There is something overwhelmingly comforting about a Laurel and Hardy film. Maybe it’s the happy childhood memories it evokes, the appeal of an America before fast food and weapons of mass destruction, or just the plain old comedy value of a man getting poked in the eye, but I am yet to find anyone who doesn’t smile at least once when watching Stan and Ollie do their thing.
This DVD is the second of a box set and carries five of their classics – County Hospital, Them Thar Hills, Tit For Tat, Perfect Day, They Go Boom and Leave ‘Em Laughing – and, with the same characters recurring in each episode, from an over zealous doctor to a wife prone to a tipple, they can be enjoyed all at once, or individually, one at a time.
If you love slapstick, you can’t fail to enjoy the compilation. I lost count of the number of times the duo fall over, get hit round the head, tumble out of buildings or arrive in exploding cars. Laurel and Hardy are without doubt the best at what they do and even if you don’t like them, it’s impossible not to recognise and appreciate them, along with Buster Keaton, as the creators of a genre, laying the foundations for their contemporary physical comedy descendants, such as Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson.
It feels a little pointless to summarise the plot and analyse the characters. Everyone knows who Laurel and Hardy are and what they do, but for the sake of argument, and this being a film review, I will try.
Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy are accident-prone best friends, who get themselves into a number of different scrapes in various locations. That’s it. There is little more to add. The scrapes include getting raucously drunk on liquor mistaken for “mountain water” in Them Thar Hills, being thrown out of hospital for suspending a doctor from a nine storey window in County Hospital and driving a car into a lake in Perfect Day. You get the gist.
The same old gags are there throughout every episode and seem to revolve, in this instance (and probably in the majority of Laurel and Hardy films) around Ollie’s ailments and Stan’s ineptitude with motorcars. Cue exploding exhausts, punctures and things dropping from a great height, including Ollie himself from time to time, resulting in pain on Ollie’s part and a clout round the head for Stan. Throw in numerous excuses to have the duo drenched in water, from accidentally bursting a pipe to the classic fountain in the face gag, and lots of opportunities for Stan to exercise his general clumsiness and ability to inadvertently cause trouble wherever he goes, and you sum up every film they ever made.
That’s what they do and they do it very well.
Narrative, dialogue and acting leaves a lot to be desired – it feels like sacrilege to be writing this – but you don’t watch Laurel and Hardy for convincing performances, character development or a powerful narrative trajectory. This is good honest fun from the early days of cinema, when going to the movies and seeing people projected onto a big screen was a novelty in itself. Cinematography and the like didn’t come into the equation. Even if, like myself, seeing a man fall into a bucket of plaster doesn’t tickle your funny bone, it is hard not to smile when Stan takes off his hat, scratches his head and whimpers, if only because you have seen it a million times before.
Whether a die hard fan, or an appreciator from afar, The Laurel & Hardy Collection is great for a little light-hearted entertainment from a comedy duo that are held in the highest regard and will always be one of the bastions of cinema watching.