93 years ago, comedy legends Laurel and Hardy were paired together as a team for the first time. Since then, their movies have been shown, used, and reused, leading to damaged prints.
As of 2011, UCLA’s film and TV archives department, joined by motion picture curator Jeff Joseph/SabuCat and the Library of Congress, have been working to preserve some of these classic comedies. Full restorations of two Laurel and Hardy feature films and 17 shorts, along with over eight hours of bonus materials, are now available for the home viewer in the Kit Parker Films Blu-ray release, “Laurel & Hardy: The Definitive Restorations.” Combined with the very funny motion pictures themselves, the set is a real treat.
The four disc Blu-ray set, also available as a six DVD collection, consists of new 2K and 4K digital restorations from the original 35mm nitrate prints. The movies were photochemically restored from the initial film elements, and then digitally cleaned. So, these Laurel and Hardy films look the best they ever have.
In 2011, RHI Entertertainment released an extensive, 10 DVD box set titled “Laurel & Hardy: The Essential Collection.” The films looked and sounded very good, especially considering when they were made. But this Blu-ray set takes the quality up a notch.
Authors Randy Skretvedt (“Laurel and Hardy: The Magic Behind the Movies”) and Richard W. Bann (“Laurel and Hardy”, “The Little Rascals: The Life and Times of Our Gang”) provide very informative commentaries for each film in the Blu-rays on the second audio track.
“The Battle of the Century”
The title in the set creating a lot of buzz in the Laurel and Hardy fan community is the restored 1928 silent movie, “The Battle of the Century.” Making its video debut, the film’s been known for having one of the largest pie fight scenes in motion picture history. It’s said 3,000 pies were used in that climactic scene. For decades, the film only existed in fragments. The first reel of the 20 minute short subject was found in 1979. But the full second reel, missing for 60 years and featuring the famous pie fight, was only discovered five years ago by toxicologist and film historian Jon Mirsalis..
The first reel, in a sepia tone, features a boxing match between Laurel and “Thunderclap Callahan.” Lou Costello is seen in the crowd as an extra watching the bout. The second part has an insurance salesman sell Laurel a policy for five dollars. If Laurel gets hurt, he would get paid. So, Hardy hatches an idea for Laurel to slip on a banana peel on the sidewalk, then put in the insurance claim. Laurel walks around the peel, but a policeman falls after stepping on it. He hits Laurel on the head with his baton, causing a big bump, and Hardy thinks he could get $1,000 for that.
Meanwhile, a pie delivery man, holding a crate of the desserts, stumbles on the peel. The delivery man (Charlie Hall) shoves a pie in Hardy’s face. Hardy throws a pie at Hall, but mistakenly hits a woman getting into her car. This starts a chain reaction, and we have “pie-mageddon.”
The Two Feature Films
“Sons of the Desert” and “Way Out West”, two of the duo’s most popular feature films, also highlight the set. Both are barely over an hour in length (68 and 64 minutes long), and are well-paced.
“Sons of the Desert” is classic Laurel and Hardy with funny dialogue, physical gags, Hardy’s obnoxious brother-in-law character played well by Charley Chase, and more. The plot line is that Laurel and Hardy attend the Sons of the Desert fraternal organization’s convention in Chicago even after Mrs. Hardy tells her husband he’s not allowed to go. Hardy fakes an illness, with a doctor (actually a veterinarian) recommending that he recuperate by taking an ocean voyage, joined by Laurel, to Hawaii. It’s a ruse so The Boys can go to the convention together. But, trouble comes when the ship they supposedly were going to sail on sinks.
Gags in “Sons” including Laurel eating a piece of wax fruit at the Hardy residence, and making great, puzzled look expressions as he chews. When Mrs. Hardy finds out about this, she tells Ollie, “Oh, so that’s where it’s been going. That’s the third apple I’ve missed this week.” Later, Laurel takes Hardy’s temperature..Hardy asks him, “What does it say?” Laurel replies, “Wet and windy.” He’d taken Hardy’s temp. with a barometer. Also, climbing down a drainpipe in his pajamas at night leads Hardy to get even more wet by landing in a water barrel.
Additionally, the picture is a bit brighter and sharper, and the audio better on the Blu-ray versus the RHI DVD.
“Sons of the Desert” poster and Scene Still
“Way Out West” is set in the cowboy town of Brushwood Gulch. Laurel and Hardy travel to the city to deliver the deed for a goldmine inherited by a woman following the passing of her prospector father. Saloon owner Mickey Finn, played by frequent Laurel and Hardy foil James Finlayson (known for inspiring Homer Simpson’s “Doh!” exclamation) and his singer wife Lola Marcel (Sharon Lynn), conspire to get the deed. Rosina Lawrence, the teacher in several Our Gang/Little Rascals films, portrays Mary Roberts, the real heiress.
The movie contains Laurel and Hardy’s charming soft-shoe shuffle dance routine sequence as The Avalon Boys Quartet croon “At the Ball,That’s All.” Inside the saloon, Laurel and Hardy sing “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine.” A funny sequence has Laurel all of a sudden performing his part in a deep bass singing voice. Hardy gets a wooden mallet from the bartender, and hits Laurel on the head with it. Laurel then starts to sing in a woman’s soprano voice. Additionally, the movie contains the surrealistic gag of Laurel using his thumb as a lighter.
A nice tidbit Skredvedt mentions on the second audio track is that the actual 1937 rear projection footage in Laurel & Hardy’s dance scene was discovered by someone working on the 2018 “Stan and Ollie” feature film. It was then reused in an accurate recreation of the sequence eight decades later.
In 1975, a vinyl single of Laurel and Hardy ‘s “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine” was issued in the UK, 38 years following “Way Out West”’s release. The track went to number two in the singles chart. The only song to beat it out at the top spot was Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”