Cult Movie: Laurel And Hardy at The Strand

The Laurel and Hardy Transfer Company in action
Ralph McLean

BACK in 1975 Laurel and Hardy were everywhere. Their song Trail Of the Lonesome Pine was number two in the UK charts – only denied the top spot by Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, pop trivia fans – and the duo’s 20-minute shorts, made for Hal Roach’s studio in the 1930s, seemed to run on an endless loop on BBC2 at teatime.

The result was that a whole generation, myself included, grew up on the simple but beautifully delivered slapstick heaven of Stan and Ollie in all their mirth-making black-and-white glory.

The sweet, idiot-savant genius of Stan Laurel and the tie-twiddling exasperation of his heavy-set friend and long-term business partner Oliver Hardy were a huge part of growing up in the 70s and 80s.

Their good-natured gormlessness, perfectly timed pratfalls and odd, almost surrealistic, tendency to break the forth wall – Ollie was forever looking directly to camera with a face of utter world weariness when his friend said or did something ridiculous – made them a thing of rare comic.

There was a cartoon series – fairly rubbish, admittedly – comics and apparently endless video releases to fan the flame as the years passed.

Those classic shorts were always where it was really at, though. Classics like Brats, where the lads played the joint roles of harassed fathers and their troublemaking offspring, would be talked about in school playgrounds as timeless classics that just had to be watched time and time again, and bowler hats, never the most amusing choice of head wear in Northern Ireland, suddenly became the funniest things ever when perched upon the noggins of the dynamic duo of dimwittery.

Then, oddly, they fell off the TV schedules and out of our collective consciousness. Stan and Ollie were ripped from our screens and consigned to vaults of classic comedy quicker than you could say “That’s another fine mess you’ve gotten us into”.

Certain groups kept the faith, of course – the work of the duo’s international appreciation society, the ever loyal Sons Of The Desert, deserves particular mention – but generally the boys were filed away in the drawer labelled 'classic comedy' alongside Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd.

Always mentioned in the history books but rarely seen by the general public.

That was until The Laurel and Hardy Roadshow rolled into town. Co-ordinated by Ross Owen, this is a concentrated effort to get the work of Stan and Ollie back out on to the big screen and into the hearts of the public.

The current cinema tour that has seen some of those amazing 1930s creations return to screens in full blown HD brings two of the duo’s finest films, Blockheads and The Music Box, to Belfast's Strand Cinema on Sunday at 4.15pm.

Both are brilliant but The Music Box is the one you can’t miss. Made in 1932 and clocking in at 29 minutes, it’s the tale of two grown men trying to deliver one piano to a home at the top of a flight of steep and very unforgiving steps.

Like the duo’s very finest work, it’s relentless, pristinely timed and so funny your sides will hurt.


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