Review: Laurel and Hardy Rarities
I’m not a card carrying member of the Sons of the Desert or anything, but I do harbour an abiding fondness for Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. My fondness goes beyond admiring their work and enjoying their movies. Sure, Laurel and Hardy are always funny, always clever, always enjoyable – but there’s something else, something special. Oddly, I think Laurel and Hardy might be one of cinema’s greatest love stories. There was Stan Laurel and there was Oliver Hardy, and they were each pretty fine. But together, when there is Laurel and Hardy, there is magic.
Watching the Laurel and Hardy Rarities collection from reelclassicdvd.com only confirmed this supposition. I don’t typically go in for these kind of rarities, but this is Stan and Ollie, and they are special. Now that we don’t have them any more, don’t have anything even remotely comparable, every scrap and fragment seems like a treasure. The story told by this collection of 5 rarities is instructive, kind of fascinating, and in the end, incredibly poignant.
Cupid’s Rival (1917)
Cupid’s Rival is little silent piece of fluff that features, but does not star, Oliver Hardy (billed as Babe Hardy). Ollie plays a starving artist living in a hotel. When he suspects his gal of cheating, he goes undercover as a woman to get to the bottom of things. The top billed star in Cupid’s Rival is Billy West, a shocking, yet pale, imitator of Charlie Chaplin. While Ollie comports himself in hilarious fashion, the most interesting thing is West’s faux-Chaplinisms. And with hindsight being 20/20, the absence of Stan is acute.
Eve’s Love Letters (1927)
In this short silent comedy, we get Stan sans Ollie. Laurel plays a butler who aides the lady of the house in retrieving her pre-marriage love letters from a blackmailer threatening to give them to her husband. Stan also goes drag in this flick – men dressing as ladies apparently the height of comedy in the silent era B-movie. This is a funny little film, but Stan just isn’t Stan. His helpless man-child persona is no where to be found, which is a good thing since caretaker Ollie isn’t around.
Tree in a Test Tube (1943)
Now, finally, we have our dynamic duo paired on screen in a true rarity. This is an odd ball little piece of film. It’s a propaganda film for wood, of all things, and it’s one of the only pieces of color film featuring Stan and Ollie. We see the pair on a quiet street, standing by a car, while an unseen narrator instructs the boys to empty their suitcase and explains that virtually everything in it is made of – you guessed it – wood! Despite the weird nature of the content, this is most definitely the Stan and Ollie we know and love.
Laurel and Hardy (1958)
This is a brief bit of soundless home movie footage of the boys very late in Ollie’s life, and it is shocking in it’s own way. Mere months before his death, Ollie is thin and barely recognizable. Until he turns on the high wattage smile and he’s unmistakably himself.
Stan Laurel Funeral (1965)
The collection closes with some soundless footage from the funeral of Stan Laurel. There are two things of note here. Dick Van Dyke is in attendance and the camera rather lovingly follows him about. The reason for this focus is shown in stark relief. I knew Van Dyke considered himself a protege of Stan’s and here, without sound and a slightly sad face, it’s clear that he took that role very seriously, He seems uncannily like Stan. And the other thing to look for – Buster Keaton’s there too. And yes, though he’s old, and at a funeral, and in no way being hammy, Buster’s still funny.