DVD sales have experienced a slowdown recently, as increasingly savvy
consumers — emboldened by the convenience and abundance of choice
offered by both discount retailers and Netflix and similar rental and
DVD-sharing web sites — realize they no longer have to shell out a $30
list price to add their favorite movies to a home collection. While the
insatiable sales engine for contemporary titles stalls, though, the
real value of the format is hearteningly explored in releases like
Warner Bros.’ TCM Archives: Laurel and Hardy Collection and 20th Century Fox’s similarly titled The Laurel and Hardy Collection, part of its Cinema Classics line.
paired up in the silent era of the 1920s while both were under contract
to impresario Hal Roach, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy made over 100
full-length features and shorts together, surviving the transition to
talkies to become even greater stars during the Great Depression of the
1930s, when audiences more than ever craved and needed escapist
entertainment. The success of their collaborations can likely be traced
to the fact that their irresistible antics were always underscored by
an indomitable sense of optimism. Audiences laughed, sure, but also
felt a draft of uplift. That sanguinity helps explain the enduringness
of their work.
TCM Archives: Laurel and Hardy Collection debuts 1933’s The Devil’s Brother and 1935’s Bonnie Scotland,
which imports the pair’s anarchic slapstick to England and finds them
joining His Majesty’s Service to do manly battle on the frontier of
India. Introductions by Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne and
audio commentary tracks on both films by film critics and historians
Richard W. Bann and Leonard Maltin boost their contextual value and
stand alongside segments from such classics as Hollywood Party and Pick a Star, but the best inclusion here may just be Added Attractions: The Hollywood Shorts Story.
Narrated by Chevy Chase, this feature-length documentary frames Laurel
and Hardy’s work alongside that of the Little Rascals and the Three
Stooges, among others.
The Laurel and Hardy Collection, meanwhile, collects World War II-era flicks from the duo’s work at 20th Century Fox, including Jitterbugs, The Big Noise and Great Guns.
The latter, directed by Monty Banks, finds the duo back in the Army,
this time playing a chauffeur and gardener whose hypochondriac employer
(Dick Nelson) gets drafted and takes them along for the ride. The best
of the three, 1943’s Jitterbugs, stars Laurel and Hardy as a
traveling two-man band who operate out of a dilapidated jalopy and form
an unlikely partnership with a likeable con man (Bob Bailey) that in
turn leads to a liaison with a sweet singer, Susan (knockout Vivian
Blaine). The Big Noise, meanwhile, casts the pair as detective
agency janitors accidentally mistaken for super sleuths and hired to
protect a secret bomb. Still photo galleries, audio commentary tracks
from author Randy Skretvedt, Fox Movietone news reels and theatrical
trailers help root the work, and the documentary The Revenge of the Sons of the Desert is also included on The Big Noise.
Qualitatively, TCM Archives: Laurel and Hardy Collection gets a slight nod over The Laurel and Hardy Collection,
if only because of the quality of the films themselves. But each of
these releases is a great leap into cinema’s rich past, and points up
the reward of searching past the new releases section at your local
video store or retailer. B (Movies) A- (Discs)