Not for the first time, Amazon have bundled reviews for two different DVD issues on the same page. This review refers to 20th Century Fox's three-disc collection including the feature films A-Haunting We will Go, The Dancing Masters and The Bullfighters.
Although their films at 20th Century Fox are widely regarded as the nadir of their career, A-Haunting We Will Go is definitely the best late Laurel and Hardy film. True, it may not stand comparison with even their weakest feature work with Hal Roach, but it's a pleasant little number that allows the boys some room to breathe even if they're at the mercy of scriptwriters rather than working with set pieces handcrafted by Stan. While the title may promise a ghost house comedy, instead it sees the boys run out of town after spending the night as guests of the local police and trying to earn their passage by accompanying a coffin to Dayton. Only the coffin doesn't contain a corpse but a live gangster trying to get out of town past the police, and it inadvertently gets swapped with a prop for Buffalo Bill lookalike Dante the Magician, who takes on the boys as assistants.
If the plot takes rather more setting up than it needs to, the film does provide plenty of room for the boys to throw in some extended set pieces, including a genuinely charming scene with stage phone booths and multiple Laurel and Hardys. There's an emphasis on Fred Sersen's special effects for some of these set pieces, but they're pretty decent effects and there's less of a feeling that the studio are trying to turn Stan and Ollie into their own Abbott and Costello than in earlier films like Great Guns. At times post-production editing leaves the odd slight continuity gap but for the most part this is a decent little comedy with a decent supporting cast, including Elisha Cook Jr., who makes a disturbingly convincing granny, as well as bit parts for Mantan Moreland as a waiter in a cameo improvised on the spot when he came to see the boys at work, Willie Best and a young Terry Moore among the children on the train.
The US NTSC Region 1 DVD includes a decent selection of extras: audio commentary by historian Scott McGillivray, a rare uncut print of their public information short film Tree in a Test Tube, some Movietone News footage and the original theatrical trailer and trailers for Jitterbugs and Great Guns. The Pal version has... er, a menu and that's it.
The Dancing Masters starts off with the ever-delightful sight of Stan and Ollie dancing, albeit separately as dancing teachers at the Arthur Hurry Dancing Academy, but sadly that's the only time they do in a very thin time filler. And it really does feel like they're marking time here, though the film does try the Marx Bros. MGM gambit of giving them a couple to help, and even throws in Marx Bros. straight woman Margaret Dumont without ever giving her much to do as well as an unbilled Robert Mitchum as a phoney insurance salesman in a plot strand that is quickly forgotten before being briefly revived for a flat bit of comic business involving a banana peel and promptly forgotten again. The finale is indicative of the general laziness, being so determined to get its heroes on a runaway bus that it doesn't create a remotely logical reason the driver didn't stop the engine before jumping off. It compounds the error by separating the two, having Ollie on the bus as it gets stuck on a rollercoaster in one of the special effects gags that the boys' Fox comedies seemed so fond of while cutting away to a bored Stan somehow getting pelted in a coconut shy. Even reworking material from their classic shorts does little more than show how much their spark is fading as the auction scene from Thicker than Water is replayed without much enthusiasm as if just to pad out the running time.
The print quality isn't great, with mild tramlines visible despite efforts to minimise them and a couple of breaks in the print, but again the US NTSC release has a good selection of extras: audio commentary by Scott McGillivray, the Ship's Reporter interview with Ollie promoting Utopia/Atoll K and newsreel footage of the boys 1932 tour in England and Scotland that will already be familiar to most fans, the original trailer and trailers for The Big Noise, Jitterbugs and Great Guns. The PAL version just has the films.
The Bullfighters was Laurel and Hardy's final film for 20th Century Fox after the studio decided to stop making B-pictures and concentrate only on A-pictures, and even to the very end, the studio were trying to turn Stan and Ollle into Bud and Lou, most notably in a tit for tat scene with raw eggs that plays so much more like an Abbott and Costello scene than a Laurel and Hardy one that you almost expect Stan to cry out "Hey, Abbott!" Perhaps more out of studio disinterest than anything more noble, Laurel was given more input behind the scenes, even directing a few scenes, yet despite rehashing some elements from earlier shorts and giving them more to do in the plot it starts off watchable but never really goes anywhere before fizzling out with an anticlimactic finale. A good neighbour comedy to play on the boys' popularity with Spanish-speaking audiences that sees Stan mistaken for a famous bullfighter while trying to avoid its promoter who has a very justifiable grudge against them, it's hard to root for them this time since their stupidity led to an innocent man spending five years in jail and having his life ruined. Still, there is a surreal final sight gag that harks back to the more morbid endings Stan Laurel wanted but rarely got in his Hal Roach years and one memorable bit part that sees Hank Worden get the best line in the picture.
Once again decent extras on the US NTSC version: audio commentary by Scott McGillivray, new featurette Laurel and Hardy - The Fox Years; giving a rather more upbeat view of the boys tenure at the studio than most film historians or fans would go along with, the original theatrical trailer; and trailers for The Big Noise, Jitterbugs and Great Guns. Nothing on the PAL version, though.