The Laurel and Hardy Collection (2004)
18th April 2004
Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy had their origins in music and vaudeville. The son of a British showman, Stan Laurel (1890 - 1965) started out in the music halls at a Glasgow venue in 1906. He made his first trip to America in 1910 as a member of the Fred Karno comedy troupe, as understudy to its star, Charlie Chaplin. After their next visit in 1912, Laurel, like Chaplin, remained in the US. Laurel worked variously on stage and for different film producers, among them Hal Roach. By 1925 he had settled permanently at the Roach studio where he intended to train as a director.
Oliver Hardy (1892 - 1957) had early experience as a singer and by late 1913 had entered films at a studio in Jacksonville. After a prolific screen career with numerous companies, by 1925 he too was working as a comic for the Hal Roach studio, sometimes under Laurel's direction. The two had worked together once before, some four or five years earlier, but it was at Roach that their potential as a team became evident. So from late 1926 they began to appear together in Roach's 'All-Star' series and within a year were being hailed as the new comedy team. Laurel and Hardy stayed with Roach until 1940 and their output during this time is regarded as the finest of their illustrious career.
As cinema's most famous comedy double act, Laurel and Hardy made the transition from silent movies to 'talkies' with great ease, mainly because their comedy was visual with words being used sparingly. Whilst the 'talkies' were a massive boost to the film industry, some of their major stars were less fortunate. Unlike many stars of silent movies, including the likes of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, when the pair did speak their voices recorded well and were in keeping with their screen characters. But, as they like to keep reminding us, it's the usual thing of survival of the fittest and those who can adapt.
If you're looking for CGI effects and budgets that run into millions of dollars then you're obviously reading the wrong review. And with large amounts of film stock dating back to the early 1920's you can't really be expecting anything out of the ordinary. However, each film or short in the collection has been restored in one form or another and a large majority of them actually offer the chance to view them colour. Mind you, it's not because they were filmed in colour, but the devious hand of the computer has been at work painstaking colouring each frame of the film by replacing one shade of grey with a colour. True fans may recoil in horror at this desecration, and the colouration does look a little "mechanical", but you soon get use to it and it all becomes very effective indeed. In fact, I think I spent more time wondering how they picked the colours.
There's so much to this collection the collection has been split into the individual discs (which, other than the bonus disc, are also available separately) and detailed with its 'official' synopsis. As a result you can pick and choose your favourite episodes. As with most collections, some discs are better than others, but the majority do come with both the restored black and white versions along with the computer colour enhanced version.
Volume 1: A Chump At Oxford plus Related Stories
- A Chump At Oxford - Restored black-and-white version and computer-colour version
- From Soup To Nuts - Restored version
- Another Fine Mess - Restored black-and-white version and computer-colour version
One of Laurel and Hardy's best-loved feature films, A Chump at Oxford sees them travelling to England to obtain an education, only for Stan to be revealed as a long-lost British aristocrat! Also included is the classic silent comedy From Soup To Nuts, which the team remade as a section of A Chump at Oxford - only with Stan switching his character to that of 'Agnes', the maid! Also in this compilation is an earlier glimpse of 'Agnes' in one of their greatest talkie shorts, Another Fine Mess.
Volume 2 : Someone's Ailing plus Classic Shorts
- County Hospital - Restored black-and-white version and computer-colour version
- Them Thar Hills - Restored black-and-white version and computer-colour version
- Tit For Tat - Restored black-and-white version and computer-colour version
- Perfect Day - Restored black-and-white version and computer-colour version
- They Go Boom! - Restored black-and-white version
- Leave 'Em Laughing - Restored black-and-white silent comedy with music
A collection of classic Laurel and Hardy shorts on the theme of ailments, plus the only example of a direct sequel in Laurel and Hardy history. In County Hospital Ollie's broken leg offers him a chance to rest, which he does until Stan pays him a visit. Them Thar Hills sees Ollie suffering from gout, prompting a trip into the mountains, while its sequel Tit For Tat shows what happened after their return. In Perfect Day it's Edgar Kennedy's turn to suffer gout, a condition aggravated by Stan and Ollie's attempt to organise a family picnic. They Go Boom! is about Stan's attempts to care for Ollie when he catches a cold, a position reversed when Ollie tries to cure Stan's toothache in Leave 'Em Laughing.
Volume 3 : Way Out West plus shorts featuring James Finlayson
- Way Out West - Restored black-and-white version and computer-colour version
- One Good Turn - Black-and-white version and computer-colour version
- Thicker Than Water - Restored black-and-white version and computer-colour version
Regarded as the most popular of Laurel and Hardy's feature-length films - not least for the song The Trail of the Lonesome Pine - Way Out West sees Stan and Ollie visiting the town of Brushwood Gulch to deliver the deed of a gold mine, only to be deceived by James Finlayson, playing a villainous saloon-keeper. A great favourite among Laurel and Hardy admirers, Finlayson is featured elsewhere in this compilation through the classic Laurel and Hardy shorts One Good Turn and Thicker Than Water.
Volume 4 : Ollie and Matrimony plus Classic Shorts
- Beau Hunks - Restored black-and-white version and computer-colour version
- Our Wife - Restored black-and-white version and computer-colour version
- Helpmates - Restored black-and-white version and computer-colour version
- Me And My Pal - Black-and-white version and computer-colour version
A collection of classic Laurel and Hardy shorts based on the misadventures of Oliver Hardy before, during, after or instead of getting married! In Beau Hunks a failed romance prompts Ollie to join the Foreign Legion, taking Stan with him. Our Wife centres around his attempts to elope with his beloved 'Dulcy', with assistance from Stan as the Best Man. Helpmates, one of the team's best short comedies, sees Stan and Ollie trying to clean up the residue of a wild party before the return of Mrs. Hardy, while in Me and My Pal Ollie's wedding day is disrupted when Stan arrives with a jigsaw puzzle.
Volume 5 : Our Relations plus 'dual roles' Shorts
- Our Relations - Restored black-and-white version and computer-colour version
- Brats - Restored black-and-white version and computer-colour version
- Twice Two - Restored black-and-white version and computer-colour version
Among the full-length Laurel and Hardy films, Our Relations is one of the most polished and perhaps the most ingenious. Clever editing and optical work create the illusion of two sets of Laurel and Hardy, with confusion arising between Stan and Ollie and their identical twins, Alf and Bert. Also included are two classic shorts employing a similar dual-identity motif, Brats - in which they play their own small sons - and Twice Two, introducing us to Stan and Ollie's twin sisters!
Volume 6 : Murder in the Air plus Classic Shorts
- The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case - Restored black-and-white version and computer-colour version
- Noche De Duendes - The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case and Berth Marks combined into a special Spanish-language edition, with Laurel and Hardy speaking their own dialogue
- Berth Marks - Restored black-and-white version and computer-colour version
- Oliver The Eighth - Restored black-and-white version and computer-colour version
A collection of classic Laurel and Hardy shorts with the overall theme of murder, including one of their few surviving foreign-language editions plus the English version of a film incorporated into it. The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case is a spoof of the kind of thriller prevalent at that time, complete with hysterical relatives, grim policemen and disappearing bodies. Noche de Duendes is the Spanish-language version of this film, extended in length by reworked material from an earlier short, Berth Marks, which is also included in this compilation. In Oliver the Eighth regular foil Mae Busch is at her best as a homicidal maniac!
Volume 7 : Block-Heads plus Related Shorts
- Block-Heads - Restored black-and-white version and computer-colour version
- Unaccustomed As We Are - Restored black-and-white version and computer-colour version
- With Love And Hisses - Restored black-and-white silent comedy with music
- Should Married Men Go Home? - Restored black-and-white silent comedy with music
Block-Heads is one of the most popular Laurel and Hardy feature films. In World War One, Stan is left to guard a trench only to be discovered - still at his post - twenty years after the war! Ollie, now married, sees Stan's picture in the newspaper and, visiting his friend at the Old Soldiers' Home, invites him home for a meal - from which point Ollie's peacetime existence seems more like another battlefield.
Also included is Laurel and Hardy's very first talkie, Unaccustomed As We Are, a 1929 two-reeler from which Block-Heads drew much of its inspiration. Another take on military life is presented in the early silent With Love and Hisses, while another classic silent, Should Married Men Go Home?, demonstrates once again how Mr. Laurel could disrupt the home life of Mr. and Mrs. Hardy!
Volume 8 : Blackmail plus Classic Shorts
- Chickens Come Home - Restored black-and-white version and computer-colour version
- Politiquerias - Chickens Come Home in an extended Spanish-language edition, with Laurel and Hardy speaking their own dialogue
- Come Clean - Restored black-and-white version
- Love 'Em And Weep - Restored black-and-white silent comedy with music
- Sugar Daddies - Restored black-and-white silent comedy with music
- Early To Bed - Restored black-and-white silent comedy with music
A collection of classic Laurel and Hardy shorts based around the theme of blackmail - actual or implied! In one of the team's best shorts, Chickens Come Home, Ollie is a candidate for Mayor whose campaign is endangered by the reappearance of a girl from his past. Alongside the familiar version of this film is its feature-length Spanish equivalent, Politiquerias, with Laurel and Hardy speaking their own foreign dialogue, plus the early silent short, Love 'Em and Weep, on which it was based.
Another early silent, Sugar Daddies, provides a variant on the idea (plus the same climactic gag!), while in the sound short Come Clean, regular foil Mae Busch - the blackmailer in Love 'Em and Weep and its remake - is once again demanding money from Stan and Ollie. In the classic silent Early to Bed, Ollie has money to spare - and this time it's Stan who learns the power of blackmail!
Volume 9 : The Bohemian Girl plus Related Shorts
- The Bohemian Girl - Restored black-and-white version and computer-colour version
- On The Loose - Restored black-and-white version of a Laurel and Hardy guest appearance
- That's My Wife - Restored black-and-white silent comedy, with music and sound effects from its original release
- Along Came Auntie - Black-and-white silent comedy with music
A classic full-length Laurel and Hardy film, The Bohemian Girl is based on the opera by Michael W. Balfe. Stan and Ollie play gypsies in Europe as it was centuries ago, earning their living by an ingenious means of picking pockets. When Mrs. Hardy disappears with her lover, they become guardians to a small girl who is really the daughter of an aristocrat. The Bohemian Girl was the last Laurel and Hardy film to feature Thelma Todd, who had worked with the team since their first talkie in 1929.
This compilation includes one of her starring short comedies with ZaSu Pitts, On the Loose, to which Laurel and Hardy contribute a guest appearance. Also included is That's My Wife, a classic silent Laurel and Hardy film that at one stage was going to be reworked as part of The Bohemian Girl, plus the earlier Hardy solo film that inspired its plot, Along Came Auntie.
Volume 10 : Snow! plus Classic Shorts
- Laughing Gravy - Restored original 2-reel black-and-white version, Restored 3-reel black-and-white version and 3-reel computer-colour version
- Les Carottiers - Be Big and the 3-reel Laughing Gravy combined into a special French-language edition, with Laurel and Hardy speaking their own dialogue
- The Fixer-Uppers - Restored black-and-white version and computer-colour version
- Slipping Wives - Restored black-and-white silent comedy with music
A collection of classic Laurel and Hardy shorts - and a foreign-language feature - set amid the snow! The Fixer-Uppers takes us to a French-influenced artists' neighbourhood, where greeting-card salesmen Stan and Ollie agree to help a woman whose husband has been neglecting her. To arouse the husband's jealousy, Ollie poses as her lover - and is challenged to a duel! For comparison, this compilation also includes Slipping Wives, an early, pre-teaming appearance of Laurel and Hardy on which the plot of The Fixer-Uppers was based. In Laughing Gravy, Stan and Ollie defy their landlord by keeping a small dog in their lodgings, and have to brave the elements when their pet is thrown out.
This compilation includes the original two-reel version, as released in 1931, alongside extended material incorporating a rediscovered third reel that was never released at the time. This longer version, introducing an entirely new twist to the plot, is also featured in Les Carottiers, a French-language edition - with Laurel and Hardy speaking their own dialogue - that combines Laughing Gravy with another Laurel and Hardy film of the period, Be Big.
Volume 11 : Saps at Sea plus 'music' Shorts
- Saps At Sea - Restored black-and-white version and computer-colour version
- You're Darn Tootin' - Restored black-and-white silent comedy with music
- Below Zero - Restored black-and-white version and computer-colour version
- Tiembla Y Titubea - Below Zero in an extended Spanish-language edition, with Laurel and Hardy speaking their own dialogue
A collection of classic Laurel and Hardy, including the feature-length comedy Saps at Sea - Laurel and Hardy's last film for Hal Roach - in which Stan's trombone-playing aggravates Ollie's newly-acquired allergy to the sound of horns! Continuing the musical connection are two short comedies in which our heroes struggle to earn a living as musicians: Below Zero - presented in both its original version and in its rare Spanish-language edition, with Laurel and Hardy speaking their own dialogue - and one of their best silents, You're Darn Tootin'.
Volume 12 : Laurel and Hardy and the Law plus Classic Shorts
- Scram! - Restored black-and-white version and computer-colour version
- Night Owls - Restored black-and-white version and computer-colour version
- Ladrones - Night Owls in an extended Spanish-language edition, with Laurel and Hardy speaking their own dialogue
- The Second Hundred Years - Restored black-and-white silent comedy with music
- Call of the Cuckoo - Restored black-and-white silent comedy with music
- Duck Soup - Restored black-and-white silent comedy with music
- Forty-Five Minutes from Hollywood - Restored black-and-white silent comedy with music
- Big Business - Restored black-and-white silent comedy with music
A collection of classic shorts, with Stan and Ollie finding themselves - mostly - on the wrong side of the law. In Scram! a judge orders them to leave town after finding them guilty of vagrancy. Night Owls sees Stan and Ollie in the same condition, but the local cop is willing to let them go if they are willing to pose as burglars. Ladrones is an extended Spanish-language version of Night Owls, with Laurel and Hardy speaking their own dialogue. Stan and Ollie are shaven-headed convicts in The Second Hundred Years, a silent classic in which they escape from jail disguised as painters.
The shaven heads are still visible in a guest appearance made at the same time, in the Max Davidson comedy Call of the Cuckoo. In Duck Soup they elude the sheriff by taking refuge in an empty mansion, posing as owner and maid for the benefit of prospective tenants. Forty-Five Minutes From Hollywood, the first Hal Roach film in which both Laurel and Hardy appeared, casts Oliver Hardy as a hotel detective. The all-time classic Big Business - sometimes hailed as the greatest of all the Laurel and Hardy films - involves them in battle with irascible James Finlayson, following their attempts to sell him a Christmas tree.
Volume 13 : Sons of the Desert Plus Related Shorts
- Sons Of The Desert - Restored black-and-white version and computer-colour version
- We Faw Down - Restored black-and-white silent comedy with music
- Their Purple Moment - Restored black-and-white silent comedy with music
- On The Wrong Trek - Restored black-and-white version
A classic feature film - regarded by many critics as Laurel and Hardy's best - plus the silent short that inspired it, another attempt by Stan and Ollie to escape their wives, plus Laurel and Hardy returning a guest appearance with Charley Chase. In Sons of the Desert Stan and Ollie attend the Chicago convention of their lodge but tell their wives they are going on an ocean voyage for the sake of Ollie's health - then discover that the ship has sunk!
The silent short We Faw Down anticipates this story, with Stan and Ollie claiming to have attended a stage show - unaware that the theatre has burned down. In Their Purple Moment Stan and Ollie go out for an evening without their wives, only to discover that their money has been replaced with useless coupons. Sons of the Desert includes a guest contribution from fellow-Roach comedian Charley Chase; On the Wrong Trek sees Laurel and Hardy returning the compliment in one of Chase's own films.
Volume 14 : A Job to Do plus Classic Shorts
- Busy Bodies - Restored black-and-white version and computer-colour version
- Double Whoopee - Restored black-and-white silent comedy with music
- Hog Wild - Black-and-white version and computer-colour version
- Dirty Work - Restored black-and-white version and computer-colour version
- The Finishing Touch- Restored black-and-white silent comedy with music
- The Music Box - Restored black-and-white version and computer-colour version
- Hats Off - Stills gallery
A collection of classic shorts, all of which present Stan and Ollie with a task to perform. Busy Bodies is the famous film where Stan and Ollie work in a sawmill. In Double Whoopee they start work at a plush Broadway hotel - and close a taxi door on Jean Harlow's dress! Hog Wild concerns their efforts to fit a rooftop aerial. In Dirty Work they are back on the roof, this time as chimney sweeps at the home of an eccentric scientist.
Stan and Ollie are in the building trade for The Finishing Touch, while in The Music Box - perhaps their most famous film - they have to deliver a piano up a huge flight of steps. The Music Box was inspired by one of their earliest comedies as a team, Hats Off. Sadly, no copy of the film is known to survive, but this DVD includes a selection of stills from this long-lost classic.
Volume 15 : Pack Up Your Troubles and Related 'Adopt-a-Child' Shorts
- Pack Up Your Troubles - Restored black-and-white version and computer-colour version
- Their First Mistake - Restored black-and-white version and computer-colour version
- Putting Pants On Philip - Restored black-and-white silent comedy with music
A classic feature film, plus two great shorts continuing the 'adopt-a-child' theme. In Pack Up Your Troubles, Stan and Ollie join up for World War One and, with the return of peacetime, become unofficial guardians to the small daughter of a fallen army buddy. Their First Mistake turns out to be adopting a baby in order to keep Mrs. Hardy occupied, only for them to discover that she has left. In the early silent comedy Putting Pants On Philip it is Oliver Hardy who plays guardian to a young Scotsman, Philip (Stan Laurel), who makes an embarrassing spectacle with his traditional garb and fondness for chasing girls!
Volume 16 : Maritime Adventures and Classic Shorts
- The Live Ghost - Restored black-and-white version
- Sailors, Beware! - Restored black-and-white silent comedy with music
- Two Tars - Restored black-and-white silent comedy with music
- Men O'War - Restored black-and-white version and computer-colour version
- Any Old Port! - Restored black-and-white version
- Why Girls Love Sailors - Restored black-and-white silent comedy with music Towed In A Hole - Restored black-and-white version and computer-colour version
A collection of classic shorts, based around the maritime adventures of Stan and Ollie. In The Live Ghost they help round up a reluctant crew for a 'ghost ship' - and are shanghaied themselves! Taxi driver Stan is similarly aboard ship against his will in Sailors, Beware! The classic Two Tars is the famous film in which Stan and Ollie, as sailors on shore leave, become involved in a massive traffic jam.
They are again sailors on leave in Men O'War, with hostilities taking place this time on a boating lake. Any Old Port! sees Stan and Ollie arriving in port from a whaling voyage, to find their assistance required by a damsel in distress. Another imperilled damsel is Stan's girlfriend in the early, pre-teaming Laurel and Hardy comedy Why Girls Love Sailors. One of the best-loved Laurel and Hardy shorts, Towed in a Hole, is that in which they buy a boat - and fill it with water to detect the leaks!
Volume 17 : Swiss Miss and 'Animal' Shorts
- Swiss Miss - Restored black-and-white version and computer-colour version
- The Chimp - Black-and-white version and computer-colour version
- Flying Elephants - Restored black-and-white silent comedy with music
A classic feature film - complete with an ape! - plus two shorts continuing the 'animal' theme. In Swiss Miss Stan and Ollie visit Switzerland in the hope of selling mousetraps, only to find themselves having to work in a hotel to pay off their bill. One of the most memorable scenes is that in which they are required to transport a piano across a flimsy rope bridge, where they meet an escaped gorilla! Another large ape is 'Ethel', the title character of The Chimp; while large creatures of a quite different kind appear in the Stone-Age comedy Flying Elephants.
Volume 18 : Married Life and Anita Garvin
- Blotto - Restored black-and-white version and computer-colour version
- La Vida Nocturna - Blotto in an extended Spanish-language edition, with Laurel and Hardy speaking their own dialogue
- Be Big - Restored black-and-white version and computer-colour version
- Los Calaveras - Be Big and Laughing Gravy combined into a feature-length Spanish-language edition, with Laurel and Hardy speaking their own dialogue
Two classic Laurel and Hardy shorts, accompanied by rare extended-length versions in Spanish - with Stan and Ollie speaking their own dialogue! The theme of this compilation is married life, with supporting actress Anita Garvin playing Mrs. Laurel in Blotto, Be Big and in the latter's Spanish-language equivalent, Los Calaveras. In Blotto, Stan needs to contrive an excuse to spend a night out with Ollie. Mrs. Laurel overhears their plans but decides to go along with them, but not before replacing their bottle of genuine booze - this being the Prohibition era - with an entirely different mixture!
Be Big starts with Stan and Ollie ready to go away for the weekend with their wives, only to learn that their hunting lodge is holding a testimonial dinner for them that evening. Ollie feigns illness and the wives go away without them, but there remains the problem of getting into the hunting regalia and riding boots. Los Calaveras is a feature-length Spanish edition combining a version of Be Big (incorporating some comedy material unseen in English) with another short of this period, Laughing Gravy.
Volume 19 : Pardon Us plus related shorts
- Pardon Us - Restored, extended length black-and-white version and extended computer-colour version
- The Hoose-Gow - Restored black-and-white version and computer colour version
- The Battle Of The Century - Black-and-white silent comedy with music
A collection of classic Laurel and Hardy, including their first starring feature film, Pardon Us, in which they are sent to prison for breaking the Prohibition laws, an earlier short, The Hoose-Gow, where they join a prison road gang and start - of all things - a rice-pudding fight, plus the famous silent short on which that climactic scene was based, The Battle of the Century.
Volume 20 : More Brushes with the Law plus Classic shorts
- Going Bye-Bye! - Restored black-and-white version and computer-colour version
- Do Detectives Think? - Restored black-and-white silent comedy with music
- Habeas Corpus - Restored black-and-white silent comedy with music
- Angora Love - Restored black-and-white silent comedy with music
- Bacon Grabbers - Restored black-and-white silent comedy with music
- The Midnight Patrol - Restored black-and-white version and computer-colour version
- Liberty - Restored black-and-white silent comedy with music
- Wrong Again - Restored black-and-white silent comedy with music
A collection of classic Laurel and Hardy shorts, presenting Stan and Ollie on both sides - but, for a change, more usually the right side! - of the law. In Going Bye-Bye! their evidence has led to a criminal being brought to justice - but, thanks to Stan, he decides to break out and take his revenge. In Do Detectives Think? it's Laurel and Hardy's turn to guard someone against a vengeful criminal. Another detective follows Stan and Ollie after they are engaged as grave-robbers in Habeas Corpus.
The police take an interest in an escaped goat in Angora Love, while Stan and Ollie are sheriff's men trying to serve a summons in Bacon Grabbers. They actually join the police in The Midnight Patrol but in Liberty are back in more typical mode, as escaped convicts who find themselves trapped on a partly-built skyscraper. Wrong Again - in which Stan and Ollie manage to put a horse on a piano! - concludes with perennial cop Harry Bernard in one of the best-remembered sight gags from the Laurel and Hardy repertoire.
Volume 21: Special Disc
This Special Bonus Disc contains two Laurel and Hardy rarities: the original 1930 version of Brats with the original music score, art-deco style opening titles plus the long-missing introductory gag card (a later, reissue version of this short appears in volume 5), and a short reel of clips from Hinter Schloss und Riegel, the German version of Pardon Us (which appears in volume 19), remade by Laurel and Hardy with the aide of language coaches and prompt boards.
- Brats (1930)
- Hinter Schloss Und Riegel (1931)
- Thundering Fleas (1926)
- Fluttering Hearts (1927)
- Prudence (1927)
- Laurel and Hardy - A Tribute To The Boys
Also included are three related films - two of them featuring Oliver Hardy - which form a 'sampler' of other Hal Roach comedies. In Thundering Fleas, Oliver Hardy appears alongside 'Our Gang' regulars as a cop whose uniform is suddenly occupied by the energetic refugees from the flea circus - and who has to improvise a semblance of decency after the disappearance of his trousers! Also present are Laurel and Hardy's future foil James Finlayson and, beneath a large prop moustache, star comic Charley Chase.
Fluttering Hearts is a Charley Chase two-reeler with a pre-Laurel and Hardy appearance of Oliver Hardy, and Prudence is a Max Davidson comedy, reportedly written by Stan Laurel (although the official story credit belongs to Hal Roach). To round off this bonus disc is a documentary tribute to Laurel and Hardy, hosted by Dom Deluise with comments from - among others - Johnny Carson, Walter Matthau, Chuck McCann, Steve Allen, Rich Little, Dick Martin, the Smothers Brothers and Henny Youngman.
But for the amount of time and effort which went into preserving the film stock the picture still exhibits plenty of problems. However, it's not that there's a problem with the transfer, but the actual original picture stock. With the majority of pre-1950's films stored on highly flammable and unstable nitrate film, The Library of Congress estimated that due to neglect, fires, disposal and general deterioration, over 90% of films made through 1925 has been lost forever. As a result, large amounts of film stock has been carefully, and at great expense, preserved by transferring it to stable, and longer lasting, acetate.
But in doing so, they've taken all of the dust scratches, irretrievably lost frames and blemishes with them. But with all the money that must have been spent in colourising and restoring the film stock, perhaps the same digital techniques which are used to tidy up some of today's "classics" could have been employed here too. But it must all boil down to cost, even if catering for the demand in classics such as Laurel and Hardy is a massive, and highly profitable industry. As a result, the question of future digital enhanced releases has to be raised. Is this collection to be the final definitive collection on DVD?
As with the picture, the sound is limited by the age of the film stock. Although it's perfectly adequate, and I certainly appreciate the age of the films, at times the sound can be extremely crackly and distorted. It can be best described as listening to the test match on Radio 4 long-wave on a bad day. Definitely a case of doing without the surround system for this one. However, similar to the various digital techniques used to tidy up film stock, why were there no attempts to widen the soundstage and remove some of the hiss and crackles? After all, if my home computer can do this to my old LP's, why is this not possible on a larger scale? It can't be that different.
With the great duo being dead for the best part of 50 years, unless you are equipped with a crystal ball or strange paranormal powers, there's little chance of an interview. However, with their legacy leaving a massive following, and highly profitable industry, you would have thought that there would have been a large amounts of information available for use. But all that is offered here is a, albeit no doubt highly sought after, collection Laurel and Hardy rarities and a stills gallery on the 14th volume (which in my opinion stinks of filler material - if there's a gallery available for the Hats Off short, why nothing for anything else?). And even then, the rare shorts are only available if you buy the complete box-set.
But perhaps I'm being a little over critical here, after all you do get a lot of Laurel and Hardy for your money. It's just that I like my extras and this all seems like a real missed opportunity to present the real definitive collection. I wouldn't of even minded paying a few extra pounds per disc for the extras. In fact, it would have been great to have learnt more about the comic duo. With the many other collections out there, I just hope that this is the final and most definitive Laurel and Hardy collection there'll be. Fans are loyal, but there's only so much pounding their wallets will take before questions are asked.
The beauty with Laurel and Hardy is that it is totally inoffensive slap stick which has hardly aged a day. Over the years many people have tried and failed to emulate their genius and it is a credit that even today that the antics of Laurel and Hardy attract new fans. And thanks to some wonderful foresight from Universal, these priceless reels of footage were saved and stored in the digital domain forever. Sure, some of the film stock has seen better days, but there's only so much you can do with a badly damaged master, whilst the computer colourisation is a revelation, especially when you consider that this was originally performed way back in 1985 (and I even remember it being highlighted on the BBC's science programme Tomorrow's World).
The only real question is whether this collection is worth the considerable outlay. True fans will probably already own the various flavours of VHS or DVD and with an RRP of £200 it does begin to look a little steep. However, if you consider that it has a running time of over 65 hours (OK, so the the black-and-white and colour editions are counted twice) it all adds up to a mere £3 per hour of laughter. And if you're prepared to shop around some of the on-line sites, such as Amazon, you'll find savings of nearly 20%.
But if the boxset is still not for you then it is still possible to purchase the titles individually, although the special bonus disc is only available as part of the set. So if some of the silent shorts are not your cup of tea (and I must admit to not liking them too much myself) you can still pick out some of the best slapstick (such as Volume 14 and the world famous The Music Box or Volume 5 and the side splitting, and ingenious, Our Relations episodes). I'm already laughing just thinking about them.
So, no matter which option you choose you are guaranteed hours of laughter which every member of the family can enjoy. And what's even better, whilst most DVD's only ever get watched once or twice before being forgotten about, the Laurel and Hardy collection is something which is virtually guaranteed to get played over and over again.
- Additional episodes available on the 21st disc which is exclusive to the boxset