Tuesday, November 13, 2007

LAUREL AND HARDY, FINALLY

laurelandhardy

It seems inconcievable to me that this little blog has been chugging along for upwards of four months without a proper entry on Laurel and Hardy, my first favorite comedy team and, forty years after I first saw them, the ones that have truly stood the test of time. Perhaps there is too much to say. And perhaps I haven't really anything in particular to add--they haven't exactly been ignored by filmgoers and critics in the years since their demise.

Let's keep it simple and begin with two clips from one of their earliest sound movies, "Men O' War." (In retrospect, it seems odd to imagine that there were silent L&H movies--their voices were so much a part of their characters and the pacing of their films seems antithetical to the silent comedy ethos). Yet there exist a number of silents L&H's--none of which, I have to confess, I find satisfactory, precisely because the pacing is too fast and I miss the voices. When talkies took over, many theaters were not yet equipped to play them, so alternate versions--sound and silent--were produced for the first batch of "crossover" films. "Men O' War" has a silent version which I've never seen--neither of the routines below could possibly make much sense as silent scenes, but there you go. For entirely different reasons, the first clip (the "bloomers" routine) couldn't possibly have been filmed only about three years after they shot this. Naughty, naughty, as the bicycle rider says...


"Men O'War" isn't even particularly good L&H. It's plot and gags are much looser and the pacing is very uncertain. The big climax of the film--a disastrous boat ride on the lake that I haven't been able to find on youtube (yet)--isn't funny at all as the cameras are too far from the action and the gags themselves are much more loose and improvised than later L&H situations. But what I find charming (and haunting in its own way) about the film is the meta-film within, namely the act of going out to the park and shooting a two-reel comedy. (See my 10/26 post on the Three Stooges "Three Little Beers"--same basic thing). The park where this was photographed, Hollenbeck Park, is on S. St Louis Street in the Boyle Heights section of Los Angeles. It's still there--lake, bridge and all--though the Santa Ana Freeway now cuts rather agressively across the outer edges of it. The background extras are, in my opinion, not extras at all--too many of them seem to stop and stare at the actors and, presumably, the bulky camera equipment photographing them. What you're seeing is a day in 1929 in Los Angeles, when a little movie company (see above still photo) showed up in the park to shoot a two-reel slapstick comedy. There is nothing controlled or planned going on here. The day, lost to history except for this film, looked much as it does to us now, almost eighty years after it was commemorated.




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