Laurel & Hardy on NBC’s “This Is Your Life” (Dec. 1, 1954)

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Like nearly everything Laurel & Hardy did on film, their 1954 live appearance on Ralph Edwards’ NBC celebrity-bio series “This Is Your Life” is worth seeing at least once — but in this case, probably not much more than once. Even their final Hollywood films offered L&H more to do than sit like stooges in somebody else’s scheme, which is pretty much what “This Is Your Life” did.

For those unfamiliar with this sentimental hooey, “This Is Your Life’s” premise was that each week, some unsuspecting celebrity would be dragged onto live TV and have his or her life story condescendingly recalled to him by host Ralph Edwards, who would also parade the celebrity’s friends or associates on stage to briefly regale the audience with all-too-well rehearsed anecdotes. (Buster Keaton was another comedy legend subjected to this process at one point.) The “TIYL” format is shown in full, naked flower here, as director Leo McCarey stammeringly tried to tell how L&H were made a team, and one-time co-star Vivian Blaine told a story that had nothing to do with her co-starring role in L&H’s Jitterbugs.

Stan Laurel later recounted his disgust with the whole enterprise, and it shows on camera — while always smiling and polite, he never utters one word more than he has to. By contrast, the show reunited Oliver Hardy with his childhood sweetheart, and Hardy is shown trying to have a private conversation with his old acquaintance, oblivious of Edwards’ rush to continue the show (which was running late due to Stan’s reluctance to show up at all, causing Edwards to ad-lib uncomfortably for the first few minutes of the broadcast).

The L&H segment of “This Is Your Life” stands, like their final big-studio films, as another prime example of Hollywood’s willingness to capitalize on The Boys’ famous personas without any concern as to whether L&H were shown in their best light.

If you dare to watch the segment, it’s embedded below:

Addendum to NUTS IN MAY: A LAUREL & HARDY BLOGATHON (WITH PRIZES!) – More prizes!

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This blogathon just keeps getting better (at least for the entrants!). When I announced the blogathon last week, I expected entrants to be flocking in, based on the ‘thon’s first prize — the “Ultimate Edition” of Randy Skretvedt’s lavish book Laurel & Hardy: The Magic Behind the Movies.

To date, I’ve received notices from five, count ’em, 5 entrants.

So what the hey — if others are going to snub their noses at this blogathon, shouldn’t everybody who has entered get a prize? Therefore…

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Fifth prize will be a(n admittedly very used) hardbound copy of John McCabe’s 1975 coffee-table book Laurel & Hardy. In America’s pre-cable and -video days, this book was a real find (and expensive for its day). The book provides detailed synopses of every Laurel & Hardy team movie, with publicity stills and other related minutia from those movies, as well as short tributes to Stan and Ollie from long-gone celebrities including Lenny Bruce, Jack Benny, and Groucho Marx.

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Fourth prize is a (again, used) paperback copy of Glenn Mitchell’s The Laurel & Hardy Encyclopedia, a book that has truly earned its title. This is an exhaustively researched and lovingly written tome, with new news about familiar L&H movies and trivia, and even newer news about things you didn’t know about L&H.

So if nobody else enters the blogathon/contest at this point, you’ll definitely get something out of it (but which prize will it be?).

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(If you’re just reading about this blogathon for the first time and want to enter it, click here to read the original entry about the blogathon and its first, second, and third prizes. Entry deadline is 12 midnight Eastern time on Mon., May 1, 2017.)

 

Less than one week to NUTS IN MAY: A LAUREL & HARDY BLOGATHON (WITH PRIZES!)

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Next Monday is our Laurel & Hardy blogathon (With Prizes!). All you have to do is a well-written blog entry that critiques a Laurel & Hardy movie. First prize is a copy of Randy Skredvedt’s terrific “Ultimate Edition” of his Laurel & Hardy biography. What are you waiting for? Click here for all the details!

THE CABINET OF DR. RAMIREZ (1991) – Modern-day silent movie

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I’ll bet you didn’t know that some major actors performed in a silent movie in 1991. I wouldn’t have known it myself if PBS hadn’t broadcast the movie on “Great Performances” two years after the movie was released.

The Cabinet of Dr. Ramirez is written and directed by Peter Sellars, a theater director who is famous for his unconventional takes on operas and plays. One example was his 1980 staging of Don Giovanni as a “blaxploitation” movie, with the title character shooting up heroin at one point. Opera News called the production “an act of artistic vandalism.”

Dr. Ramirez is likely to inspire similar complaints from anyone who is expecting a mainstream film. Basically, the movie grafts the Expressionist themes and look of the 1919 German classic The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari onto the setting of late-1980’s Wall Street.

Peter Gallagher and Joan Cusack play two young stockbroker/lovers whose personal and business lives are not going so well. That makes them easy bait for mysterious and fiendish Dr. Ramirez (Ron Vawter) and his even stranger partner-in-crime Cesar (Mikhail Baryshnikov).

In an introduction to the movie, director Sellars makes lofty claims about the movie laying waste to Wall Street’s barren greediness. I don’t know about all that. To me, the amazing thing is that this story is told with no dialogue, not even subtitles — a word-free conceit that hadn’t been attempted since F.W. Murnau’s The Last Laugh (1924) — and Sellars makes it work. The movie really makes you work for its pleasures, but the actors are so good, and the staging is so well thought-out, you can really make the connections.

The movie is far from perfect. Its score by John Adams is bombastic at some points, a few close-ups are held way too long after they’ve made their point, and the film’s climax flies all over the place. Yet I could never take my eyes off the movie.

In a movie world where it seems every bit of exposition must be clearly laid out for the dimmest yahoo in the audience, The Cabinet of Dr. Ramirez flies its freak flag proudly…and lucidly. For that alone, it deserves a place in cinema history.

Below is Part 1 of the movie. The movie is available for free on YouTube in five parts.

 

 

 

Announcing NUTS IN MAY: A LAUREL & HARDY BLOGATHON (WITH PRIZES!)

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Spring cleaning at the ol’ Movie Movie Blog Blog has yielded some interesting surprises — which, in the generous spirit of spring season, I’d like to pass along to you. Therefore, it is with bated breath (for which I’m seeing a doctor) that I happily announce…

NUTS IN MAY: A LAUREL & HARDY BLOGATHON (WITH PRIZES!)

(Yes, I know — Nuts in May is the title of a Stan Laurel solo film, not a Laurel & Hardy team film. But I won’t tell anyone if you won’t.)

Let me start by saying that if you’re interested in participating, you’re going to have work fast on this one. For, as befitting the ‘thon’s title, it will take place on Monday, May 1, 2017.

So now you’re saying, “Prizes, schmizes! I can’t enter a blogathon that’s coming up so soon!” Well, hold on, snootie, we haven’t announced the prizes yet!

(Fifth- and fourth-place prizes were added to this blogathon after I published this initial announcement about the ‘thon. Click here to read what those prizes are.)

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Third prize is the Kino Video/Lobster Films 2004 DVD of Laurel & Hardy’s 1939 film The Flying Deuces. (NOTE: This is not a Blu-Ray edition.) This is a restored, uncut version of the movie that was transferred from a nitrate 35mm negative discovered in France. The DVD also includes:

  • The Stolen Jools, a 1931 all-star short subject made for charity. Laurel & Hardy have a short but funny cameo in it.
  • The Tree in a Test Tube, a 1943 educational short subject featuring Laurel & Hardy in color, performing pantomime.
  • The notorious 1954 segment of “This Is Your Life” in which Hardy and a polite but reluctant Laurel are featured.
  • 1932 newsreel footage of Laurel & Hardy’s trip to the United Kingdom.
  • Copies of stills and promotional material for the movie.

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Second prize are the 1997 Laurel & Hardy “70th-anniversary” dolls featured in the above photo. (NOTE: The prize is the dolls [as shown above] and their props. The dolls are no longer in their original packaging.) Props include an umbrella for Hardy, a suitcase for Laurel, and small doll stands that contain replicas of Laurel’s and Hardy’s autographs.

And now for the grand prize. Are you sitting down?

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First prize is a near-mint-condition copy of Randy Skretvedt’s Laurel & Hardy: The Magic Behind the Movies – The Ultimate Edition. Yes, this is the 632-page hardback book that was released to huge critical acclaim last year. It’s loaded to the max with updates from Skretvedt’s initial 1987 book, including tons of photographs and trivia to savor.

So here are the rules — read them carefully!

  1. Blogathon participants are asked to write a review of one of the 106 films in which Laurel and Hardy were paired from 1926 to 1951. (That includes the early Hal Roach/Pathe productions in which Laurel & Hardy co-starred in the same film but were not featured as a team.) Please choose only from this list of movies — no “This Is Your Life,” compilation films, TV specials, or anything that deviates from said list. (A listing of this group of films can be found here.)
  2. No duplicate entries are allowed for this blogathon. At the bottom of this blog is a list of blogathon entries that will be regularly updated. Please check the list before you begin writing your entry, to see if someone has already taken your choice.
  3. Your review does not necessarily have to be positive — for example, if you want to review a L&H/20th Century-Fox film that you don’t like, that’s fine. All I ask is that the review be well-written, thought-out, reasoned, and entertaining.
  4. I will be the sole judge of the blogathon entries and will determine which entries win first, second, third, fourth, and fifth prize. So re-read Rule # 3 if necessary.
  5. Banners to promote the blogathon are posted at the bottom of this blog. Once you have written and posted your entry at your blog, grab a banner, post it with your entry, and link the banner back to this blog. Also, please leave your blogathon entry’s URL in the “Comments” section below so that I can read your entry.
  6. Your entry must be posted at your blog by 12:00 midnight Eastern Time on Monday, May 1, 2017. I will announce the blogathon winners as soon as possible after that time, possibly the next day. All blogathon entries will be linked here, and I will post the first- through fifth-prize-winning entries at this blog.

So for my and Laurel & Hardy’s sake, think hard, write well, and have fun! Here’s the line-up so far:

Movies Silently – Duck Soup (1927) and the talkie remake Another Fine Mess (1930)

Serendipitous Anachronisms – Liberty (1929)

The Movie Rat – The Music Box (1932)

CaftanWoman – Me and My Pal (1933)

thoughtsallsorts – The Live Ghost (1934)

Realweegiemidget Reviews – A Chump at Oxford (1940)

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