A site of satirical musings, commentary and/or rhetorical criticism of the world at large.

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Sunday, March 17, 2019

Sunday Morning Post (V.1; #8): Stan and Ollie

The 1950s were not kind to the comedy icons of Hollywood’s Golden Era.  The old guard was aging rapidly; their bodies could no longer withstand the rigors of slapstick comedy.  At least one, Chaplin, grappled with the psychological realization that he was no longer reaching his audience.  This led to the creation of his artistic triumph, Limelight, even as his perceived political views and private sexual escapades exiled him from America. 
Worse still was the growing phenomenon known as television.  This newfangled invention made stars of a new generation of comedians, Berle and Gleason.  Many of the older folk adapted as best they could, but ultimately their time was passing in front of their eyes.

Enter Stan and Ollie as they embark on a stage tour of the United Kingdom, biding their time while a producer raises funding for their next film.  Nothing goes as planned: the tour nearly fizzles, the team parts ways for a time, and the film financing never materializes.  With no future gigs, the team makes the best of what we now know, and they slowly realize during the tour that this will be Stan and Ollie’s last hurrah.

The film largely introduces the private side of these two comedians to the public for the first time.  Both men have multiple marriages in their past, and Ollie spends a bit too much of his salary at the races.  These facts were long known to the most devoted film historians, but not to many others who cared only enough to laugh at their characters on the screen.

Laurel is clearly the leader.  He is always “on”, even in private.  A quick ready wit was his choice of weaponry against the absurdities of the world.  Stan uses it to diffuse any number of tense situations, regardless if his audience is only a receptionist preventing from seeing a film producer, or a room full of reception attendees witnessing Stan and Ollie’s very public breakup.  Even when Laurel is not on, his mind is forever thinking up new routines for himself and his partner.  This continued long after Hardy’s death in 1957; a practical endeavor, but it demonstrated Laurel’s realization that he could not go on without his partner by his side.

Make no mistake: both men were immensely talented on their own.  Hardy could be a wonderful foil for any number of top billed clowns in the silent era.  Likewise, Laurel had a good career before meeting Hardy (This reminds me to plead: can someone, anyone, put the extant fragment of Laurel’s When Knights Were Cold on DVD or YouTube?  Please?)  Ah, but together, the magic happened.  The routines and jokes flowed effortlessly.

Together they were more of a team on stage, behaving like an old married couple off stage.  Laurel knows exactly how Ollie takes his tea, and has no compunction about sitting up in bed with his partner to keep him warm. 

Ollie always deferred to Laurel in comedy matters.  He always looked to his partner to verify what his next move should be. Indeed, when Stan breaks the bad news that their new film won’t be made, their exchange turns into one of their routines of who knew what first.  Perhaps it is Ollie diffusing the tension this time when he asks Stan, “What’s my next line?”

Stan and Ollie is not as depressing as I am making it out to be.  True there are poignant moments when Stan realizes the end for himself and his partner are near.  The most memorable shot has Stan turning the street corner walking home from the meeting where he learned their precious Robin Hood project would not come to fruition, and confronting a huge poster advertising the latest Abbott and Costello film.  It is also laden with irony:  Abbott and Costello were another team who were also on the wane at that time, but had not realized that yet.

Stan and Ollie hit all the right emotional buttons: sadness, comedy, tragedy, all wrapped up in a nice affectionate bouquet to one of the world’s long beloved comedy acts.  Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly are marvelous and very convincing as the leads.  Yes, this is the same Reilly who played a corrupt cop in Scorsese’s Gangs Of New York and more recently a worthy team mate for Will Ferrell. 

The gentlemen’s performances are matched by Shirley Henderson as the loving, devoted, arguably over-protective Lucille Hardy, and Nina Arianda as the equally devoted and protective of her man, Ida Laurel. 

The film shows the team reprising their best bits, even with the melancholy tone of one last time hanging over them.  No matter, it is fun to watch again even if it is not the originals, but a pair of modern impersonators perpetuating the wonderfulness of the golden comedy era. 

We’ve long laughed at their public displays; now we have glimpsed their private struggles.  Again, no matter.  We no longer think of them in the formal as biographer John McCabe’s Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy.   To us, they have always been and always will be just Stan and Ollie.

(Thank you for reading.  So much for “…another fine mess!”)


Blogger Debra She Who Seeks said...

Yes, I've heard very good things about this film -- thanks for confirming it with your review! I'm looking forward to seeing it.

March 17, 2019 at 12:12 PM  
Blogger Raybeard said...

I think I've learnt at least as much from your words here as I did from the marvellous film you review. The film is both hugely entertaining in its own right as well as being informative on an aspect of the couple rarely depicted which, though written about, will doubtlessly reach a larger audience through this film. I hope you've convinced any waverers who were undecided whether to make the effort to see this that they're sure to be rewarded - and for any of L & H's admirers, it surely is a 'must'. The film is bound to keep their memory for as long as they deserve, much longer than, say, Abbot and Costello who many will now be saying "Who?" - but let that never happen to our beloved Ollie and Stan.
Your post does the film credit. Thanks.

Btw: To add a sour note on the side, didn't John C. Reilly just win the 'Golden Raspberry' award for his 'Holmes & Watson' with Will Ferrell? As well as that film (which I never saw though I did get the chance) 'winning' 'worst picture', 'worst director' and 'worst rip-off, sequel' etc). Makes me wish I'd seen it now. But J.C.Reilly usually is a consummate actor, so good as 'Mr Cellophane' in 'Chicago'. I remember him too especially in 'Carnage', 'The Lobster' and countless others where he's really good.

March 17, 2019 at 12:17 PM  
Blogger Deedles said...

I think I'll watch this when it comes to television. I like biographies and John C. Reilly. However, I've never cared for Laurel & Hardy. Didn't like the Marx Bros., Charlie Chaplin, W.C, Fields, the Little Rascals either. They just aren't funny to me. Maybe it's a cultural thing. I don't know, but I do like reading, or watching the life stories of such ones.

March 17, 2019 at 12:32 PM  
Blogger Dave R said...

Sad to say, but this never played in Harrisburg, not even in our one 'art' house.

March 17, 2019 at 3:46 PM  
Blogger todd gunther said...

Hi Debra, hope you get to see it soon. Although I think it is suppose to be released on DVD in a few weeks.

Thank you Raybeard. Actually, I think John C. had a good winter: Ralph Wrecks the Internet in November; Holmes and Watson in December; and Stan and Ollie in January. Two out of three ain't bad....

Hi Deedles. It could be a cultural thing. Historically L&H did not do well with female audiences because women were either portrayed as villains, vamps, and/or shrews. To each his own.

Sorry it didn't play near you, Dave R. I thought we nearly missed it ourselves. Anyway it is supposed to be available on DVD in a few weeks.

March 19, 2019 at 6:37 PM  

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