And that is a huge part of their charm, as Neil will explore at the Chichester International Film Festival at the Chichester Cinema at New Park on August 22.
“I have been a silent film pianist for nearly 40 years and I first came across Laurel and Hardy on TV as most of my generation did but when I started playing for their films I encountered them in their silent guise. And the really interesting thing is that they established all of their teamwork before they ever actually spoke on screen and I just thought that it would be interesting to talk about how that happened. In a way this all started when the film Stan & Ollie came out and it introduced a lot of new people to Laurel and Hardy but it struck me that the one thing that wasn’t really seen much of in the film was how the partnership started out. Between 1926 and 1929 they made lots of short films during which they honed their partnership and I talk about that. They made individual films as well but once they got together they had to find out how to balance what they did.”
Part of what made them special was the fact that they were not just a straight man and a comic: “They were two comics who were both capable also of being straight men. And there is an agreement between them that life is difficult. We all have terrible days but at least we can always get through a door! They always seem to find life confusing and difficult but the lovely thing is that they both have a bit of spark about them and they both accept each other to the extent of sharing a bed. The fact that they established their partnership in the silent era means that so much of their comedy is visual. Before they even spoke on film with all their verbal ticks they had established this visual language and in the silent films you can see the characters being honed by the way they react to each other. You get a lot of wonderful slapstick and it is wonderfully funny. There is nothing cruel about it. They are just like a couple of children.”
Neil will be showing two short films in the second-half of his Chichester entertainment, Big Business and Liberty: “And they are two of the greatest comedies ever made.”
Stan was the driving force in the duo: “Often Oliver Hardy was much less involved but Stan understood that comedy only worked if you can justify why it is happening and that you have to build gag upon gag upon gag. He would work so hard on building the gags. Stan would be directing. Stan was in charge of them as a comedy team but he was also very good at playing second fiddle to Ollie. They got to know each other so well they really could predict how the other one would react and you feel that as an audience. You see the disaster coming and you just know they’re going to make that disaster so much worse!”