It’s hard to believe, but a generation has passed since the Laurel and Hardy sound shorts, as well as the features controlled by Hal Roach Studios, have been in general circulation, which may account for the sad state of the world today. But now they’re back, in an extraordinarily well produced and reasonably priced 10-disc box set from RHI Entertainment, the current rights holders of the Roach library. Although these are classic examples of movies that have been loved too much — duped, re-duped and shamelessly recut over the years for countless reissues in theaters and on television — this set assembles digitally restored editions better than anything seen in decades, with clean sound, stable images and the original MGM titles mostly back in place. We won’t see anything better until UCLA completes its long term project of restoring the Roach negatives, which is probably several years down the line.
So the boys are back, but is it too late? Their distinctive style of slow-paced, reactive, character-driven comedy seems to operate on a completely different level of metabolism than most contemporary entertainment, and I wonder if audiences who haven’t grown up with them will be able to relate at all to Stan and Ollie’s vast and varied body of work. But now, at least, they’ll have the opportunity.
My New York Times review of the set is here.