Welcome to the Laurel & Hardy Fun House!
Anybody who doesn’t love Laurel & Hardy is somebody we don’t care to hang out with.
Through the 1920s and 1930s, Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy made a series of hilarious shorts and feature films that still inspire laughter and love all these decades later. (And yes, we know “The Boys” went on making films through the 1940s, but we’re going to overlook that sad part of their history -- for now.)
With the release of the Laurel & Hardy Essential Collection (link to purchase from Amazon is HERE), it's time to review their classic 1929-1940 output.
Stan Laurel (1890-1965) was the thin one that had a tendency to muck things up and cry. Oliver Hardy (1892-1957) was the fat one that had a tendency to muck things up and blame Stan.
Laurel – born Arthur Stanley Jefferson in Ulverston, Lancashire, England – had a long career on the stage, including understudy to Charles Chaplin. Oliver Norvell “Babe” Hardy – born in Harlem, Georgia, USA – was a child of the movies, where he was equally adept at comic roles and cinema “heavies”. In fact, today there is an Laurel & Hardy museum in his hometown of Harlem. If you're a fan, it might be worth checking out some cheap flights to nearby Augusta, which is about 25 miles away, so you can visit the museum.
Their professional paths first crossed about 1920 or so, when they both appeared in a short film called The Lucky Dog. A few years later, they were both employed at Hal Roach Studios, Mr. Hardy as an actor and Mr. Laurel as a gagman and director. Circumstances put Stan on the other side of the camera, and he and Babe appeared together in such films as 45 Minutes to Hollywood (1926) and With Love and Hisses (1927). Somebody – and that somebody seems to be Leo McCarey – noticed their onscreen chemistry, and by late 1927 they were officially paired as a team. They prospered during the silent era, turning out such classics as Two Tars, Big Business, and Liberty, and weren’t slowed a bit by the advent of sound, appearing in Laughing Gravy, The Music Box, and Them Thar Hills. They also began appearing in feature-length films, both as stars and as “comic relief” in MGM films. In 1940, they bade farewell to Roach and moved on to Fox and MGM, where they languished in second- and third-rate films that can kindly be called “uninspired”.
In the 1980s, the best of Laurel & Hardy was widely available on a series of videotapes distributed by The Nostalgia Merchant. Unfortunately, rights and ownership changed hands, and over the next 25 years, most of the best of the greatest comedy team in cinema history languished in the vaults apart from occasional (and much appreciated showings on Turner Classic Movies).
Meanwhile, in Europe Laurel & Hardy were still treated like comic royalty. Throughout Europe, a couple of dozen DVDs featured most of their 1920s-1930s Hal Roach output, meticulously restored and remastered. Several of the films boasted previously deleted footage and even a few of the L&H foreign versions, with the stars speaking their lines phonetically, were included. Not only that, but bonus films featuring Charley Chase and solo Laurel & Hardy shorts were part of the package. These Laurel & Hardy DVDs were a revelation, and have probably been responsible for more all-region players being sold in the U.S. than any other foreign DVD series.
The team's USA output in the digital area has been beyond spotty; about ten years ago, all of the existing L&H short subjects were released on 10 DVDs in the "Lost Films of Laurel & Hardy" series from Image Entertainment, and for many years these were the only L&H films you could see in this country, ironic now since the discs are out of print and the silent films are difficult to find.
I began writing about the German L&H discs as soon as the first ones were released, and faithfully reviewed each one beginning in 2002. In fact, my reviews were noted and praised by no less than Leonard Maltin. In The Balcony opened for business in 2005, and I've been writing about the Boys prominently here, too.
In 1929, Laurel & Hardy, along with the other Hal Roach comics, made the transition to sound. Over the next five years, a total of 40 short subjects were produced by Hal Roach starring the Boys, and all are featured on the new Laurel & Hardy: The Essential Collection. Note that all are 2 reels (approximately 20 min.) unless otherwise noted.
1929 Unaccostomed as we Are (3 reels), Berth Marks, Men O’War, Perfect Day, They Go Boom!, The Hoose-Gow. These early talkies are technically crude but can be a lot of fun, with wonderful supporting turns from Thelma Todd (Unaccustomed as we Are) and Edgar Kennedy (Perfect Day). Men O'War, with the Boys as sailors trying to pick up two girls in a park and running afoul of James Finlayson, is a masterpiece.
1930 Night Owls, Blotto (3 reels), Brats, Below Zero, Hog Wild, The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case (3 reels), Another Fine Mess (3 reels). Brats has Stan & Ollie babysitting their troublesome infants, also played by Laurel & Hardy. Hog Wild features the Boys attempting to put up a radio antenna.
1931 Be Big (3 reels), Chickens Come Home (3 reels), Laughing Gravy (2 and 3 reel versions), Our Wife, Come Clean, One Good Turn, Beau Hunks (4 reel featurette) Highlights from this year include Laughing Gravy, pitting Stan & Ollie and their dog against the landlord and a snowstorm, and Beau Hunks, an "almost-a-feature" set in the Foreign Legion.
1932 Helpmates, Any Old Port, The Music Box (3 reels), The Chimp (3 reels), County Hospital, Scram!, Their First Mistake, Towed in a Hole The very first Academy Award for Live-Action Short Subject was awarded to The Music Box, the "carrying a piano up an impossibly high flight of stairs) masterpiece. Towed in a Hole, with the Boys attempting to fix up a fishing boat, is nearly as good, and Helpmates, with Stan attempting to assist Oliver in getting his house cleaned up after a party, may be even better.
1933 Twice Two, Me and My Pal, The Midnight Patrol, Busy Bodies, Dirty Work The number of shorts declined as the feature production increased, with the highlight of this year Busy Bodies, as Stan & Ollie go into the construction business.
1934 Oliver the Eighth (3 reels), Going Bye-Bye!, Them Thar Hills, The Live Ghost I think that Them Thar Hills is the funniest darn picture Laurel & Hardy ever made; moonshiners dump their wares down the well that campers Stan 'n' Ollie are drinking from. Just none-stop guffaws. Going Bye-Bye!, with the Boys on the lam from escaped killer Walter Long, is a gem as well.
1935 Tit for Tat, The Fixer-Uppers, Thicker Than Water The Boys finished off their short subject and moved on to features-only production.
During this period, Laurel & Hardy also made guest apperances in several short subjects. The Stolen Jools (1931) was an all-star 2-reeler for charity that also featured Our Gang. Three Hal Roach-produced shorts for other comics at the studio featured guest gag appearances by the boys, and all three of these are on the Essential boxed set: On the Loose (1932) Thelma Todd/ZaSu Pitts; Wild Poses (1933) Our Gang; On the Wrong Trek (1936) Charley Chase. The Boys also appeared in several foreign-language versions of their films, all shot with additional material and alternate casts; Laurel & Hardy spoke German, French, and Spanish phonetically with their dialog written on screens off-camera. Several of those are included in the new Essentials set, and if you scroll far enough down this page you'll see a complete list, I'll bet you.
Also, The Tree in a Test Tube (1943) was a patriotic short in color, with Laurel & Hardy helping to show how wood products were helping to win the war; this short is included in the new boxed set. In 1954, Laurel & Hardy were surprised by Ralph Edwards on his popular This is Your Life TV show, and that show is included on various DVDs.
The Laurel & Hardy Features
The following is a list of all of the Laurel-Hardy original feature films through 1940. Titles included in the Laurel & Hardy Essential Collection are marked in yellow, with notations as to where the remaining films can be found.
1929 The Hollywood Review of 1929 MGM "all star" feature with L&H guesting in a skit as magicians; available from the Warner Archive. The film is best remembered these days for introducing the song Singin' in the Rain and for a musical number about Lon Chaney that doesn't feature Mr. Chaney (MGM's biggest male star at the time) in it.
1930 The Rogue Song MGM feature in 2-strip Technicolor; alas, the film is LOST, although a few seconds of the Boys tussling in a cave with a bear exists. The footage shows up on the TCM/Warner set.
1931 Pardon Us The first feature to actually star L&H, and it's a gem. The Laurel & Hardy Essentials Collection features several minutes of previously-deleted footage; the Boys are sent to prison for bootlegging and make good an escape.
1932 Pack Up Your Troubles Rather unheralded L&H feature vehicle, but I've always liked it: Stan & Ollie come home from the first World War with a little war orphan.
1933 The Devil’s Brother Available on the TCM Archives: Laurel & Hardy Collection; the classic operetta Fra Diavolo proved to be one of the Boys' most endearing films. Thelma Todd never looked lovelier. Sons of the Desert is perhaps the team's most popular feature, and the only one to co-star them with Hal Roach Studios funnyman Charley Chase, cast against type here as a practical joker. Stan & Ollie are off to a big convention, unbeknownst to their wives. A laugh riot from start to finish.
1934 Hollywood Party is reviewed in part 2 of this article; it's a Laurel & Hardy guest appearance in MGM feature, and is available from Warner Archive. Babes in Toyland (a/k/a March of the Wooden Soldiers), the perennial Laurel & Hardy holiday classic, is available from MGM in a gorgeous B&W print. Avoid the colorized version.
1935 Bonnie Scotland is a rather disappointing spoof of then-popular adventure films. Available on the TCM Archives: Laurel & Hardy Collection.
1936 The Bohemian Girl is another operetta adapted for Stan & Ollie, but the sudden, mysterious death of co-star Thelma Todd caused a lot of last-second changes and deletions, not to the film's advantage. Our Relations is out-and-out farce, as the Boys and their twin brothers cross paths unknowingly.
1937 Way Out West is picked my many fans to be the Boys' best feature; it includes the unforgettable dance routine that's become a staple of L&H retrospectives. Pick a Star is a guest appearance in Roach feature starring Patsy Kelly; currently, it's the ONLY L&H film that hasn't been released on DVD, although Warner Archives has promised it for early 2012. The L&H sequences from it are on the TCM/Warner set.
1938 Swiss Miss; Block-Heads The former is a rather goofy musical-comedy set in the Alps, and has a gorilla, a piano, and a dilapidated bridge; the latter is an unsung classic, a throwback to the Boys' slapstick heyday and one of their best features, as Stan 'n' Ollie are reunionted Army buddies twenty years after the war.
1939 The Flying Deuces is an RKO feature; in the public domain and available from several sources, but look for the Kino Video release of it.
1940 A Chump at Oxford is a more "funny/odd" than "funny/funny" comedy set in England and featuring an early screen performance by Peter Cushing; it was released in both 4 and 6 reel versions, and both are in the new Essentials set. Saps at Sea was their final film for Hal Roach, and contains a few wonderful bits, but for the most part is a dreary swansong.
After 1940, Stan & Ollie left the Hal Roach studio and were active in feature films from Fox and MGM for the next few years, all of which are available on DVD and none of which should ever be watched. In 1951, they made a comeback in the French film Utopia, a story unto itself.
More Laurel & Hardy DVD Reviews in the Balcony can be found by clicking ri-i-i-ight HERE!
Silent Laurel & Hardy
I. Before the Team (silent films)
1. The Lucky Dog (@1920) A 2-reel Sun-Lite Comedy
2. 45 Minutes from Hollywood (1926) Their first Hal Roach film together; unless specified, this and further films are all 2-reel Roach productions.
3. Duck Soup (1927)
4. Slipping Wives (1927)
5. Love ‘em and Weep (1927)
6. Why Girls Love Sailors (1927)
7. With Love and Hisses (1927)
8. Sailors, Beware! (1927)
9. Do Detectives Think? (1927)
10. Flying Elephants (1927)
11. Sugar Daddies (1927)
12. The Second Hundred Years (1927)
13. Now I’ll Tell One (1927)
14. Call of the Cuckoos (1927)
15. Hat’s Off (1927)
16. Putting Pants on Philip (1927)
II. The Laurel & Hardy series (silent)
17. The Battle of the Century (1927)
18. Leave ‘em Laughing (1928)
19. The Finishing Touch (1928)
20. From Soup to Nuts (1928)
21. You’re Darn Tootin’ (1928)
22. Their Purple Moment (1928)
23. Should Married Men Go Home? (1928)
24. Early to Bed (1928)
25. Two Tars (1928)
26. Habeas Corpus (1928)
27. We Faw Down (1928)
28. Liberty (1929)
29. Wrong Again (1929)
30. That’s My Wife (1929)
31. Big Business (1929)
32. Double Whoopee (1929)
33. Bacon Grabbers (1929)
34. Angora Love (1929)
The Post-Roach Years. Avoid these.
Great Guns (Fox, 1941); A-Haunting We Will Go (Fox, 1942); Air Raid Wardens (MGM, 1943); Jitterbugs (Fox, 1943); The Dancing Masters (Fox, 1943); The Big Noise (Fox, 1944); Nothing But Trouble (MGM, 1944); The Bullfighters (MGM, 1945); Atoll K (a/k/a Utopia) (1951) 10-reel French feature released in the US in 1954.
Ah, but there’s more! In the very early days of sound, the technique of “dubbing” hadn’t yet been perfected… so Hal Roach had his casts makes simultaneous foreign-language versions of their films, speaking French, Italian, German, and Spanish phonetically written out for them on off-camera chalkboards! These films often had additional material, or combined shorts, to pad them out to feature length.
The following versions have been identified so far. The titles in blue are included on the Laurel & Hardy Essential Collection.
Be Big and Laughing Gravy: Los Calaveras in Spanish, Les Carottiers in French.
Below Zero: Tiembla y Titubea in Spanish.
Blotto: La Vida Nocturna in Spanish and Une Nuit Extravagante in French.
Brats: Les Bons Petits Diables in French, unknown Spanish title, Gluckliche Kindheit in German.
Chickens Come Home: Politiquerias in Spanish.
Hog Wild: Radiomanía in Spanish, Pele-Mele in French.
The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case and Berth Marks: Noche de Duendes in Spanish, Feu Mon Oncle in French, and Spuk Um Mitternacht in German.
Night Owls: Ladrones in Spanish, Ladroni in Italian.
Pardon Us: Los Presidiarios in Spanish, Sous Les Verrous in French, Hinter Schloss Und Riegel in German, Muraglie in Italian.
(Randy Skretvedt's book Laurel and Hardy: The Magic Behind the Movies was a big help in compiling this list, and is recommended to all L&H fans!)
Laurel & Hardy Silent Films on DVD
Those of you Americans who want to collect the Boys' silent comedies will have to seek out the Lost Films of Laurel & Hardy collection from Image Entertainment. The 60 films on the set represent the complete existing collection of silent L&H films, plus an assortment of solo films and miscellaneous Hal Roach product.
The Lost Films series is out of print but the discs show up from Amazon sellers or on eBay from time to time. The films have been digitally remastered from the finest possible sources, and many of them feature original Vitaphone soundtracks and are worth seeking out until such time as a new release is announced.
Big Business (1927) Stan & Ollie are door-to-door Christmas tree salesmen. One of the screen’s great comedies.
Do Detectives Think? (1927) Judge James Finlayson hires a pair of dopey detectives as bodyguards to protect him from an escaped convict.
Call of the Cuckoo (1927) Very funny Max Davidson short with L&H and Charley Chase in supporting roles.
The Finishing Touch (1928) The Boys are carpenters trying to build a home – quietly – next to a hospital. Kennedy the Cop is keeping them on their toes.
On the Front Page (1926) One of Stan’s final films sans Ollie; he’s the butler and nursemaid to a spoiled young publishing magnate. With Lillian Roth.
Hustling for Health (1918) One of the five films Stan made for Roach in his first stint at that studio. With Bud Jamison.
Double Whoopee (1929) The Boys are employees at a swank hotel, and they proceed to unswank it in their inimitable way. With Jean Harlow.
Early to Bed (1928) Ollie inherits a fortune, and hires Stan as his butler. Unusual film in that there is no cast besides the two stars.
Angora Love (1929) The Boys are trying to hide their pet goat from the landlord. With Charley Hall and Edgar Kennedy; their last silent film.
Sugar Daddies (1927) A thug chases L&H through an amusement park.
Also includes two Stan Laurel solo films, Roughest Africa and Oranges and Lemons (both 1923).
Liberty (1929) One of the duo’s funniest films; they’re trapped atop an unfinished skyscraper. Directed by Leo McCarey.
We Faw Down (1928) Stan & Ollie sneak away from their wives to attend a Lodge meeting; precursor to their great feature Sons of the Desert.
The Lucky Dog (1918) Made circa 1921; the first known on-screen appearance of Laurel and Hardy in a film together. Stan’s a dog-lover, Ollie’s a hold-up man.
Love ’em and Weep (1927) The Boys help a blackmailed politician. Remade as a talkie three years later (Chickens Come Home).
Bromo and Juliet (1926) Very funny Charley Chase film with Oliver Hardy.
Along Came Auntie (1926) A Glenn Tryon comedy with Hardy as the heavy.
They Go Boom! (1929) One of the Boys’ first talkies; Stan helps Ollie nurse a bad cold.
Their Purple Moment (1928) L&H sneak out on their wives to go nightclubbing, not knowing that their better halves have stolen their wallets.
Bacon Grabbers (1929) Stan & Ollie are trying to repossess Edgar Kennedy’s radio.
Unaccustomed as we Are (1929) Silent version of the first L&H sound film, released simultaneously for those theatres not yet set up for talkies. With Thelma Todd.
On the Wrong Trek (1936) The Boys have a gag appearance in one of Charley Chase’s best talkies.
Should Sailors Marry? (1925) A Clyde Cook comedy with Hardy in a supporting role.
Wrong Again (1929) Stan & Ollie are looking for a stolen Gainsborough painting, but end up with a horse named “Blue Boy” instead.
Habeas Corpus (1929) The Boys are grave robbers for a mad scientist.
Duck Soup (1927) L&H are a couple of tramps who masquerade as a millionaire and his maid. Remade a few years later as Another Fine Mess.
Leave ’em Laughing (1927) The Boys are inebriated by a dentist’s laughing gas. With Edgar Kennedy.
Includes Fluttering Hearts (1927) with Charley Chase and Oliver Hardy and Short Kilts (1924) with James Finlayson and Stan Laurel.
That’s My Wife (1929) Stan has to masquerade as Ollie’s missing wife to help Hardy gain an inheritance.
Flying Elephants (1928) L&H (and James Finlayson) are cavemen in prehysterical times.
Putting Pants on Philip (1928) Wildly funny short with Ollie determined to get his Scottish cousin out of his kilts.
45 Minutes from Hollywood (1926) A Hal Roach “All Star” comedy; the first Roach film to feature both Laurel and Hardy before the cameras.
Includes Crazy like a Fox (1926) with Charley Chase and Oliver Hardy and The Soilers (1923), a very funny one-reeler with Stan Laurel and James Finlayson.
Unaccustomed as we Are (1929) Stan & Ollie in their first talkie; with Thelma Todd.
Should Married Men Go Home? (1928) L&H and Edgar Kennedy go on a golf outing.
Sailors, Beware! (1927) Stan is a stowaway on Ollie’s yacht in another atypical outing.
With Love and Hisses (1927) Post-World War I comedy with L&H and Finlayson.
Double Whoopee (1929) “Talkie” version: Some L&H fans dubbed in voices. A bad idea.
Mixed Nuts (1934) Great Roach “All Star” musical short about a group of chorus girls sent to finishing school. Without any of the familiar Roach faces, but with a lot of beautiful women and peppy musical numbers.
Two Tars (1928) A true comic gem; L&H are gobs stuck in a traffic jam on a country road. Vehicular destruction ensues.
The Second Hundred Years (1927) The Boys are cons trying to escape from prison.
Slipping Wives (1927) Stan is hired by a beautiful woman (Priscilla Dean) to make her husband jealous, but butler Ollie gets in the way.
From Soup to Nuts (1928) The Boys are manservants to a nouveau riche couple.
Includes Scorching Sands (a/k/a Under Two Jags, 1923) with Stan & Mae Laurel and Should Tall Men Marry (1927) with Laurel & Finlayson.
You’re Darn Tootin’ (1922) A band concert turns into a free-for-all brawl. Directed by Edgar Kennedy.
Battle of the Century (1928) The world’s greatest pie fight. Unfortunately, the film does not exist in complete form, but here are two versions for your viewing enjoyment, one of which contains the cutting continuity and still pictures to show you what’s missing. Look for Lou Costello as an extra.
Why Girls Love Sailors (1927) Stan & Ollie are asea with Anita Garvin.
Also includes Wandering Papas (1927) with Clyde Cook and Hardy, Mum’s the Word (1926) with Charley Chase, and Chase’s greatest silent comedy, Mighty Like a Moose (1926).
Laurel & Hardy and Friends
For some reason, Vol. 10 carried the “and Friends” name when it was released.
Be Big! (1930) With Stan’s help, Ollie pretends to be ill so he can go out partying.
Our Gang Follies of 1938 – Spanky wants Alfalfa to croon in his show, but Alfalfa wants to be an opera singer. With Henry Brandon. Also includes two other Our Gang shorts, Bear Shooters and School’s Out (1930), both from the Jackie Cooper era of the Gang.
The Stolen Jools (1931) The Boys have a cameo appearance in this all-star short for charity. Our Gang is here, too, as is Buster Keaton and too many others to list.
Whispering Whoopee (1930) Hilarious Charley Chase / Thelma Todd short.
There's one other U.S. release that's L&H fans should own, the Kino Video Special Edition of the 1939 RKO-Radio release The Flying Deuces (SRP $14.95). The film's in the public domain and is available from Alpha and many other companies, but the Kino version has been restored and remastered and is of sterling quality. It contains The Stolen Jools and other tasty L&H treats, too.
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