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Two Minds without a Single Thought

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.

51 comments to Two Minds without a Single Thought

  • J.R. Jones

    This is wonderful news. I thought I knew all about Laurel & Hardy until TCM did a 24-hour marathon of the two-reelers. They’re unbelievable.

    There was one I’d never seen before, called THE FIXER-UPPERS, that has the greatest plot of any comedy short I’ve ever seen. A jealous husband suspects Oliver of sleeping with his wife, hands him his calling card, and challenges him to a duel. Oliver is terrified, but as he and Stanley commiserate over the situation in a tavern, Stan convinces him all he has to do is not show up; the husband doesn’t know where he lives and will never find him. This so relieves Ollie that they wind up getting blind drunk; by closing time they’ve passed out, and their casual drinking buddies, having found the calling card in Ollie’s pocket and decided it must be his, innocently drive them to the married couple’s home and deposit them into the wife’s vacant bed.

    You can take it from there.

  • david hare

    Dave, this set seems to follow in the steps of the previously released PAL 21 disc boxsets in Germany (Kinowelt) and the UK (Universal). General comments seem to confirm the transfers on the new US set are superior to what I thought were already wonderful sources for the UK set. And the fact the US set is 10 discs against the 21 discs of the UK and German is presumably largely explained by the merciful omission of colorized versions of some of the features from the US (These are ubiquitous throughout the UK set and worthless.)

    For interest’s sake Ive plagiarized an excellent posts from an Amazon UK reader which lists the complete contents of the UK, if anyone wants to make title by title comparisons with the US box. THe UK set was at one stage being discounted to something like 30 quid with – even more astonishing – a mere 5 quid postage (by Deutsche Post) for such a leviathan of a box! Currently selling on amazon UK for around 50 quid or roughly the same as the new US box:

    Thundering Fleas (21) 04.07.1926
    Along Came Auntie (9) 25.07.1926
    45 Minutes from Hollywood (12) 26.12.1926
    Duck Soup (12) 13.03.1927
    Slipping Wives (10) 03.04.1927
    Jewish Prudence (21) 08.05.1927
    Love ‘Em and Weep (8) 12.06.1927
    Fluttering Hearts (21) 19.06.1927
    Why Girls Love Sailors (16) 17.07.1927
    With Love and Hisses (7) 28.08.1927
    Sugar Daddies (8) 10.09.1927
    Sailors Beware (16) 25.09.1927
    The Second 100 Years (12) 08.10.1927
    Call of the Cuckoo (12) 15.10.1927
    Do Detectives Think? (20) 20.11.1927
    Putting Pants on Philip (15) 03.12.1927
    The Battle of the Century (19) 31.12.1927
    Leave ‘Em Laughing (2) 28.01.1928
    Flying Elephants (17) 12.02.1928
    The Finishing Touch (14) 25.02.1928
    From Soup to Nuts (1) 24.03.1928
    You’re Darn Tootin’ (11) 21.04.1928
    Their Purple Moment (13) 19.05.1928
    Should Married Men Go Home? (7) 08.09.1928
    Early to Bed (8) 06.10.1928
    Two Tars (16) 03.11.1928
    Habeas Corpus (20) 01.12.1928
    We Faw Down (13) 29.12.1928
    Liberty (20) 26.01.1929
    Wrong Again (20) 23.02.1929
    That’s My Wife (9) 23.03.1929
    Big Business (12) 20.04.1929
    Unaccustomed As We Are (7) 04.05.1929
    Double Whoopee (14) 18.05.1929
    Berth Marks (6) 01.06.1929
    Men O’War (16) 29.06.1929
    Perfect Day (2) 10.08.1929
    They Go Boom! (2) 21.09.1929
    Bacon Grabbers (20) 19.10.1929
    The Hoose-Gow (19) 16.11.1929
    Angora Love (20) 14.12.1929
    Night Owls (12) 04.01.1930
    Blotto (18) 08.02.1930
    Brats (5/21) 22.03.1930
    Below Zero (11) 26.04.1930
    Hog Wild (14) 31.05.1930
    The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case (6) 06.09.1930
    Another Fine Mess (1) 29.11.1930
    Be Big! (18) 07.02.1931
    Chickens Come Home (8) 21.02.1931
    Laughing Gravy (10) 04.04.1931
    Our Wife (4) 16.05.1931
    Come Clean (8) 19.09.1931
    Pardon Us (19) 15.10.1931
    One Good Turn (3) 31.10.1931
    Beau Hunks (4) 12.12.1931
    On the Loose (9) 26.12.1931
    Helpmates (4) 23.01.1932
    Any Old Port! (16) 05.03.1932
    The Music Box (14) 16.04.1932
    The Chimp (17) 21.05.1932
    County Hospital (2) 25.06.1932
    Scram! (12) 10.09.1932
    Pack Up Your Troubles (15) 17.09.1932
    Their First Mistake (15) 05.11.1932
    Towed in a Hole (16) 31.12.1932
    Twice Two (5) 25.02.1933
    Me and My Pal (4) 22.04.1933
    The Midnight Patrol (20) 03.08.1933
    Busy Bodies (14) 07.10.1933
    Dirty Work (14) 25.11.1933
    Sons of the Desert (13) 29.12.1933
    Oliver the Eighth (6) 13.01.1934
    Going Bye-Bye! (20) 23.06.1934
    Them Thar Hills (2) 21.07.1934
    The Live Ghost (16) 08.12.1934
    Tit for Tat (2) 05.01.1935
    The Fixer Uppers (10) 09.02.1935
    Thicker Than Water (3) 16.03.1935
    The Bohemian Girl (9) 14.02.1936
    On the Wrong Trek (13) 18.04.1936
    Our Relations (5) 30.10.1936
    Way Out West (3) 16.04.1937
    Swiss Miss (17) 20.05.1938
    Block-Heads (7) 19.08.1938
    A Chump at Oxford (1) 25.01.1940
    Saps at Sea (11) 29.04.1940

    Generally I think the shorts from 1927 to 1934 are so astoundingly good they might well break through the lassitude and indifference of modern day audiences. The slow burn and prolonged double take seems to work even better in one and two reelers than they do in the features.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    Dave’s opening sentence about most of us’s discovery of Laurel and Hardy as children sounds so true — and it certainly applies to my case. In the conclusion of a slim volume on L&H I published in 1965 I reminisced about my first encounter with the boys at age seven, watching THE MUSIC BOX in the Cineac movie theater of the Montparnasse railroad station in Paris (Cineac specialized in short subjects, you could spend an hour or less in there while waiting for a train). I had never laughed so much, and through the years I never forgot the experience. I saw THE MUSIC BOX again twenty years later and felt as though I had entered a time machine. I wrote in my little book: “Not only Laurel and Hardy never get old, but they give us back our childhood.”

    But what about those unfortunate people who may never have experienced L&H when they were children? Dave’s concern that the boys’ slow-paced style may seem old-fashioned to those younger viewers is understandable. Still I find it difficult to imagine anyone watching one of the better L&H shorts (sound or silent) and not breaking down laughing again and again. I have always found Laurel and Hardy not only irresistible (let’s forget their mediocre feature films) but ageless in a way even the greatest comedians from the silent era never quite achieved.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    David, of course the huge difference between the two boxes is that the terrific-sounding UK set has all (or most of?) the 1927-1928 shorts while the RHI box left all the silents out (including, unless I’m mistaken, the 1929 shorts that were released in both silent and sound versions). It’s unfortunate considering that, while many of the sound shorts are absolutely great, Laurel and Hardy’s most outstanding masterpieces are from the extraordinary 1927-28 silent period.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Excellent essay, Dave, thank you. You touch upon the shorts’ lack of availability for so long on DVD, a topic that has been discussed at great length on other sites, as the diehard fans waited for years in vain for the very set you can now finally discuss. Will the boys now find new fans? I think they will if the films are shown. I think a four year old or a ten year old will respond with love to the material. (Friends of mine report that their young children are open to black and white films, and silent films, but back away from them furiously in their conformist teens.)

    It’s interesting how availability in one form or another has been central to the ebb and flow of various reputations. Buster Keaton is bigger now than he has been at any point since his films started being reissued circa 1970. His films have been constantly made available, on film, then on VHS and laser, then on DVD and most recently on Blu. The Chaplin estate has been almost as active (controversies are many and varied on those other sites about various aspects of the reissues, fights we’ve mostly avoided on this site, which is just as well). The Harold Lloyd estate skipped VHS and laser, putting out one three-volume set on DVD a half decade ago or so, and laying low again for now. By contrast Laurel and Hardy’s reputations were initially huge beneficiaries of having been screened widely on TV, and they were also widely available on the home market in 16mm, 8 and I guess Super 8. They were much less lucky from the 1980s forward, until just this month. It was much easier over the past decade to see their mediocre post-Roach features of 1941-45 than these films of their prime. Long may they prosper: just let their films be shown and I’m sure they will be embraced as before.

    Jean-Pierre is correct about the unfortunate absence of the silent shorts on this set. I collected them a decade ago on a now OP “Lost Films of Laurel and Hardy” series, which also featured films featuring just Stan, or just Ollie.

  • Robert Regan

    Both of my daughters, now young women, enthusiastically took to Laurel and Hardy while still small children. I hope today’s youngsters might also be susceptible.

  • Michael Dempsey

    Around 18 years ago, I used to show a Laurel & Hardy tape to a 4-year-old friend. It included “The Music Box” and “County Hospital”.

    She watched the shorts several times (also a feature or two, one of which was “Flying Deuces”) and had a good time with them, even grasping the words and the ineffably disgusted tone of voice in Ollie’s response in “County Hospital” (“Hard-boiled eggs and nuts!”) to the snack that clueless Stan brings him while he’s flat on his back with a broken leg in a huge cast.

    But she was also trying to figure out something that was puzzling her. Finally, while watching one of Stan’s more transcendently idiotic actions for the umpteenth time, she said tentatively, “He’s dumb,” as though worried that perhaps it might not be right to say or think something like this about a grownup.

    I replied, “They’re both dumb, but the fat one thinks he’s smart.”

    As though a click were audible inside her mind, everything seemed to become instantly clear — and the movies even funnier — to her.

    Just a tiny anecdote, but maybe it suggests that even now small children can enjoy these shorts before becoming tainted by the scorn for “old movies” (i.e., in my experience, anything made before 2000, but especially anything at all in black and white) that is so boringly commonplace nowadays in so many teenagers and young adults.

  • I showed HELPMATES this week at my Friday night movie party; Addie (age 4 1/2) laughed hysterically throughout the darn thing. So there.

    When I moved to NYC in 1986, I discovered a wealth of the old Nostalgia Merchant VHS tapes of Laurel & Hardy, and over the years, nothing has been more popular nor generated as many laughs as Stan & Ollie. The German DVDs replaced those, and have been relished.

    JR, the jealous husband you cite is Charles “Ming the Merciless” Middleton, and this wasn’t the only short pitting him against the Boys.

    David, note that many of the films you list are NOT Laurel & Hardy films, but bonus Hal Roach silent films that were included. Many other non-L&H films are on the German discs, particularly some excellent and otherwise-unavailable Charley Chase films, including the hysterical Limousine Love.

  • david hare

    Cliff, thanks for the tip on the silents – I bought this box two years ago and I’m still getting around to probing its nooks and crannies. We finally retired and moved to the country from the city a months ago (finally dynamiting ourselves out of SYdney and its woes) and our first house guest arrived for the weekend, a very old friend who recently turned 60. When I suggested a movie for Saturday night he brushed past the other 5000 discs on the shelves and took out the L&H box. SO we ended up watching Pack up Your Troubles. Although this seems to be considered “minor” by some we found outselves laughing so boisterously during the scene when the little girl reads Stan the “Goldilocks” story, we literally crashed the convertible sofa bed we were sitting on and sent the box and its contents flying across the room. The laughs got even louder after this.

    Sidenote – I had thought Limousine Love was on the one of the Charlie Chase sets?

  • You Americans should campaign for the Laurel and Hardy silents to be released, as they are easily their very best films, thanks maybe to the participation of Leo McCarey, among others. THE SECOND HUNDRED YEARS already is amazing, PUTTING PANTS ON PHILIPS shows the foundation myth (the irrepressibly jump-happy Laurel in a Scottish kilt, Hardy as a reserved Southern gentleman), and LIBERTY is to many the funniest comedy ever made. The L&H silents were included even in the Finnish release of the Kinowelt-Universal box sets.

    When we have screened recently silent comedies of Laurel and Hardy they have broken all laugh records especially in school screenings. The schoolchildren are suspicious at first (black and white… silent… ?!) but it’s definitely worth trying. The movies actually work best without music, with the growing laughter as the only sound. Laughter is infectious. Or with that pseudo-innocent Marvin Hatley type of music which seems oblivious of the goings-on in the story. The laughter still created by Laurel and Hardy is unique and unforgettable.

  • Funny how the mind works. I remember some things vaguely, and I can remember others with unbending clarity. I remember the very first time that I ever saw Laurel and Hardy – I don’t mean the first time that I saw one of their films, but the first time that I ever physically saw them on television.

    It was a Saturday morning, I was about six years old and I was changing the channel, looking for my cartoons. I came across this old film on Channel 5 KFSM, and I stopped because the music caught my ear. It was the scene in Way Out West in which Laurel and Hardy are doing their little dance together. There was something about the pacing of that scene that grabbed me. I was use to The Three Stooges and Abbott and Costello (I hadn’t yet met The Marx Brothers) where the pace of the comedy was rapid fire, it was anything goes. These two were slower, their bits took time to build, and I had to admit that I had never seen Moe, Larry and Curly have a moment of camaraderie and friendship like Stan and Ollie did in that sweet little dance. It was quite a moment.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Jerry’s comment — “I had never seen Moe, Larry and Curly have a moment of camaraderie and friendship like Stan and Ollie did in that sweet little dance. It was quite a moment” — tells us why Laurel and Hardy are the greatest comedy team of all time. They’re friends. I love the Marx Brothers as much as anyone else, and I sort of like the Stooges, but their relationship in both case is closer to one I’ve missed, as an only child — they’re siblings. I gather their battles are akin to those of real brothers, which gives their work some resonance… but….

    This may be why the great solo comedians seem to operate in an empty world at times, and their signature routines are solo performances (Lloyd on the clock for one obvious example). It’s also why they’re more likely to be involved in romantic subplots (markedly absent in the work of the Marxes, L&H, the Stooges…).

  • Damien Bona

    Not to worry about first-timers loving the boys. A 40-something friend of mine who is an online movie reviewer received this DVD set. He had never seen Stan & Ollie before, and now he is a major fan.

  • Brian Dauth

    Just as there is a slow food movement, there can be a slow comedy movement as well. I wonder if slowness can ever go out of style since I believe that the human default, no matter the exigencies of culture, favors the steady and deliberate over the quick and the flashy. The frantic eventually burns itself out, leaving little room for engagement. But the slow offers ample opportunities for a viewer to begin an engagement.

    But then again, I like Mankiewicz movies, so y’all know how wrong I can be.

  • Barry Putterman

    I’ve mentioned here before that I believe that children who grew up with 50s and 60s television were afforded a unique situation. There were so many hours of programming to fill (particularly in a market like New York with is large number of stations) and so little backlog of product that they broadcasted everything that they could get their hands on and it was up to the inexperienced viewer to accept it all and try to figure out its context.

    I watched Laurel and Hardy as a child, but it seems I am in the minority in not warming up to them at that time. There was something eerie and forboding about the visual and aural tone of the films complicated by the almost documentary pacing and the very British streak of morbidity in Laurel’s comic sensibility. Many of the gags made me feel queasy, and the ending of THICKER THAN WATER scared the hell out of me. So did the ending of THE BULLFIGHTERS.

    Further, they often seemed to be threatened by humorless and monsterously unstoppable antagonists. Charles Middleton has already been mentioned. But also Mae Busch (particularly in OLIVER THE EIGHTH) and Richard Cramer in SAPS AT SEA. My mother told me that Laurel and Hardy made her uneasy when she was a child because when they were threatened Laurel began crying and she thought that if a grown-up was crying then something truly terrible must be happening.

    Of course when I came back to Laurel and Hardy at a later age, all of these things became part of what I uniquely love about them as opposed to what I uniquely love about the other great comedians that touch me.

    It does seem to me that Laurel and Hardy do stand a chance of gaining a following in the current comedy climate. The extremity of physical pain implied in Laurel’s gag sensibility seems strongly connected to the horror/humor nexus we talkied about in relation to John Landis. Also, the complexity in the long reaction shots following the gags should connect strongly to the “comedy of humiliation” now in vogue. Of course, they will not become as popular as that grand old man of comedy Will Ferrell (about to receive the Mark Twain Life Achievement Prize), but they just need enough of a following for their films to remain in circulation so that newcomers can find them.

    Brian, really, it’s cool that you love Mankiewicz. And really, it’s cool that some other people don’t.

  • Johan Andreasson

    I loved Laurel and Hardy as a kid (still do, of course) and it wouldn’t have crossed my mind to think of Stan Laurel as a grown-up. I’m not sure what ages I would have attributed to most of the other comedians I saw on television and matinees (I probably thought of them as ageless, like another one of my heroes, Hergé’s cartoon character Tintin), but in my mind Stan Laurel and Harpo Marx were kids like myself and therefore very easy to identify with. I’m sure a lot of this had to do with Laurel’s slowness, which set him apart from other silent comedians, especially Harold Lloyd who was also very popular on Swedish television.

  • I like the elegiac tone of the review.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    Barry, there is a dark side of L&H that should be more examined. You mentioned SAPS AT SEA and the sequence with Cramer as the bad guy. I watched the movie again a few years ago for an article about Gordon Douglas, the director of SAPS. Everson found what he called “the meal sequence” “unfunny and distasteful” and I found it even more so. Incidentally or coincidentally Douglas had had a similar scene in one of his Our Gang shorts (I can’t remember the title): someone had to eat a sandwich made up of soap rather than ham or anything edible. I don’t think L&H realized how unpleasant some of their situations were — they just tried to be funny, and it’s true that being funny can become uncomfortably unpleasant.

  • david hare

    Jean-Pierre, I was also about to respond to Barry. Early on in Pack up Your Troubles there’s the brief but not insignificant plot detail of their best buddy getting killed in the battlefield. What follows is a dazzling and extremely FAST set of stunts and gags with L&H contrived from a succession of accidents and mishaps through which they manage to lead their battalion to a rousing victory!! Throughout this dazzling sequence they appear totally shellshocked, as perhaps they realize the mechanics of total anarchy have completely overtaken them, albeit to a “happy” end.

    There are quite a few unsettling Hal Roach shorts generally – I remember (Or I think I remember, perhaps I imagined it) repeatedly seeing on TV as a child an early 30s Fatty Arbuckle short which seemed to be set near an insane asylum from which people keep escaping, and in which Fatty has a repeated exchange with a possible inmate – “So he’s psychopathic?” “Nahh, Nuts!”

    It had the same unnerving effect on me then as Shutter Island for instance has on some people.

  • Robert Garrick

    The horror/comedy connection has always been there. Extreme physical pain (torture porn?) is hilarious in a Three Stooges short, or in a Bob Clampett cartoon. (Clampett got laughs out of an iron lung in “The Daffy Doc” (1938). It works for me, though others thought Clampett went over the line in that one.)

    We don’t have much empathy for Daffy Duck or the Stooges. We care a lot about Chaplin and Keaton, and when they’re in pain we are too. Laurel & Hardy are somewhere in the middle, which is one of the reasons their material is so interesting. They’re not too bright, but they’re nevertheless likable and human. They also seem to have recognizable domestic situations (married, jobs, etc.) which sets them apart from most of the other people we’ve discussed so far.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    A fascinating, highly detailed analysis of the troubled history of Laurel and Hardy films from their beginning to the present by preservation specialist Richard W. Bann can be read there:

  • Barry Putterman

    Despite all of the evidence and persuasive commentary to the contrary, I believe that the general attitude that comedy is “happy time” material suitable for childhood caprice and occasional adulthood “escapes” from the complexity of the “real world” remains with us. I suspect that the interrelatedness of what Steve has identified as “body genres” needs a much closer look.

    Had some Simon Oakland psychiatrist clamped a hand on Stan Laurel’s shoulder and said; “Mr. Laurel, I’m afried that you have an almost pathological fear of being dominated to the point of being consumed (especially by women) and that will lead you to construct gags which are very unsettling in their implications, which we simply can’t allow,” I don’t believe that the world would have been a better place.

    I can see a parallel pathology in Clampett, but the dynamics of working in animation as opposed to live action are very important. No matter what befalls Daffy Duck in any particular gag, we are assured that he will be restored to his normal(?) condition in the next sequence. What truly frightened me regarding THICKER THAN WATER (Laurel and Hardy transformed into each other via a blood transfusion run amuk) was that I couldn’t figure out how they had done it or how they would be able to return to their original selves. So the speed and ease of their identity annihilations seemed possible and real to me.

    Of course, you can produce the same effect in animation if you use non-continuing characters and end the film with them in their transformed states. Tex Avery’s KING SIZED CANARY had a very similar effect on me as did THICKER THAN WATER. But maybe I better knock this off before too many people begin to wonder about my own pathology.

  • Shawn Stone

    Robert: The iron lung in THE DAFFY DOC never bothered me, but the boisterous, creepily murderous way Clampett shows the menagerie of animals (including “not Dumbo” and the odd human) being crammed into the buzzard’s kettle makes THE BASHFUL BUZZARD a jaw-dropping experience, even now.

    To borrow from last week’s subject, Laurel & Hardy can turn any room into a “house of pain.” Hilariously, of course.

  • Comedy as “happy time material” — some folks obviously weren’t paying enough attention to Shakespeare (e.g., Measure for Measure) and Moliere (e.g., Tartuffe). ;~}

  • Robert Garrick

    I forwarded Dave’s intro to a university-based film archivist friend of mine. He said he doubted that UCLA’s restoration of the Roach negatives would be completed “in our lifetime.” Apparently UCLA is proceeding at a snail’s pace and trying to finance the hugely expensive job with small donations. But as my friend points out, photo-chemical film restoration is a big-ticket enterprise, best financed by a single giant donation. (Digital restoration is cheaper.)

    I hope he’s wrong, and of course we should be grateful for all of the good work that UCLA has done in the past.

    There’s a lot more detail in the article linked to by Jean-Pierre Coursodon, above, but there’s a typo in the link he supplies. Here’s a corrected version. The article is well worth reading.

    Anyway, if you’re interested in this material, buy the Vivendi set.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    Robert, thanks for the correction. I typed HTLM instead of HTML at the end of the link!

  • Robert Garrick

    How amazing is it that Laurel and Hardy were effortlessly able to span the
    divide between silent and sound films?

    Chaplin made great sound films, to be sure, but he did it by staying true
    to his silent roots. He was not a verbal comedian. Most of the other
    silent clowns (Keaton, Lloyd, and many others) were unable to adjust to sound.
    Other major figures of the time (the Marx Brothers, Mae West) emerged from
    the stage to thrive in the sound era, but they are unimaginable as silent

    Laurel and Hardy did both, exceedingly well. When they began to speak,
    their voices were miraculously in sync with their characters and appearance,
    and their ability to use their voices in the service of their comedy was

    The only other major comic figure to make a similarly successful
    transition: W.C. Fields.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    Indeed Laurel and Hardy were the only ones to successfully manage the transition. That was because, with sound, they remained faithful to their silent style and personalities, dialogue enhancing them instead of damaging or destroying them as happened with Keaton.

    Some L&H French trivia: when sound arrived and the multiple foreign versions with it the boys became even more popular than before in France, in part because the public found their accent reading the French dialogue hilarious.So when dubbing replaced foreign versions (L&H made ten of those in French in 1930-31) the post-synch artists were very careful to imitate the boys’ funny accents to the best of their ability. The accents never changed, or changed so slightly that no one seemed to notice, even though the boys were dubbed by different people over the years. I don’t think any of L&H sound films were ever released in France in subtitled version.

  • Alex Hicks

    I don’t suppose there’s a J. Edgar/Clyde Tolson subtext (or Hoover/Tolson, Hardy/Laurel analogy) emerging from this “Two Minds without a Single Thought” thread.

    Nope. Guess not.

  • Barry Putterman

    I’ve never really figured out the dynamics of that transition from silent to sound thing. It should be remembered that Charley Chase also made a successful transition. And it always seemed to me that he had a number of things in common with Harold Lloyd. Of course, Lloyd continued to make films through most of the 30s, although many people find them to be unsatisfying in relation to the silents. Possibly the fact that Chase stuck to two reelers while Lloyd was doing features had something to do with it.

    And then there were the Ziegfeld stage stars who made some successful forays into silent films. Fields has been mentioned. But also Will Rogers and Eddie Cantor. We think of all three of them as primarily verbal and doing their most representative work in the 30s. But the silents are there, and who can explain.

    And then there is this fascinating anecdote about the French dubbing of Laurel and Hardy which Jean-Pierre offers. The whole business of the voice attached to the comedian might ultimately be as baffling as the common cold. Or Rick Perry.

  • Robert Regan

    Alex, If you’re looking for a subtext of that nature, try the Universal Sherlock Holmes films of the forties with Rathbone and Bruce. There are things between them that are not in Doyle. that are not

  • Peter Henne

    Comedians making the transition from silent to sound is a fertile issue, since truly successful sound comedy will rely on speech and noises which are funny. I’ve likewise thought it interesting that Laurel and Hardy accomplished this, and it might be because the slowness which has been discussed here so dominates the other formal elements. Robert G., I’d say that Chaplin’s famous public speech in parodic, hard-sounding German is an essential ingredient for what makes THE GREAT DICTATOR work, and the effusion of speech has almost nothing to do with his silent beginnings. He is not using verbosity but noisiness to be funny. In fact, I’d say Chaplin launches full sound in the film as quite a surprise, with radio, off-screen music and the speech to the masses each being non-naturalistic and having a component of making an “address” to the movie viewer.

  • Alex

    Robert Regan,

    Not a bad idea, but I was mainly trying (if feebly) for a segue into discussion of the new Eastwood, always an interesting event and especially so at this site.

  • Robert Regan

    Alex, interesting article from an unexpected source. The writer seems to be more into music than film, but that may just provide a particular insight to the piano=playing director.

  • The 1920s and 1930s Laurel and Hardy movies had a lot of location shooting that gave viewers all over the world a picture of Los Angeles. David Hockney said he moved to L.A. because he had to live in a city with low buildings, broad streets and impossible outdoor stairways. (The stairway in “The Music Box” is located in Silverlake and is commemorated with a bronze plaque.)

    Another interesting thing about Laurel and Hardy is that they often played workingmen or had fringe white collar jobs.

    As for Eastwood’s “J.Edgar,” it has opened in Los Angeles yet though it’s received some press screenings.

  • Gregg Rickman

    If you want timely… I’ve been moved to reread my Laurel & Hardy literature in light of this thread. The recent troubles of Brent Ratner stem in part from his disdain for rehearsal. (Actually, it’s who he said rehearsals are for which caused him grief, but bear with me.) Skipping rehearsals for comedies isnot unknown. In 1934 Henry Brandon, age 21 (and John Ford’s future Scar) was cast as the villain in BABES IN TOYLAND. Stan Laurel was calling the shots on the set, and his runthrough would consist of saying “‘Now you say that, and I will do this, and Babe [Hardy] will say that….” “That went on for about ten minutes, and then Stannie got up and said, ‘All right, let’s shoot it.” When Brandon asked for a rehearsal, Laurel replied “Do you want to *spoil* it?” (Source: Randy Skretvedt, “Laurel and Hardy,” 1987 ed., 289.)

    Moral: great comedians don’t need rehearsals. Can’t say if TOWER HEIST needed any.

  • Robert Garrick

    It’s quite extraordinary to visit the “Music Box” stairs. Los Angeles has grown in a westerly direction, and many locations in the Silverlake/Echo Park neighborhoods (closer to downtown) haven’t changed much since the 1930s. So when you visit the “Music Box” house, it really feels like you’re walking into the world of that short. Ditto the lake in Echo Park where Jack Nicholson was rowing in the opening to “Chinatown.”

    Walt Disney’s 1930s studios were nearby too, on Hyperion Avenue. There’s a grocery store there now, and a plaque in the sidewalk. Also in the neighborhood, at the spot where Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards come together: the site of the “Intolerance” Babylon set, which was torn down in 1919.

    For film fans, this is hallowed ground.

  • Simone Starace

    About Coursodon’s dubbing trivia: same story in Italy. Early L&H sound pictures arrived in foreign version with the actors themselves speaking Italian with hilarious accent, so when dubbing came along we imitated this funny accent. In Italy, Hardy was dubbed by young Alberto Sordi, later to become Italian most successful actor (you may remember him as The White Sheik, but he also acted in I vitelloni and even in Charles Vidor’s A Farewell to Arms).

  • Gary

    Re Peter Henne’s remark that “truly successful sound comedy will rely on speech and noises which are funny,” I remember reading somewhere that L&H were the first to use unrealistic sound effects to get a laugh — the sound of an anvil being hit when something falls on Ollie’s head, for instance. I don’t know if it’s true that they were the first, and wonder if anyone here can confirm or disprove. If my memory is correct, they also used offstage sound effects early on — we’ll hear something horrible happening to Ollie, but get to see only the aftermath. Whether they were the first or not, they did use sound imaginatively.

  • Barry Putterman

    Since there seems to be a rather general lack of interest in this week’s topic, let me add a postscript to a recent discussion.

    A few days ago I walked all the way across the street and saw MIDNIGHT IN PARIS. And Tom, since I believe that you hadn’t seen the film as of that discussion, here is your SPOILER ALERT!! The film is concerned with a movie screenwriter who is permitted to journey back into his idealized “Golden Age” of Paris in the 1920s, where he falls in love with a woman who abandons him when she is permitted to journey back into her idealized “Golden Age” of Paris in the 1890s. Were Allen a more imaginative filmmaker, I would be very interested in seeing his version of one of my favorite novels, James Branch Cabell’s “The Cream of the Jest.”

    But regardless of any quarrels with his artistic sensibility, I suspect that Allen is more acutely aware of and deeply engaged with whatever gaps there are in his philosophic worldview than any of us posting here about them are.

  • Barry Putterman

    Gary, I think that you are hitting on something very important in pointing towards Laurel & Hardy’s use of the offscreen. It isn’t merely Hardy’s magnificent verbal accompanying of the crash and thud as he falls down the stairs unseen. It is that the aftermath; with both Stan and Ollie’s complex attempts to understand and react, is actually more central than the initial event. And seeing the result in place of the action leads us along that train of thought.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Robert Garrick, there are excellent books on the LA locations of Keaton, Chaplin and Lloyd by John Bengston (who has an excellent blog on the topic as well). I believe there’s also a book on L&H locations. Thom Anderson’s fascinating film about LA in the movies, LA PLAYS ITSELF, (too) briefly touches on LA’s use in silent films; Anderson’s film collates with Mike Davis’ “City of Quartz” as playing up the noirish aspects of the city, but there are others as well.

    Mildly related tangent: caught Paul Bogart’s MARLOWE last night, and was amused to see its employment in a very matter-of-fact way of two LA noir iconographic locales, the Bradbury Building and Union Station… which would both be employed but shadowed in smoke and fog a dozen years later in the tech noir BLADE RUNNER.

    Gary, Barry, next time I see a L&H talkie I’ll look out for their use of off-screen space. Very interesting. But Barry, regarding your comment “I suspect that Allen is more acutely aware of and deeply engaged with whatever gaps there are in his philosophic worldview than any of us posting here about them are.” Allen may indeed be aware of his limits, but I’d hazard the guess that many of us, not just the many professional philosophers who happen to read this blog, could give a more profound commentary on the nature of Fate than Allen offers in MELINDA & MELINDA, CASSANDRA’S DREAM or YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER. Allen’s strength, when he’s cooking, is to make his riffing on such concepts as time travel or predestination work as part of the pleasurable viewing experience a film like MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (which I enjoyed) offers.

  • MIDNIGHT IN PARIS can be seen as a satire on nostalgia, and the funniest joke is what happens to the detective in the time tunnel!

  • Barry Putterman

    Gregg. I suspect that many of the posters on FanNation could give a more profound commentary on Fate and possibly make a more entertaining movie than MIDNIGHT IN PARIS as well.

    My comment related to the point being made regarding the kind of self contained view of contemporary New York that Allen presents which seems more representative of his past than our present.

  • Before we proceed to Jean Arthur, here is a byway to Mr. Joe Dante, who was recently in Madison, Wisconsin, as reported by David Bordwell:

  • Gregg Rickman

    Barry, fans of the Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox and now the Texas Rangers would no doubt have much to say about fate. But we’re now talkin’ baseball.

    I do agree with Antti; Allen in the film is actually critical of (or at least ironic about) the goopy nostalgia the Owen Wilson character embodies.

  • Barry Putterman

    Gregg, all sports fans learn harder, deeper and more painful lessons about Fate than Allen doles out in his pedantic homilies. That comes with the territory in sports (as Allen knows from personal experience).

    Certainly both you and Antti are right and probably understated in saying that Allen is critical of Wilson “Golden Age” nostalgia (or Mia Farrow’s movie worship in THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO). That is why I say that he is more deeply aware of and engaged with the limitations of his worldview than any of us here could possibly be.

  • Tom Brueggemann


    You mean Los Angeles Plays Itself.

    LA Plays Itself is a seminal gay porn film from groundbreaker Fred Halsted (1972). It is likely either Thom Anderson was riffing off that title, or changed his when he realized the shorter version had been previously used.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Tom, I do mean LOS ANGELES PLAYS ITSELF, and Anderson has been upfront in referencing the Halsted. In fact, I believe he even uses a clip from it in his documentary.

  • When Tom Anderson was at the Lightbox he discussed his disliking of abbreviations (LA, TIFF et al). An interesting review of his on a film-footage film-experiment The Clock by Christian Marclay was published Cinema Scope.
    Here is the url :