Today would have been Stan Laurel’s 127th birthday. Have a bottle of wine with him…
I’m still waiting on one final entry before I announce the prize winners. In the meantime, I encourage you to read the other blog entries that have been posted. All of them capture the spirit of their respective Laurel & Hardy movies quite nicely!
Serendipitous Anachronisms – Liberty (1929)
CaftanWoman – Me and My Pal (1933)
thoughtsallsorts – The Live Ghost (1934)
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:
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…
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.
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?).
(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.)
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!
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.)
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.
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?
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!
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
Serendipitous Anachronisms – Liberty (1929)
The Movie Rat – The Music Box (1932)
CaftanWoman – Me and My Pal (1933)
thoughtsallsorts – The Live Ghost (1934)
The following is my contribution to the You Gotta Have Friends Blogathon, being hosted Nov. 18-20, 2016 by Debra at the blog Moon in Gemini. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ tributes to some of cinema’s most memorable friendships!
Usually, anyone who writes about Laurel & Hardy dwells on their comedy highlights (and justifiably so). But in this instance, I’d like to discuss some of their more thoughtful moments and show why, as L&H biographer Randy Skretvedt once said, they have more “depth” than most comedy teams.
It’s not for nothing that, within their fan base, Laurel & Hardy are just as likely to inspire a tear as a laugh. The most commonly cited instance is the famous softshoe dance from Way Out West (1937; embedded below), in which the deep bond of Stan and Ollie is just as obvious as their superb comic timing.
But there are plenty of other instances — not as funny, maybe, but just as touching — that illuminate Stan and Ollie’s friendship. I’d like to cite just four of them. (SPOILER ALERTS)
At the climax of their short subject Below Zero (1930), Stan and Ollie have just been, literally, knocked out and thrown out of the back of a greasy-spoon cafe for not paying their dinner tab. (They thought they had sufficient funds to pay for it, but you know, it’s Stan and Ollie.) When Ollie regains consciousness, he doesn’t see Stan anywhere, and he yells for Stan several times — first in a normal tone of voice, then with fear that his friend is missing or has been physically harmed. All of this is conveyed simply by Ollie calling Stan’s name four times, followed by Ollie grabbing a large piece of wood and rushing to the cafe’s back door to bang on it.
This is also a tribute to Oliver Hardy’s often-underrated acting. (And of course, Stan turns out to be all right — I’ll let you discover the movie’s silly ending for yourself.)
In L&H’s first feature film Pardon Us (1931), The Boys have been sentenced to prison for trying to sell bootleg liquor (to a cop, as it happens). Stan has a troublesome lisp that makes the end of his every sentence sound as though he’s blowing a raspberry. It’s determined that Stan needs to go the prison dentist to get a loose tooth pulled. Stan has grave misgivings about this idea, especially after seeing a couple of patients in the dentist’s waiting room who are vocalizing their agony. Suddenly, Ollie sneaks in, takes a seat next to Stan, and declares that he’ll stay with Stan all through the dental visit. It’s a tiny moment that’s not dwelled upon, but Stan’s delight at seeing a cheerful, familiar face in a hostile environment speaks volumes.
In Busy Bodies (1933), Stan and Ollie are having a back-and-forth physical row with an antagonistic co-worker (Charlie Hall). At one point, Stan hits Ollie by mistake. Charlie laughs and starts to make friends with Stan, telling Stan he has “a kind face.” Stan starts to get chummy with his new buddy and offers him a cigar. Ollie’s look to the camera — a device that always conveys Ollie’s exasperation to the audience — has an undertone of pity in this instance, as Ollie fears that Stan has turned on him. (Not to worry. Stan gets Charlie ejected from work — theirs is a “No Smoking” place of business.)
The most profound instance of Stan and Ollie’s loss-and-regaining of friendship occurs at the end of their feature film A Chump at Oxford (1940). (Major spoilers follow.) Stan and Ollie are attending Oxford University on a scholarship. Unbeknownst to them, Oxford once had a brilliant professor named Lord Paddington who, one day, inexplicably walked away from Oxford for good. Paddington’s former servant notices Stan’s resemblance to the former genius and declares that Stan is Lord Paddington returned to his old stomping grounds. Ollie laughs derisively at the idea.
OLLIE: Why, I’ve known him for years, and he’s the dumbest guy that I ever saw. Aren’t you, Stan?
STAN: I certainly am.
But when Stan leans out a window and is conked on the head by the window’s pane, Lord Paddington’s memory returns — as does Lord P. in all of his snobby glory.
There follows a delicious scene in which Ollie is justly punished for all of his years of condescending treatment of Stan, as Ollie is demoted to being Lord P.’s lackey. At one point, Paddington instructs Ollie on how to behave with more poise. “Lift your chin up,” he tells Ollie. When Ollie duly lifts his chin, Stan instructs him, “No, no, no, both of them!”
Ollie eventually loses it, telling Paddington that he’s had enough and that he’s returning to America without him. As it happens, some of Lord P.’s followers are singing “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” outside his window. Lord P. goes to the window to listen, the window pane does its business again, and Stan is returned to his old self.
Ollie is still on a rampage when Stan starts to cry at the thought of Ollie deserting him. Eventually, it dawns on Ollie that Stan is back to normal. Ollie laughs in happiness and throws his arms around his old buddy, briefly looking down at his derided double-chin before resuming his joy at the return of his old friend.
You have to think that Stan Laurel, as the uncredited co-creator of most of Laurel & Hardy’s movies, felt compelled to add these subtle grace notes to L&H’s characterizations. They’re minor, but they’re there for anyone who looks for them, and they add a little emotion to what could have simply been (superb) slapstick comedies.