10 Great Laurel and Hardy Movies to Watch Before Stan & Ollie
While Laurel and Hardy need no introduction as even today, they remain instantly recognizable: the big guy with the tiny mustache and the little guy with the vacuous expression, both wearing bowler hats that could fit a little bit better.
With the release of Stan & Ollie it will hopefully bring rise to more consumers discovering the story of these two memorable comic geniuses.
Laurel and Hardy’s films haven’t been TV staples in decades and the best of them didn’t arrive on DVD until 2011, as the format was waning in popularity. Currently, you can stream some on Prime Video and many are on YouTube in copyright-skirting uploads of wildly variable quality. (And, please stay away from any colorized versions.) The best legitimate source remains the expansive (and expensive) ten-disc DVD set Laurel & Hardy: The Essential Collection, which collects almost all of the sound-era shorts and features that the duo shot for Hal Roach Studios between 1929 and 1940. But however you watch Laurel and Hardy, you’ll find a wealth of comedy that’s as funny today as it ever was. Below, are a few greatest hits to get you started.
The Second Hundred Years (1927)
Neither Stan Laurel nor Oliver Hardy was new to the entertainment business when producer Hal Roach teamed them up in 1927. The English Laurel had been part of the same acting troupe that produced Charlie Chaplin, even serving as Chaplin’s understudy for a bit. Hardy, a Georgia native known to his friends as “Babe,” had worked in vaudeville and came to Hollywood after making some films in Florida. They’d both been in the film business for a while, and even appeared in one short together years before becoming a team in 1927. It took a few films to work out the kinks, but The Second Hundred Years finds the familiar Stan and Ollie characters starting to take shape. Both sport alarmingly short crew cuts and at one point Stan actually has a good idea, but the chemistry is clearly in place as they play a pair of cellmates who break out of jail only to end up right back where they started. Also worth a look from this same nascent period: Battle of the Century, a lost-then-found short featuring the pie fight to end all pie fights.
Big Business (1929)
The most famous of the team’s silent films finds them traveling to the suburbs of Los Angeles trying, and failing, to sell Christmas trees. The day goes from bad to worse when they anger a reluctant customer (frequent Laurel and Hardy foil Jimmy Finlayson), leading to an escalating battle that leaves the customer’s home in shambles and Stan and Ollie’s business in ruins. It’s one of the best examples of a formula that the team would turn to again and again: introducing chaos to a situation and watching as things spin out of control.
That’s not to suggest that the team always stuck to formula. This weird, inventive short finds the boys trying to play checkers while tending to their misbehaving sons, also played by Laurel and Hardy, an effect achieved through a combination of special effects and oversize sets. The duo became beloved by sticking to their distinct, instantly recognizable personas. Laurel played the dunce, a sweet, easily befuddled, generally good-natured fellow who cried easily and scratched his head in dismay a lot. Hardy played his blustering, bossy companion, who fancied himself smarter than his pal but didn’t do much to prove it — which didn’t stop him from shooting priceless “Can you believe what I have to put up with?” glances at the camera years before Jim Halpert was born. The familiar approach made them stars, but they occasionally looked for ways to break out of it by playing their own doubles. (See also Our Relations, in which they co-star with themselves as “Alf” and “Bert.”) Here they use the opportunity to run wild, quarreling, refusing to go to sleep, and generally making a mess of things. It starts funny and gets funnier while offering the rare chance to see Stan and Ollie on the receiving end of others’ destructive tendencies.
Laurel and Hardy would still be remembered as being among the best of the silent-comedy teams even if they’d never made it into the sound era, but the introduction of sound gave them tools they never would have found otherwise: the contrast between Laurel’s English accent and Hardy’s gentlemanly drawl; Laurel’s malapropisms and uncontrollable sobs; Hardy’s agonized howls of pain. All are on display in this brilliantly simple short in which Ollie has to clean up his home on short notice when his wife announces her early return from a trip. He enlists Stan’s help and, to put it mildly, this proves to be a poor decision. Laurel and Hardy made more conceptually ambitious shorts than Helpmates, but anyone looking for the quintessence of what made the team work need look no further.
(Excerpt) Read More at: Vulture.com