Film and Television Archive has a special section for donating to save Laurel and Hardy movies at www.savelaurelandhardy.com. The National Film Registry of the National Library of Congress also preserves films on an annual basis.
While your enjoying Laurel and Hardy enjoy the fact that you’re helping preserve films that may otherwise have been lost.