Cult Movies: Time to (re)discover Laurel and Hardy’s early silent output with new box set

Ralph goes right back to the iconic comedy duo’s roots with a new deluxe package from Eureka Entertainment

Film – When Comedy Was King – Laurel and Hardy
Comedy duo Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy (PA)

LIKE many a film buff of my vintage, I fell in love with the work of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy thanks to teatime re-runs of their 20 minute shorts on BBC 2 in the 1970s.

I adored those beautifully crafted little tales of two mismatched pals trying to make their way through depression era America, and once the comic misadventures of Stan and Ollie get under your skin they never really leave you.

To this day, I’ve an enormous soft spot for the boys - and even writing about them now brings a little smile to my face.

There’s something about that mix of perfectly choreographed physical comedy and effortless pathos that you see in the best Stan and Ollie exchanges that put them right up there with the true comic greats, in my eyes.

Oliver Hardy and Stan Laurel in their silent film days
Oliver Hardy and Stan Laurel in their silent film days

Even watching the exasperated Ollie breaking the forth wall of cinema and staring forlornly at camera when the clueless antics of his dimly-lit partner in crime leave him up to his armpits in trouble seemed revolutionary in some way.

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What I devoured as a kid, though, were the later short films they made for Hal Roach during the ‘talkies’ era of the 1930s. For a long time, the earlier silent films they made in the previous decade simply passed me by.

Set for release next month through Eureka Entertainment, Laurel & Hardy: The Silent Years (1927) is a boxset of 15 silent shorts. It reclaims that era of early magic from the mists of time and reminds you that the duo had all their comic chops firmly in place long before we got to hear their voices.

This lovingly packaged collection brings us Stan and Ollie’s very first films together, The Lucky Dog and 45 Minutes To Hollywood, and traces their artistic journey right up to their days as an official duo. That means we get early gems like Duck Soup, Slipping Wives, Love ‘em and Weep, Why Girls Love Sailors, With Love and Hisses, Sailors Beware!, Do Detectives Think?, Flying Elephants, Sugar Daddies, The Second 100 Years, Call of the Cuckoo and Putting Pants on Philip.

There’s even the opportunity to see The Battle of the Century, a short only previously screened in incomplete versions until several missing scenes were found and restored in 2015.

Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy
Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy

Unlike several of the big name stars who tried to make the jump from silent to sound, Laurel & Hardy adapted to the new world beautifully, with Stan’s way with words and Ollie’s gentlemanly Southern tones coming across perfectly for audiences looking for a verbal side to their slapstick physical comedy.

This two-disc set features a Limited edition O-card slipcase with new artwork from Scott Saslow, while the extras on offer include audio commentaries for every single film and a collector’s booklet featuring notes from comedian and long term fan Paul Merton.

If that’s not impressive enough, all the material on offer here has been given a glorious 2K restoration, leaving the lads looking better than ever.

Personally, I can think of nothing better.

Laurel and Hardy: The Silent Years
Laurel and Hardy: The Silent Years