Laurel & Hardy

A few thoughts on ‘Stan and Ollie’

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“Will it be in black and white?” asked one teenage boy to his parents as we all queued to see STAN AND OLLIE. Judging from overheard conversations, he was just one of many who were about to have their introduction to the boys. It’s lovely that there were potential new fans in the audience; I crossed my fingers and hoped that the film would be up to the challenge.

Like many others, I had first greeted the news that a Laurel and Hardy biopic was to be made with some trepidation. Surely there would be lots of drama, lots of untruths and lots of scenes battling ex-wives. My fears eased a little as I heard more about the project, although I always feel a tiny bit peeved that these kind of films tend to focus on their stars’ fading years, rather than showing them in their prime. There’s more drama, more light and shade to be had that way, I guess

Sure enough, STAN AND OLLIE gets much pathos out of the boys’ waning years, but that pathos is genuine, and there’s a lot of warmth too. And, in the end, the decision to focus on later years makes sense as the tours were where their friendship really formed a special bond. It’s a bittersweet little film that really does come from a place of love and respect. Let’s get this straight, though; it is not a documentary. I can live with that. I don’t really care that they rolled tours that took place in 1947, 1952 and 1953 into one, that they might have swapped Morecambe for Worthing or added some small events that didn’t happen . Most of the attention to detail is astounding, and the essence of the boys’ situation is preserved, but this is storytelling, after all. Along the way, some of the supporting characters find themselves rather caricatured. The domineering and squabbling Ida Laurel and Lucille Hardy or the sleazily conning Bernard Delfont are slightly unfair portrayals, but are comically done and add a good dose of humour. I was glad that, as the film went on, the wives were allowed to become more three-dimensional in their relationships to the boys and each other.

I have more trouble with the portrayal of Hal Roach as a stereotypical Hollywood bully. While undoubtedly he held the boys’ contracts to his advantage, he wasn’t the villain he’s portrayed as. I suppose the point of the brief prologue is to set up how the boys got to their 50s situation, but it’s still rather unfair. The other bit that sticks out like a sore thumb is the infamous scene where the boys argue over Babe’s appearing without Stan in ZENOBIA. While I’m sure the team probably did have at least the odd, brief cross word in thirty years, the scene just doesn’t ring true. In fact, it plays exactly like what it is: a scripted attempt to make a moment of conflict and convenient soundbite for the trailer. Still, the fact that the worst fight the script writers could conjure involves no shouting and no bad language perhaps just goes to show how deep the two men’s friendship was. At least it’s over soon and quickly forgotten.

The fact that that the gentle love between Stan and Babe shines through in all of this is a credit to the performances. Steve Coogan and John C Reilly had a hell of a job to pull off such recognisable, loved characters, as well as their offstage personas. In my opinion, they do a terrific job on both counts. The makeup makes them real ringers for the real-life men, and they get the voices down very well indeed. There’s just the right mixture of regret and good humour in their acting, and Coogan does an excellent job of conveying Stan’s gentle air of English repression. As far as the onstage personas, Laurel’s abstract vagueness is always slightly harder to convey than Babe’s precise mannerisms. Coogan grasps the importance of Stan’s eyebrows, and generally gets his flailing movements right, if not quite 100%. A reprise of COUNTY HOSPITAL on-stage is a blast, and as the two do a double door routine in long shot, I really had to remind myself that I wasn’t watching the genuine article. It’s a new variation of an L & H routine, not an exact copy, but feels totally authentic.

It’s such attention to detail that really makes the film a joy. I particularly liked the little touches of 50s culture sprinkled through: the queen’s coronation, a skiffle band or a poster for ABBOTT & COSTELLO GO TO MARS, reminding us how far society had changed. The fact that Laurel and Hardy still made people laugh in the atomic age, so far from Model Ts and sunny California streets, reminds us why they are special, and still funny. If you asked me for a deep reason of why I love Laurel and Hardy beyond just laughing at them, I’d reply that their films, however unintentionally, speak deep truths about humanity, and the nature of friendship and love. The best compliment I can give STAN AND OLLIE is that it conveys much of the same.

 

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Silent Laughter 2018: programme revealed!

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It’s here! Straight from The Cinema Museum website, this is the programme for the 2018 Silent Laughter Weekend!

SATURDAY MARCH 10TH

10.00 The Night Club (1925)
A silent feature-length comedy starring Raymond Griffith, whose surviving films are few but which delight audiences at festivals around the world (as with his Paths to Paradise (1925) and Hands Up! (1926) at previous KB screenings). Contemporary critics made such comments as `Comedy along all lines from subtle wit, through burlesque to slapstick, and in every style he gets the laughs’ and `The picture is crammed with gags, most of them new’ … and with more than a nod towards Harold Lloyd’s Why Worry? (1923), shown at our comedy weekend last year. We defy anyone to see a connection between the title and the film! Introduced by Kevin Brownlow – who perhaps will explain!

11.30 The British are Coming!
Tony Fletcher introduces a selection of 1920s British comedies, including Adrian Brunel’s glorious spoof travelogue Crossing the Great Sagrada (1924), A.A. Milne’s Bookworms (1920) starring Leslie Howard, also Variety legend Leslie Sarony singing a comic song or two in a rare DeForest Phonofilm, one of the pioneering British-made talkies that predate Hitchcock’s Blackmail (1929).

13.00 LUNCH

14.00 Charley Chase
Charley ChaseMatthew Ross highlights the career of Charley Chase, a brilliant, influential and – at least until relatively recent years – overlooked comedian and director of the 1920s and 1930s. A master of both the sight gag and situational humour, this selection of prime Chase comedies will conclude with one of his funniest silent shorts.

15.35 A Perfect Gentleman (1928)
Monty Banks is perhaps best remembered today for having married (and directed) Gracie Fields, something which has unjustly eclipsed his career as a star comedian in shorts and features (his 1927 film Flying Luck opened our comedy day last November). In this, one of his best starring roles, Banks gets involved in tracking down a stolen fortune, his adventures culminating in a whirlwind, gag-filled climax at sea.

17.15 Keaton Classics
Following our 100th anniversary celebration of Buster Keaton’s film career in last November’s comedy day, we are delighted to present a programme of classic Keaton material. Noted Keaton authors David Robinson, Kevin Brownlow and David Macleod reveal their favourites and researcher Polly Rose illustrates some of her new discoveries about Buster’s 1924 feature Sherlock Jr.

18.45 Dinner

20.00 Exit Smiling (1926)
Exit SmilingRenowned stage comedienne Beatrice Lillie – a Canadian-born British star whose reputation spanned both continents – made regrettably few films. Fortunately one of these is the 1926 MGM feature Exit Smiling, produced and directed by one of Harold Lloyd’s key associates, Sam Taylor. `Bea’ Lillie – as she was often known – plays Violet, the dogsbody for a travelling theatrical troupe who harbours ambitions to act – or, as a title card informs us, has played `Nothing’ in Much Ado About Nothing! A true classic, introduced by Michelle Facey.

22.00 approx. Close

 

SUNDAY MARCH 11TH

10.00 Lame Brains and Lunatics
Lame Brains and Lunatics coverOur thanks to American author Steve Massa, who has selected some of the ‘good, the bad and the forgotten’ silent clowns from his book bearing the same title as this programme. Assisting his presentation from this side of the pond will be Dave Glass, to whom we also offer thanks. Can you afford to miss Al St.John, Toto, Marcel Perez or Paul Parrott? (Don’t answer that!)

11.35 Seven Years Bad Luck (1921)
After his early successes as a star of Pathé comedies in his native France, Max Linder made two forays into American film-making. Our recent Silent Laughter Saturday included examples from both visits, Max Wants a Divorce (1917) and Be My Wife (1921), the latter representing part of a series of features produced and directed personally by Linder. In Seven Years Bad Luck, perhaps the best of these, the fun starts when Max’s butler breaks a full-length mirror. Bad luck seemingly ensues as Max escapes the police, unwittingly hiding in a lion’s cage. In addition to Seven Years Bad Luck, the programme will include a recently discovered Max Linder short from 1910, Les Effects des Pilules. Introduced by David Robinson.

13.00 Lunch

14.00 Surprise Programme
A surprise programme of rare material hosted by award-winning editor and director Christopher Bird.

15.35 So You Won’t Talk (1935)
Monty BanksContinuing from yesterday’s screening of A Perfect Gentleman (1928), here’s a chance to see silent comedian Monty Banks in a rarely-shown British talkie – except he doesn’t talk (mostly!). In what may have been a means of translating his silent comedy methods into the talkie era, the plot sees Banks becoming weary of all the chatter surrounding him and, in order to win a bet, guaranteeing not to talk. Cue lots of silent comedy as complications ensue …

17.15 Noisy Silents
Some silent comedies have always looked as though they were intended to have soundtracks, even though none were provided at the time; these examples, including films starring Harry Langdon, Our Gang and Laurel and Hardy will be provided with the extra sound accompaniment we feel they need – in the final case, we hope, by the audience. Hosted by musician and composer Neil Brand.

18.45 Dinner

20.00 Roy Hudd
Roy HuddWe are delighted to welcome comedian, actor and writer Roy Hudd, who will be in conversation with former News Huddlines writer – and Kennington Bioscope regular – Glenn Mitchell. As with their previous shows at the Cinema Museum, Roy and Glenn will be discussing and screening clips of great comedians from film, theatre and television. This time the emphasis is expected to be on essentially visual humour … but we’ll wait and see what they come up with!

21.45 Roy Hudd talk concludes with   the newly restored Battle of the Century (1927), starring Laurel and Hardy, and the pie fight to end all pie fights!

22.00 approx. Close

 

Tickets & Pricing

Weekend Ticket £30 / One Day £18 / After 2pm £12. These are available online from Ticket Tailor.

More Laurel & Hardy on Talking Pictures: February showings

Oh, Talking Pictures TV, where would we classic film fans be without you? It’s been so long since I switched the TV on and came upon a black and white film by chance. Best of all, it’s not just repeats of BRIEF ENCOUNTER or THE LAVENDER HILL MOB (I love both those films, but c’mon, FIlm4, there are many others to choose from!)

Now available on Freeview too (channel 81), the schedules for TPTV just keep getting better and better, as they’ve expanded into a wider range of films. Notably, they returned Laurel & Hardy to TV screens for the first time in years last Autumn. Now they’re having a season of L & H shorts, too.

Here are upcoming screenings:

Sat 03 Feb 18 17:35 Below Zero
Sun 04 Feb 18 14:05 Oliver the Eighth
Sun 04 Feb 18 20:20 The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case
Wed 07 Feb 18 11:15 County Hospital
Wed 07 Feb 18 13:35     Brats
Wed 07 Feb 18 20:15 Laughing Gravy
Sun 11 Feb 18 9:20 The Music Box
Mon 12 Feb 18 17:35 Helpmates
Sat 17 Feb 18 9:35 Busy Bodies
Sun 18 Feb 18 9:35 Tit for Tat
Sun 18 Feb 18 19:50 Saps At Sea
Sat 24 Feb 18 9:20 The Music Box
Sun 25 Feb 18 9:20 Laughing Gravy
Tue 27 Feb 18 18:00 Towed In A Hole
Sat 03 Mar 18 9:25 Towed In A Hole
Sun 04 Mar 18 9:35 Them Thar Hills
Sun 04 Mar 18 20:30 Oliver the Eighth
Sun 04 Mar 18 4:20 The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case

Bravo, Talking Pictures! This is only the tip of the iceberg though. This month’s schedule incudes lots more seldom-seen-on-TV comedies, from Peter Sellers, Jack Hulbert, Alastair Sim, Flanagan & Allen and even British silent clown Walter Forde! Find full listings here: http://talkingpicturestv.co.uk/schedule/