Saturday, September 16, 2023

LAUREL & HARDY: YEAR ONE On Blu-ray From Flicker Alley


This two-disc set will no doubt wind up on my top five home video releases of 2023. LAUREL & HARDY: YEAR ONE contains 15 silent short subjects, each one featuring Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. What's notable here is that this set shows the beginnings of the Laurel & Hardy partnership. 

It was 1927 at the Hal Roach studios that Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy began to be cast together on a number of comedy two-reelers. It still took awhile for the duo to be branded as an official comedy team, and this set presents that process, as the two men move from just happening to be in the same film, to being antagonists, to finally becoming the Stan & Ollie we know and love. 

All of the short subjects presented here have been painstakingly restored. For years, many of the shorts were not available in any having them all together in a major Blu-ray set, with all sorts of extras, is an important event. 

The 15 shorts will be an intriguing revelation to L & H fans who have never seen them before. Even in the entries where Stan & Ollie are basically a team, their characters are still a bit different than what audiences are used to. The shorts themselves are also a bit different from what Hal Roach fans will expect. The Roach comedies of the 1930s were known for characterization and story situations rather than wild gags and slapstick. These 15 shorts have all sorts of madcap goings-on, with characters constantly running about and plenty of physical action. 

There's plenty of debate on what the first "real" Laurel & Hardy comedy is--for my money it is DO DETECTIVES THINK?--but the other candidates for that honor are here as well, such as DUCK SOUP and THE SECOND 100 YEARS. In my opinion the best short on this set is THE BATTLE OF THE CENTURY, which starts out as a boxing satire, but then becomes the movie pie fight to end all movie pie fights. The very first film that Laurel and Hardy appeared together in, THE LUCKY DOG, is also included. This was made years before they started working together for Hal Roach. 

L & H fans will find plenty of familiar faces among the supporting players in these shorts, with appearances by favorites such as James Finlayson, Mae Busch, Anita Garvin, and Charlie Hall. A few of the shorts on this set were photographed by George Stevens, and some of them were supervised by Leo McCarey, the man who many give credit for coming up with the idea of making Laurel & Hardy an official team. 

What really makes this set stand out are the extras. There's a 36 page illustrated booklet included with the set, which contains all sorts of detail on each short, including the now-lost film HATS OFF! The booklet also has a short history on Blackhawk Films, and an article by Serge Bromberg, who produced this set. 

Bromberg also hosts a short featurette on the restoration of the included films, and there's a video essay by historian John Bengston on some of the shooting locations used in the shorts. There are image galleries for each short, along with a special still presentation on the lost HATS OFF! Each short also has an informative audio commentary by L & H expert Randy Skrevedt (THE BATTLE OF THE CENTURY also has a commentary by Serge Bromberg). 

Before the beginning of each short, there is a text explaining the various elements involved in restoring the film. Because of the multiple elements used, the picture quality varies at times throughout the set....but the important thing here is that these shorts are available period. None of the shorts are in what I would call a horrible condition, and they all have new scores. (Some of the shorts have alternate music tracks from French re-releases in the 1930s.) The discs are coded for Regions A,B, and C. 

This is an absolutely magnificent set, and it's also a major event in movie preservation. All of the Laurel & Hardy sound films are available in one form or another, but now their silent work gets some much needed attention. I had never seen any of the films on this set, but I had read about them years ago in various books about Laurel & Hardy. (Ironically, at the time those books were written, many of the silent shorts were still considered lost.) I'm hoping that there will be a LAUREL & HARDY: YEAR TWO set in the near future. Randy Skretvedt, Serge Bromberg, and everyone at Flicker Alley deserve as much praise as possible for this set.  

1 comment:

  1. Yes....finally these are out. Already have the silents on bootleg tapes from 20 years ago. Been waiting forever for these. And yes, if and when a "Year Two" set comes out, it will make it to the collection here.