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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars WELL WORTH THE WAIT (but Jerry Lewis' commentary is revisionist nonsense)!!, 17 Nov. 2011
This review is from: Laurel & Hardy: The Essential Collection [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] (DVD)
I've been viewing the new Laurel & Hardy discs at length, and comparing them to the laserdiscs and the UK PAL set with an analytical eye. My verdict is a resounding "thumbs up" in all departments. The only real drawback is the absence of the silent classics. (These may well be on their way, in a future companion set.) I'm not exactly impartial in these matters. I guess I've derived more pleasure from Laurel & Hardy than from any other movie personalities in history. Their charm never seems to fade - for me, anyway.

The films themselves - all from the Hal Roach Library and long cherished by at least three generations of fans - surely need no further validation. Owning them in uncut, restored editions has been a lifelong dream for devotees all over the world. Some of the early shorts, particularly NIGHT OWLS, BRATS and ONE GOOD TURN, are only marginally improved. (Apparently the original elements are in pretty bad shape. As with the Chaplin Keystones and Essanays, the producers did the best restoration possible with the prints available.) But most are pristine, comparatively; it's like watching them for the first time.

In addition to ALL the talkie shorts and most of the features (more about that later), you also get some rare foreign language versions. These fascinating oddities often feature gags and business not seen in the more familiar domestic releases, and I STRONGLY encourage fans not to skip them. Who knew, for instance, that POLITIQUERIAS (CHICKENS COME HOME) included priceless footage of Hardy ballroom dancing, and singing in Spanish - as well as an extended magic act with a Spanish-speaking James Finlayson? Even better, statuesque Anita Garvin ("Mrs. Laurel" in BE BIG and BLOTTO) is even more smoking hot when she's speaking French (in LES CAROTTIERS)! More rarities: both LAUGHING GRAVY and PARDON US include "lost" outtake footage deleted from the North American theatrical releases. (The former features a bonus alternate ending, and the latter adds a lengthy sequence where Stan and Ollie rescue June "Miss Crabtree" Marlowe from a burning building.) Wisely, the set does not waste valuable space by including "colorized" versions.

Due to vagaries of copyright ownership, some features in the canon are missing from the set: FRA DIAVOLO, BONNIE SCOTLAND, BABES IN TOYLAND, The FLYING DEUCES (not a Roach production) and HOLLYWOOD PARTY. However, ALL of these are readily available on DVD from other sources. There's a 10th disc with miscellaneous items, including the team's cameo appearances with Charley Chase, Our Gang and Thelma Todd/ZaSu Pitts - but it doesn't include The STOLEN JOOLS. An "extras" feature takes the viewer on a tour of L&H shooting locations around modern Los Angeles, including the iconic MUSIC BOX steps in Silver Lake. (All true L&H buffs in America have made at least one pilgrimage there!)

This last disc also features appreciative commentaries by Dick Van Dyke, Penn & Teller (the latter is characteristically silent), Tim Conway, Chuck McCann, Super Dave Osborne and - perhaps unfortunately - Jerry Lewis. One major quibble with the Lewis interview is his bizarre "when Laurel met Hardy" story which, as many fans have pointed out, is pure science fiction. No one can dispute Lewis' megawatt talent, but he seems to have gone a bit dotty lately. Lewis loves Laurel but basically dismisses Hardy, claiming he was a "construction worker" on the lot when Stan saw him one day and asked Roach if he could "use" him. Of course, this is complete drivel. Oliver Hardy had a long and versatile career in silent films prior to the teaming, appearing in literally hundreds of comedies - as heavies and/or comic foils, in "character" parts, etc. His film roles stretch back to 1914, even preceding Laurel's 1917 screen debut. (Hardy had even been teamed before - in a series of "Plump and Runt" comedies with Billy Ruge.) These films are not only documented, but many still survive. It may be news to Jerry Lewis, but Hardy was already an established comedy veteran by the time he arrived at Roach, as any film historian could easily attest.

In Jerry's defense, he MAY have been thinking of Charlie Hall - who actually DID do carpentry work on the Roach lot between supporting roles, to supplement his income. I'm guessing - I don't know this - but it's entirely possible that Stan "discovered" Hall, sensing some comic potential in his diminutive but feisty persona. (The L&H creative team, which once featured director Leo McCarey, was always looking for fresh new foils - since Finlayson and Edgar Kennedy were in such high demand elsewhere on the lot.) Perhaps Laurel relayed the anecdote about Hall, and Jerry Lewis simply got confused. Like I said, I don't really know for sure. Charlie Hall is SO good that it's hard to believe he was just a day laborer who inadvertently happened to be effective onscreen.

L&H fans are understandably upset by Lewis' belittling implication that Oliver Hardy was some amateur that Stan trained, like a monkey. Make no mistake; Hardy is brilliant. No less an authority than John Cleese considers Hardy one of the best, if not THE best American screen comic. Stan Laurel himself revered Hardy, listing him second only to Chaplin. Laurel was indisputably the creative genius behind the scenes, but Hardy was (arguably) a shade the more nuanced performer. (That's open to debate, of course. I agree with William K. Everson, who believed it was ultimately pointless to compare the two.) Jerry Lewis considers himself Stan's protege, and is fiercely loyal to him. That's entirely understandable, even commendable - but it doesn't give him the right to rewrite history.
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Location: Sherman Oaks, California USA

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