For two decades, most of the famous films of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy have been off the video market, thanks to apathetic handling by the company then holding the rights. Now, finally, the rights have reverted to knowledgeable hands, and that means the boys are back.
This 10-disc set includes most of Laurel & Hardy's talkie shorts and features produced by Hal Roach between 1929 and 1940. These are among the funniest comedies ever made, as many vintage-film buffs will agree. Laurel & Hardy were often capable of carrying the action almost entirely by themselves: BRATS has Stan and Ollie as themselves and their own sons (with giant sets and trick photography); THE MUSIC BOX is the Oscar-winning featurette with the boys as the world's worst piano movers; HELPMATES has Stan helping Ollie to clean house after a wild party; THEIR FIRST MISTAKE has our heroes adopting a baby; TOWED IN A HOLE has them rehabbing a boat; BUSY BODIES turns them loose in a carpentry shop. You'll see dozens of examples of how inventive they were with pantomime and dialogue. Their short subjects were so successful that they branched out into full-length features, including their famous hits WAY OUT WEST and SONS OF THE DESERT, the prison comedy PARDON US, the "gypsy" comedy THE BOHEMIAN GIRL, the hour-of-sight-gags BLOCK-HEADS and SAPS AT SEA, and several others, including both versions of A CHUMP AT OXFORD (the standard 63-minute print of 1940, and the 42-minute, differently edited "streamliner" released in 1943). The supporting casts read like a who's-who of familiar faces: Edgar Kennedy, Billy Gilbert, Charlie Hall, James Finlayson, Mae Busch, Anita Garvin, Walter Long, Harry Bernard, Eddie Dunn, Daphne Pollard, and a host of others. You'll be laughing through 58 L & H comedies.
The wonderful news about this set is that the DVDs have been remastered in high definition, from the original surviving 35mm film elements. They are NOT taken from RHI's tape transfers that aired on AMC in the 1990s, or the broadcast masters prepared in 1986 for TV's "Laurel & Hardy Show" (some of which are still playing on TCM, and often in shortened form). The DVD producers went back to the source materials, meaning that the vintage Laurel & Hardy comedies have never looked or sounded better. The DVD producers have taken some pains with the restoration: picture and sound have been cleaned up digitally; most of the subjects feature the attractive, seldom-seen original titles; and even individual shots cut short in current prints have been restored to their original lengths.
In the early days of sound films, before the advent of voice dubbing, some American producers made international versions of their films, with the actors speaking each foreign language phonetically. Laurel & Hardy made several of these multilingual versions, and seven of them are included in this set. These versions offer some surprises, with many of the "American" gags extended, and even some entirely new scenes unique to the continental prints.
This set differs from the European 21-disc set in that the silent films and the colorized TV editions have been omitted, which cuts the disc space down to a manageable and economical 10 discs. The total running time averages out to a little over three hours per disc, perhaps not the ideal compression rate but about par for the "double-feature" DVDs on the market today.
The set also includes some two hours of bonus features, of special interest to Laurel & Hardy admirers. THE TREE IN A TEST TUBE is gorgeous, in excellent color, and appears to be a first-generation video copy from the U. S. Government source (except for the main title, the source print appears to be uncirculated). The team makes cameo appearances in ON THE LOOSE, ON THE WRONG TREK, and WILD POSES, and all three shorts are included in their entirety.
Print quality on the titles I've seen is superior to any previous video release. For a sample, I went straight to the traditionally battered and bruised titles to check the quality. COME CLEAN, which is usually seen in murky, contrasty prints, is here in much-improved condition, from 35mm with the original main titles. PARDON US, the boys' first feature, is the longer, pre-release preview print, with original main titles and in much better shape than usual (the song "Lazy Moon" has none of the patchwork repairs we're used to seeing). THEIR FIRST MISTAKE is seen at last with the full, original title sequence intact. HOG WILD has usually been seen in slightly soft focus; the video version is an improvement. Keep in mind that some of these 58 comedies won't look like they were photographed yesterday because the negatives have been consulted far more often than is customary. Theatrical reissues, TV revivals, and home-movie reprints have caused the 35mm materials to be run through printing machines again and again over the years, with wear and tear showing in the copies. It is a tribute to the DVD producers that they found and used superior archival materials for this set, and many of the "shopworn" subjects have been upgraded.
Collectors will appreciate many new versions of old favorites. PERFECT DAY is seen in its familiar 1936 form, and (surprise!) in its original 1929 form without the music track. BRATS is also seen with alternate music tracks (but curiously, the "1930" version has vintage-1937 reissue titles, even though the original titles are known to exist). PACK UP YOUR TROUBLES is the longer, original-release print; it includes some unpleasant domestic-abuse scenes that were removed for reissue, but it also includes a longer version of the "Three Bears" bedtime-story sequence.
Bottom line: this long-awaited release is the best boxed set of comedies offered in years. Ideal for family viewing, and these timeless classics can be enjoyed over and over again. Laurel & Hardy are true masters, and you won't be disappointed.
UPDATE: Here's a list of the actual content, as reported by Lou Lumenick for the New York Post:
UNACCUSTOMED AS WE ARE 1929
BERTH MARKS 1929
MEN O' WAR 1929
PERFECT DAY 1929 [original 1929 track]
PERFECT DAY 1936 [reissue with musical score]
THEY GO BOOM 1929
THE HOOSE-GOW 1929
NIGHT OWLS 1930
LADRONES (Night Owls, Spanish) 1930
LA VIDA NOCTURNA (Blotto, Spanish) 1930
BRATS 1937 [reissue, new LeRoy Shield musical score]
BRATS 1930 [original score of stock jazz-band records]
BELOW ZERO 1930
TIEMBLA Y TITUBEA (Below Zero, Spanish) 1930
HOG WILD 1930
THE LAUREL-HARDY MURDER CASE 1930
NOCHE DE DUENDES (The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case & Berth Marks, Spanish) 1930
ANOTHER FINE MESS 1930
BE BIG! 1931
CHICKENS COME HOME 1931
POLITIQUERIAS (Chickens Come Home, Spanish) 1931
LAUGHING GRAVY 1931
LES CAROTTIERS (Feature: Be Big! & Laughing Gravy, French) 1931
LOS CALAVERAS (Feature: Be Big! & Laughing Gravy, Spanish) 1931
OUR WIFE 1931
PARDON US (Feature, extended version) 1931
COME CLEAN 1931
ONE GOOD TURN 1931
BEAU HUNKS 1931
ANY OLD PORT 1932
THE MUSIC BOX 1932
THE CHIMP 1932
COUNTY HOSPITAL 1932
PACK UP YOUR TROUBLES (Feature) 1932
THEIR FIRST MISTAKE 1932
TOWED IN A HOLE 1933
TWICE TWO 1933
ME AND MY PAL 1933
THE MIDNIGHT PATROL 1933
BUSY BODIES 1933
DIRTY WORK 1933
SONS OF THE DESERT (Feature) 1933
OLIVER THE EIGHTH 1934
GOING BYE-BYE! 1934
THEM THAR HILLS 1934
THE LIVE GHOST 1934
TIT FOR TAT 1935
THE FIXER UPPERS 1935
THICKER THAN WATER 1935
THE BOHEMIAN GIRL (Feature) 1936
OUR RELATIONS (Feature) 1936
WAY OUT WEST (Feature) 1937
SWISS MISS (Feature) 1938
BLOCK-HEADS (Feature) 1938
A CHUMP AT OXFORD (42 min.) 1940
A CHUMP AT OXFORD (Feature, 63 min.) 1940
SAPS AT SEA (Feature) 1940
A Tribute to Laurel & Hardy
On Location with the Boys: tour of set locations and interactive map
Laurel & Hardy Guest Appearances
Laurel & Hardy Trailers