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

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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)

Realweegiemidget Reviews – A Chump at Oxford (1940)

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:

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!

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:

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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Laurel & Hardy: The eternal friendship of Stan and Ollie

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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!

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Everything I ever needed to know, I learned from Laurel & Hardy.

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The following is my entry in the Things I Learned from the Movies Blogathon, being hosted Oct. 14-17, 2016 by Kristina and Ruth at, respectively, the blogs Speakeasy and Silver Screenings. Click on the above banner, and read a variety of life lessons learned by bloggers through their study of cinema!

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My interview with Laurel & Hardy biographer Randy Skretvedt – October, 1987

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With the publication of Randy Skretvedt’s epic “Ultimate Edition” of his book Laurel & Hardy: The Magic Behind The Movies, it’s time for another of my shout-out, name-dropping, bragging-rights stories.

I lived in Los Angeles for about a year three decades ago. During that time, I was wandering through a bookshop when I came across a Laurel & Hardy biography I’d never even heard of before (Skretvedt’s, of course). I bought it and read it from cover to cover several times, until you’d have thought its information was getting sponged in through my fingertips.

At the time, I was also writing for a small monthly entertainment publication. I used that as an excuse to write to Skretvedt (remember letter-writing?) to ask for an interview. He graciously accepted, and I met up with him a total of three times before I left L.A. (On one occasion, he took me to a lavish meeting of Way Out West, the L.A. “Tent” [fan club] of The International Laurel & Hardy Appreciation Society, a/k/a “Sons of the Desert.”)

From the time he attended junior college, Skretvedt has been documenting every bit of Laurel & Hardy history he can find, and we readers are the lucky recipients of his obsession (particularly with his “Ultimate Edition” — read my review of it here.) As you can tell in my interview with Skretvedt below, he’s one of the nicest people you could imagine, just as willing to share his generous knowledge of L&H’s work in person as he is on paper.

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Steve Bailey: What is it you particularly like about Laurel and Hardy?

Randy Skretvedt: The two characters are so interesting, and they have much more depth than other film comedians. They said something about human relationships without making it explicit. They can’t live with each other, and they can’t live without each other. They’re two innocents in a hostile world, and they’re the only allies they’ve got.

I can also appreciate how well the films are structured. I like how carefully they’ve timed everything, and how they’ve set up the scene so your eye is led to exactly what it should be looking at. they have a limited bag of tricks, but they’re very inventive in the ways they use the same gags over and over. And the slow tempo of their films works well, because Stan and Ollie’s minds don’t work very fast.

SB: How long did it take you to compile and write the book, from the time you actually decided you were going to write it?

RS: Some of the interview material goes back to 1974. But when I finally said, “Nobody’s done it right, I’m gonna do a book,” that was in 1979, when I was in junior college.

SB: How did Laurel and Hardy’s contemporaries feel when this kid came to interview them?

RS: That’s a good question. I think a lot of them were surprised that I was so interested. It’s a little unusual for someone to be so crazy about something that went on in 1927. But if you do your homework before the interview, that helps break down barriers, rather than just asking, “Gee, were they really fun to work with?” But most of them loved the Hal Roach Studios [where Laurel and Hardy made films from 1927 to 1940] so much, they almost got misty-eyed when they talked about it.

SB: Why did it take Hal Roach and others so long to regard Laurel and Hardy as a team? As you point out in your book, they’d make one movie where they were a bonafide team, and then a movie where they both starred but never appeared together.

RS: Leo McCarey [a Roach director who went on to direct the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup and Cary Grant’s An Affair to Remember, among many others] was the first one to say, “Laurel and Hardy, together. Great idea!” But even Stan Laurel wasn’t terribly receptive to the idea when McCarey first suggested it, because he preferred working behind the scenes.

SB: You quote Hal Roach many times as saying Stan was great on gags but terrible on story construction.

RS: Hal Roach was a creative filmmaker, and the one who insisted that more emphasis be placed on storyline and characters — a major contribution to film comedy. But I don’t think he was always the man to construct the story. [Frequent Laurel and Hardy director] George Marshall said, “We’d be in the writers’ sessions, and Roach would stop in from a business meeting to say, ‘Hey, fellas, I just got a great idea for a story. Laurel and Hardy are sailors. You know what I mean?'” Then he’d walk out, and the gag writers would stare at each other and say, “Do you know what he means?”

SB: Why didn’t Stan Laurel ever take screen credit for the writing, directing, and editing he did for their films?

RS: He wasn’t concerned about getting credit, but he did make certain he got control. And it was kind of an unwritten law on the lot, anyway, that Stan was the guy in charge. If Stan didn’t feel a certain bit of business was right, the director was not about to say, “I’m the director, so you do it anyway!”

In 1938, Hal Roach said, “When you create a picture, you want it to look like it has importance. And if you labeled everything that Stan Laurel did, his name would be on there about ten times.” But Laurel never considered himself the auteur of the films, even if he unconsciously was. And I think that hurt their careers later on, because it wasn’t trumpeted in the press that Stan was the primary shaper of the films.

SB: Why did Laurel and Hardy go to 20th Century-Fox and M-G-M in the 1940’s, where they were forced into bad movies over which they had no control?

RS: Stan had many story disagreements with Roach. When Fox hired them, they said, “We’ve got writers, we’ve got editors. We just want Laurel and Hardy for their box-office value.” I think Laurel and Hardy were naive in not realizing conditions were going to be so different at another studio. They were obviously not aware of how regimented the procedures had become.

SB: What do you think of the colorized versions of the Laurel and Hardy movies?

RS: I saw the colorized Music Box [Laurel and Hardy’s Oscar-winning 1932 short subject] the other night, and the color has gotten to the point where it’s not too bad, as long as they don’t leave huge chunks of black-and-white in it, as they often do.

But then they tamper with the films in other ways. They add music where there was none before, and they cut parts of them so they can get new copyrights. And I’m a purist — if there wasn’t any music in the original, don’t put music in there now. It’s not as if all the critics who saw The Music Box said, “I think the film would be ten times better with music in it.” And I think black-and-white fits Laurel and Hardy’s films better. They’re set in the Depression, they have a grimly realistic tone to them, and I think black-and-white helps to accommodate that.

SB: If you were talking to someone completely unfamiliar with Laurel and Hardy’s work, which movie would you tell them about?

RS: There’s a short they did called You’re Darn Tootin’ (1928). At the beginning of it, Laurel and Hardy have jobs and a home. Systematically throughout the film, they lose it all until, at the end, they’re standing on the street in their underwear. All they have left is their friendship, and they go off together. That’s their statement: The world will crumble around us and we will utterly fail at everything we try, but we’ll still have each other. That’s a pretty profound statement to come from a two-reeler that was shot in 10 days.