When we think of Laurel and Hardy films, I venture to guess that most of us think of Stan’s whining cry and Oliver scolding him saying, “That’s another fine mess you’ve gotten us into.” But in this third DVD collection of Hal Roach films from the silent era we have several examples of fine comedic performances from the beloved team. While this collection doesn’t represent the best of Laurel and Hardy’s silent comedy work, it is a pleasant collection and will be an item of necessity to Laurel and Hardy completists.
Of note here is the inclusion of The Lucky Dog (1922), Stan Laurel’s debut film. The Lucky Dog was produced to sell a prospective series of comedy shorts starring Laurel. In the supporting cast — as a street thug — is Oliver Hardy, making this first film of Stan’s also the first time the future comedy greats ever worked together. The film may have been shot as early as 1919, but it is thought that the film was not released until October of 1921 or 1922. On viewing the film we see that Stan was not yet ready for stardom, as his character and performance are nowhere near as appealing here as in later years. His foppish appearance and mannerisms in The Lucky Dog probably reflect Laurel’s vaudeville character as it was at the time the film was shot. As for Oliver Hardy, his villainous character is typical for this run-of-the-mill comic story.
Liberty (1929) is the funniest film in the collection, and it is, most of time, the best looking transfer on the disc. It is a pleasure to see the image clarity of the transfer from the fine grain 35mm positive. When I see a silent era film presented in this high level of detail, I delight in looking at location backgrounds. Film of this quality is not only great entertainment, it is also a crystal-clear window on the past. Take note of the Century City Chamber of Commerce building directly behind the boys in the shot after they jump from the getaway car. Or relish the commonplace details in shots of late 1920s California storefronts, now gone, captured from time’s progress in celluloid motion pictures.
We like the scene from We Faw Down where Oliver is trying to lie his way out of trouble with his wife, who knows the boys didn’t go to the theater that they said they had been at, only to find out from Stan that the theater had burned down that afternoon.
Along Came Auntie features some great supporting comic work by Oliver Hardy, with early examples of his unique reaction takes given straight into the camera.
The James Finlayson vehicle Love 'em and Weep features Stan Laurel in a major supporting role. Stan’s character is much closer to his lovable L&H standard but is also something of a ladies’ man. — Carl Bennett
Hal Roach Studios
1999 DVD edition
The Lost Films of Laurel and Hardy, The Complete Collection, Volume Three (1922-1929), black & white, 135 minutes total, not rated,
including The Lucky Dog (1922), black & white, 24 minutes, not rated, Along Came Auntie (1926), black & white, 24 minutes, not rated, Bromo and Juliet (1926), black & white, 24 minutes, not rated, Love ’em and Weep (1927), black & white, 24 minutes, not rated, We Faw Down (1928), black & white, 21 minutes, not rated, and Liberty (1929), black & white, 20 minutes, not rated.
Hal Roach Studios, distributed by Image Entertainment,
HRS 4793, UPC 0-14381-47932-4.
One single-sided, single-layered, Region 0NTSC DVD disc, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame 4:3 (720 x 480 pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, 3 Mbps average video bit rate, 256 kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops; snapper DVD case (reissued in standard DVD keepcase), $29.99.
Release date: 15 June 1999.
Country of origin: USA
The clarity of the original 35mm camera negative from which most of this video transfer was taken makes viewing The Lucky Dog an absolute pleasure compared to the awful transfers from 16mm prints that have been available on VHS videotapes for years. It is apparent that small fragments of the film are missing however, most likely due to deterioration or print breakage, but the film remains very easy to follow nonetheless.
The other high point of the collection is the appearance here of Liberty. The video transfer of Liberty is a combination of a very fine 35mm positive 1950s reissue print (probably taken from the original negative), a good 35mm dupe print and a below par 16mm print. The majority of the transfer is from the best print of the three, with only a couple of shots taken from the blurry and contrasty 16mm print. The overall impression is that very few frames of the film (if any!) are missing and that the entire film is represented in the transfer in one form or another. The only problem I have with the transfer is that, just before each cut in the film, the action pauses for an instant before going on to the next shot. Each pause lasts from three video frames to as many as 18 — very distracting! As this was apparent in several of the transfers of the films in this series that were issued on laserdisc and VHS videotape a few years ago, I had hoped (vainly) that this would have been corrected for the DVD release.
We Faw Down looks pretty good overall, but it does have notable shortcomings that have to do with the transfer rather than the quality of original materials. Since a good 35mm dupe print (that is too contrasty in places) was used for the majority of the transfer, along with a fine quality 35mm print this is seen for only a small portion of the running time, this film is of lesser quality than Liberty but is still quite watchable. However, the same pausing of action between cuts is present to a lesser degree in this transfer. Also noticeable to the discerning eye is a slight double image that extends downward of sharply defined light images in the picture — especially in the first reel of the film. This double image may not be detected on smaller screens. We especially love the final gag, transferred here from the original negative.
The latter portions of Along Came Auntie that survive in the original camera negative shine out with all the clarity of Liberty’s transfer on this disc. However, since the majority of the original negative has been lost to decomposition, the first reel of this Glenn Tryon vehicle is transferred from a tight cropped and contrasty 9.5mm Kodascope reduction print, with some of the intertitle edges likely to be cropped off on some television screens, making titles hard to read. Again, it appears that the disc’s producers have had to cobble together the best footage from as many as three separate prints of the film.
As good as Liberty and portions of Along Came Auntie look, the prints used for the Bromo and Juliet transfer suffer by comparison, easily making this the worst-looking film on the disc. We think that two separate prints had to be used for transfer; one an OK but constrasty 16mm or 9.5mm reduction print, the other a worn and grainy, probably 9.5mm, reduction print. But, the film survives and it is available for fans of Charley Chase’s work. Oliver Hardy supports as an irate taxi driver waiting for a fare to be paid.
The transfer of Love ’em and Weep is very good, from a high quality 35mm print, and a delight to watch. This is the most intact print utilized on the disc, until the restaurant scene where, occasionally, a good 35mm positive print is used for the transfer.
While the films on this disc are silent films, each have a musical accompaniment. Liberty was originally released with a synchronized Vitaphone sound score with sound effects, and the film appears on this disc with that soundtrack. The other films have scores cobbled together from synchronized soundtracks originally recorded for other Hal Roach sound productions. At times, during several of the films, sound effects or music cues play randomly out-of-sync to the action of the picture. This can be ignored to a large degree, but occasionally is distracting from the film at hand.
Overall, the disc is quite watchable and, while the condition of some of the surviving footage is rough, the disc is only compromised by the annoying pauses between cuts in some of the transfers. This DVD is recommended, with this small caveat. That being said, if you love Laurel and Hardy, the DVDs in this series are the best way to collect and enjoy Stan and Ollie’s films on home video.
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Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.