Flicker Alley has followed up their Laurel or Hardy: Early Solo Films of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy with Laurel & Hardy: Year One – The Newly Restored 1927 Silents, which presents the early days of the famous duo working together in films. Although it took several shorts before they were joined together as a comedy team, this collection delivers plenty of laughs.
Disc 1 opens with two pre-1927 films. Billed as a Stan Laurel short, Lucky Dog features Laurel and Hardy’s first crossover in a scene where Hardy is a thief who attempts to rob Laurel. 45 Minutes from Hollywood (1926) is a Glenn Tryon short. Laurel and Hardy both appear but don’t have any scenes together.
The remaining films are from 1927. Duck Soup is billed as a Stan Laurel short, but Hardy is clearly his equal in the story as the boys hide in a mansion posing as owner Col. Buckingham Blood (Hardy) and his maid (Laurel). It was remade as Another Fine Mess (1930) with sound. Billed as a Priscilla Dean short, Slipping Wives finds Laurel and Hardy battling throughout and even though their characters are strangers, they have an obvious chemistry together and outshine Dean.
Love ‘em and Weep is notable for being the first film with Laurel, Hardy, and frequent co-stars Jimmie Finlayson and Mae Busch (her only silent with them) in the cast. Busch plays an old flame who returns to married Finlayson’s life to blackmail him. He intends to pay her off but has a dinner party to attend that evening so his assistant Laurel is tasked with distracting her. Hardy plays one of the party guests. He isn’t given much to do and doesn’t share the screen with Laurel. Thankfully, the other three are very funny interacting. Chickens Come Home (1931) with sound.
In Why Girls Love Sailors, Laurel is a sailor engaged to a gal named Nellie (Viola Richard). She is shanghaied by a ship’s captain who claims he used to know her. Laurel comes to Nellie’s rescue, sneaking on board and posing in drag, but it’s the Captain’s wife who saves the day. Hardy is the first mate. With Love and Hisses finds an Army private’s (Laurel) antics fluster his sergeant (Hardy) while the antics of both fluster their captain (Finlayson), occurring on a train and at camp. A sequence of the soldiers having lost their clothes after skinny-dipping and the troubles that follow is funny and director Fred Guiol makes interesting choices to shoot their bodies.
Disc 2 opens with Sailors, Beware! Cab driver Laurel is stiffed by two jewel thieves, Madame Ritz and her husband, a little person who poses as her child. When his cab is mistakenly transported on board, Laurel is forced to work as a steward after the Captain discovers he has no ticket. It’s actually the female passengers who should beware of losing their jewels, but Laurel ends up solving the case. Hardy is the ship’s purser.
For the first time since Duck Soup, Laurel and Hardy are partnered together in Do Detectives Think? They are the two worst detectives in the whole world assigned to protect a judge (Finlayson) after a murderer who vows revenge against him escapes. The short is notable as it’s the first film with the boys wearing their bowler hats. There’s a very funny sequence where they fearfully retrieve their hats after the wind blows them into a graveyard. This leads to an amusing mix-up their hats, a gag they repeat many times in future films.
Shot in 1927 but not released until 1928, Flying Elephants is set 6000 years prior, back in the Stone Age. After King Ferdinand declares all males between 13 and 96 must be married within 24 hours or must face banishment or death, Laurel and Hardy separately compete for women’s affections. In the final three minutes, they compete for Blushing Rose (Viola Richard).
In Sugar Daddies, Oil tycoon Cyrus Brittle (Finlayson) awakes to find out he got married the night before and his new family is looking to “wring $50,000 out of” him. It’s on Brittle’s lawyer (Laurel) to remedy the situation. Hardy plays Brittle’s butler. The trio try to escape Brittle’s new family members through attractions at the Venice Pier.
Laurel and Hardy are back to being partners in The Second 100 Years with the boys as two convicts who share a cell. They eventually escape, posing as painters then unknowingly as French Police Chiefs who had plans to meet with the governor (Finlayson) for a dinner and a tour of the prison they had just escaped from. Laurel has a funny extended gag trying to pick up a grape with cutlery after it falls off his fruit cocktail.
Call of the Cuckoo is a Max Davidson short about a family living next door to an asylum. The patients include Laurel, Hardy, Finlayson, and Charley Chase. Davidson exchanges houses with a fella no questions asked. Davidson thinks he pulls a fast one but soon realizes he should have asked a question or two. Some good laughs as the house slowly comes undone.
Phillip (Laurel) is Hardy’s nephew from Scotland in Putting Pants on Phillip. His native garb, specifically his kilt, elicits laughter from the large crowds that gather. Uncle tries to put pants on Phillip with the help of a tailor, but he is constantly running off after a girl (Dorothy Coburn). There is a shocking pre-Code gag as a couple ladies faint when they learn what Phillip is (or isn’t) wearing under his kilt.
If one appreciates the sublime wonder of a person getting hit by a pie, The Battle of the Century is the movie for them. But before we get to that classic sequence, there’s a funny boxing match with Laurel as the fighter and Hardy as his manager. Later, Hardy takes out an insurance policy on Laurel, during a still-missing scene, and tries to injure him by getting him to slip on a banana peel. However, pie-delivery man (Charlie Hall) falls downs because of it and he plasters Hardy with a pie. Hardy returns fire but hits a woman getting into a car. Angry, she throws a pie but hits the shoes of a man getting them shined. The number of people involved slowly grows with hysterical results.
The video is presented in an 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer in various aspect ratios. Before each film, a title card detail the elements used and the restoration process. Some shorts have colored tints, particularly a light blue to indicate nighttime. Sources are 35mm, 16mm, and even still photos, as seen in Battle; the difference in quality is most apparent when different formats are used in the same film. The image looks predominantly clean, though there occasional scenes with white scratches or black specks.
The audio is available in DTS-HD MA 2.0. The piano scores are dynamic and offer good fidelity. Slipping Wives, Why Girls Love Sailors, and Flying Elephants come with an alternate 1930s French re-release track of music. There is noticeable hiss and slight crackle.
All the films have audio commentary by Randy Skretvedt, author of Laurel & Hardy books. He is very knowledgeable and has an engaging delivery. The Battle of the Century has an additional commentary by Serge Bromberg of Lobster Films. There is an image gallery slideshow “containing original publicity materials, press reviews and rare production stills” for each film.
On Disc 1:
- Restoring Laurel & Hardy (9 min) – Bromberg talks about restoring the films.
- Film Historian and Author Randy Skretvedt – A gallery of his L&H books
On Disc 2:
- Laurel & Hardy: On Location (11 min) – John Bengtson takes viewers on a tour of Culver City past through photos
- Hats Off! – Slideshow of a currently lost film, which was remade later as The Music Box and switched a washing machine for a piano. “Not a single frame of film currently survives, [so they] offer a series of publicity stills” and other promotional material.
Laurel & Hardy: Year One is a standout release. Lobster Films has done important film-preservation work in restoring these historical and hysterical shorts. This is one of the funniest collection of films released in 2023 thanks to those in front of and behind the camera. It’s very interesting to see the coalescing of one of the all-time great comedy duos.