Laurel and Hardy


IN the midst of another ”festival,” which is a code word for

fund-raising interruptions, public television is assembling a schedule intended to appeal to potential subscribers. One of the specials is ”Laurel and Hardy’s Laughing 20’s,” a 90-minute production, which, with breaks, will be stretched to two hours, beginning at 8 P.M. tomorrow on Channel 13.

This compilation has not been specially assembled by public television, in the agreeable manner of past portraits by David Heeley of Katharine Hepburn and Fred Astaire. ”Laughing 20’s,” produced and written by Robert Youngson, is an old M-G-M film with a determinedly bouncy style reminiscent of those venerable ”Pete Smith Specialties” that used to be a staple in movie houses. Its observations stay safely on the surface. Watching Laurel and Hardy walk away from the camera, the narrator sees them going off ”into the distance and into memory – we will never see their like again.”

In fact, much of the film is devoted to the Hal Roach Studios, launching site for the comedy careers not only of Laurel and Hardy and the ”Our Gang” kids, but also of Charlie Chase, Edgar Buchanan, Viola Richard and a grizzled character named Max Davidson. Generous samples of their work are included. Next month, Mr. Roach, now 92, is scheduled to receive an honorary Academy Award in ”recognition of his unparalleled record of distinguished contributions to the motion-picture art form.”

The Laurel and Hardy team was indeed one of Mr. Roach’s more outstanding discoveries. But this survey of their silent films reminds us that the two men were a long time in being brought together. The rotund Oliver Hardy is first seen in a 1915 film titled ”Fatty’s Fatal Plunge.” He was merely one of hundreds of obscure comedians. Skinny Stan Laurel was a sometimes understudy for Charlie Chaplin and frequently worked with Mr. Roach. Hardy didn’t join the Roach brigades until the mid-1920’s. When Stan and Ollie made their first picture together, they never appeared in the same scene. In 1927, they were paired purely by accident. ”Putting Pants on Philip” featured Ollie going to meet his immigrant Scottish nephew, Stan, who was wearing kilts, much to the amazement and delight of passers-by.

From there, it was a mere hop to playing incredibly clumsy servants at posh dinner parties and, eventually, to establishing the two characters, complete with derbies, who would gain an international following. Clearly, Stan and Ollie got better as they went along, and this ”biography” is at its best with clips from movies at the end of the 20’s, most notably from ”Liberty” and its teetering high jinks on the top floor of a skeletal building frame. Whether disappearing into mysteriously deep street puddles or triggering a massive pie-throwing fracas, slow-burning Ollie and goofy Stan remain irresistibly zany creations – even in this uneven survey.

When the Monsoon Was Late in India

Among the spate of nature-cum- wildlife television shows that have inundated the air waves in the last few years, ”Nature,” the Survival Anglia public-television series, has proved to be of top rank. Without falling into the pop-science net that has trapped many shows, the series, with few exceptions, has proved to be entertaining while informing and educating people about how the warp and woof of nature’s loom interconnect all living things.

The latest segment, ”The Missing Monsoon,” which has its premiere Sunday at 8 P.M. on Channel 13, ranks with the best of the series. The producers and photographers have concentrated on how the annual downpour from the Indian Ocean affects wildlife in India’s prized nature sanctuary in Bharatpur, and how its rare absence can be disastrous.

By focusing on the impact of a monsoon on Indian plant and animal life rather than on the dynamics and causes of the heavy rains, the hourlong presentation is a bonanza for animal behaviorists and bird watchers. In a series of beautifully photographed vignettes, it dramatically shows how dozens of species of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles live, die and fight for existence as the rains fail to arrive, and how the sanctuary rejuvenates itself when the rains finally come.

The extensive drought dries up food sources and emphasizes the harshness of nature’s tooth and claw: crows fight with eagles, storks joust with pelicans, vultures kill seemingly indestructible turtles, and other animals behave irrationally.

Bird lovers should be especially pleased at the striking portraiture of birds feeding, fighting, mating and nesting, while amateur ethologists can learn some of the quirks of animal behavior. And many nature- minded viewers will be thankful that, unlike some earlier shows in the series, this one identifies almost every bird and animal that appears.

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