The Laurel & Hardy Comedy Collection DVD Review: A Fine Mess of Films

An interesting and entertaining mix of early 20th Century silent comedy shorts.
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Tying in with the release of Stan & OllieThe Laurel & Hardy Comedy Collection by Mill Creek Entertainment presents two discs of films starring Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, both together and on their own. 

Disc One is "Laurel & Hardy Shorts and Features."  Labeled as "an extract," The Lucky Dog (1921) is the first film the men appeared together with Laurel starring and Hardy as a robber and his nemesis.  A crackle can be heard on the audio. While technically they both worked on it, Yes, Yes, Nanette (1925) is a James Finlayson short where he meets his bride's family and they aren't too happy about it.  Hardy acts as the bride's former beau, Laurel co-directs, and Pete the dog from Our Gang also makes an appearance.  

The Stolen Jools (1931) is a star-studded comedy short that was made to raise funds for the National Vaudeville Artists Tuberculosis Sanitarium, a tad ironic that Chesterfield cigarettes was a sponsor.  The film is about an investigation of the theft of Norma Shearer's jewels stolen from the Screen Stars Annual Ball.  Laurel and Hardy are in a short scene early on driving "Detective" Eddie Kane.  In color, The Tree in a Test Tube (1942) is a WWII Propaganda short extolling the ubiquity of wood for some reason.

The two features are in public domain and are in desperate need of restoration.  The Flying Deuces (1939), which is an extended remake of their short Beau Hunks (1931), finds the boys joining the French Foreign Legion to help Ollie get over a broken heart.  There are a lot of amusing gags.  Utopia (1951), also known as Atoll K, is their final film together and this is the 82-minute cut.  Both men show their age. Laurel looks gaunt and every bit his 60 years while Hardy is at the other extreme, looking his heaviest.  Stan is left a boat and Pacific island by his late uncle.  He and Ollie venture out to it with a refugee and a stowaway.  They attempt to create a nation of no laws, but it doesn't go well, and neither does the story as it makes no sense once outsiders arrive.  The gags feel familiar and done better by them previous;y.  Both films are presented with a terrible picture.  The focus is soft, bordering on blurry, and whites bloom so bright it obscures faces at times.  The audio, especially the dubbed dialogue on Utopia, is also poor.

Disc Two is "Solo Shorts."  There are five shorts starring Laurel where he is the lead actor.  He performs slapstick but hasn't found a persona to make him stand out from the pack.  In the director's cut of Mud & Sand (1922) he is Rhubarb Vaselino, in a riff on Rudolph Valentino's Blood and Sand.  A tenderfoot (Laurel) heads West of Hot Dog (1924) and deals with bandits.  The filmmakers play with the form as scratches onto film create animated effects.  In "Stan Laurel Home Movies," both men appear together with children in two segments.  Hardy appears once, playfully running around.  Laurel is seen fishing  No idea who anyone else is.  Mainly his kids and other relations presumably.  

He works at a fruit-packing farm and instigates trouble in Oranges and Lemons (1923).  The Soilers (1923), a spoof of Gold Rush film The Spoilers, finds Smacknamara (James Finlayson) trying to steal Bob Canister's (Laurel) claim.  Originally 20 minutes, a nine-minute version is all that's left.  Laurel is a street sweeper causing mayhem in White Wings (1923) but the image is so terrible it's hard to watch.

The remaining 12 shorts feature Hardy on his own.  He is usually the the main character's foil, frequently breaks the law, and always gets a comeuppance in the end.  The Hobo (1917) stars Billy West whose Chaplin imitation is so good it's hard to believe he wasn't sued and this short impounded.  Hardy is his nemesis after the Hobo tries to make time with his girl.  Hop To It, Bellhop (1919) is notable for being directed by Charley Chase.  The Saw Mill (1922), The Show (1922), Kid Speed (1924) are Larry Semon films. Not only does he star, he was also involved in writing, directing, and producing them.  The Paperhanger's Helper (aka Stick Around) (1925) sees Hardy playing a proto-Ollie as he is befuddled by his assistant (Bobby Ray) while trying to do a job.

The remaining films are from Hardy's tenure at Hal Roach Studios where he got to play other types of characters.  Should Sailors Marry? (1925) stars Clyde Cook, and Hardy plays a doctor in the last few minutes.  Vincent Belcher (Hardy) lets a room from his ex-wife (Vivien Oakland) in Along Came Auntie (1926) and her current husband Mr. Chow (Glenn Tryon) isn't thrilled with the idea.  Matters are further complicated as she tries to stay in the good graces of a rich aunt who doesn't believe in divorce so the trio have to pretend Vincent is still the husband.  It's one of the funniest of the bunch and gives him the most to do.    

Two Charley Chase shorts are next.  Directed by Leo McCarey, Hardy plays a cab driver trying to collect a fare in Bromo (Incorrectly titled Bromeo on the menu) & Juliet (1926)  and a passerby harassed by Charley in Crazy Like a Fox (1926).  Laurel co-wrote and directed Enough to Do (aka Wandering Papas) (1926), so why is it on this disc? It's another Clyde Cook short with Hardy as a foreman of a camp of men building a bridge.  Hardy appears as a cop early on in Thundering Fleas (1926), an Our Gang short, but there seems to be missing material as the cop is first seen inexplicably without a pair of pants, which a couple kids find on the other side of a fence.

The condition of the shorts, especially on the second disc are in various stages of decrepitude.  The film image contains numerous scratches and specks. The contrast and brightness fluctuates, causing blacks to crush, shadows to swallow objects, and whites to blow out details.  There are even moments of jitter and missing frames.  Music is all that plays on the mono track with varying levels of hiss and crackle, and is occasionally muddled.    

While some may be disappointed by the lack of the comedy legends appearing together and by the quality of the films, The Laurel & Hardy Comedy Collection provides an interesting and entertaining mix of early 20th Century silent comedy shorts.  L&H completists will appreciate having these films together in one place.

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