Tuesday, April 16, 2024


 by JB

Well, here’s another fine mess I’ve gotten myself into...

I am surprised that this four-disc set alluded me for four whole years. My nitrate radar is usually very keen, and I notice when vintage silent films are due to be released. Perhaps this is a case of “Once bitten, twice shy,” because I have been burned in the past by dubious releases of these historic treasures.
Laurel & Hardy’s legacy was not well served by their sheer popularity. Whenever there was demand for new prints of their films in the 1940s, '50s, or '60s, their home studio, Hal Roach, would go back to the original camera negatives to strike them. After a time, this practice degraded the negatives. Since those negatives were nitrate to begin with, this practice was problematic. Nitrate negative and prints, if not stored carefully, turn to goo... or explode.

Thank God for collectors—even those operating on the fringes of copyright law. Thank God for producer Robert Youngson, who assembled theatrical retrospectives of silent comedies in the '50s and '60s that were very popular in theaters: The Golden Age of Comedy (1957), When Comedy was King (1960), Days of Thrills and Laughter (1961), The Big Parade of Comedy (1964), and Four Clowns (1970) were among his most popular compendiums. If it weren’t for Youngson and many nameless collectors, we would no longer have this footage in any form. Like 75% of all silent films ever made, imagine every silent Laurel & Hardy film being lost forever.

Years ago, I dutifully bought an English R2 DVD boxset of Laurel and Hardy’s work, The Collection (2013), for which I remember paying a hefty price. I also bought a small, cheap, Region-Free player to watch them. This set was mammoth and oodles of fun, but most of the transfers left something to be desired. It did contain a colorized version of Laurel & Hardy’s The Music Box... Boy, how could anyone know that the grass was GREEN and the wooden box was BROWN if not for this REVELATORY RELEASE?
The transfers on The Collection pale in comparison to the transfers on The Definitive Restorations. The Definitive set also has a nice bonus: the transfers present the full frame, often revealing what seems like 20% more image. (See illustration.) Thanks, Definitive guys!
I am afraid that modern technologies and the advance of computerized film scanning and restoration have me spoiled when it comes to restorations of classic films. I recognize that this Definitive set is the best we are ever likely to get; I wish they were better. The hours of extras, the amazing audio commentaries and the films themselves are reasons alone to buy this set. I did notice that The Music Box, the team’s Oscar-winning 1932 short, looks to be the best of the bunch. The Music Box has always looked pretty good. Perhaps because of its Academy Award bone fides, the studio always took special care with it. I wish that Laurel & Hardy’s archival legacy had been better served. Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd treated their own work as the consummate art that it was, retained the rights, and preserved it beautifully. Thanks to James Mason, who bought Buster Keaton’s mansion and was nice enough to inform him that he left a treasure trove of film prints in the basement, and the film collector/scoundrel Raymond Rohauer, we have breathtaking prints of almost all of Keaton’s films. Would that Laurel and Hardy have had similar guardian angels looking out for their priceless negatives!

TANGENT: In going back and watching many of these delightful shorts, I marvel at how many of cinema’s great directors Laurel and Hardy worked with at the beginning of their careers. Take a look at the credit screen from one of their shorts. The film was directed by James Parrott, who had his own comedy career (He’s the piano salesman at the beginning of The Music Box.) He also directed some films for his brother, fellow Hal Roach comedy star Charlie Chase. Here's Leo McCarey, who went on to direct the Marx Brothers, the Oscar-winning The Bells of Saint Mary’s, and more than 100 other films. There's George Stevens, who himself went on to direct more than 75 films, including Swing Time, Gunga Din, A Place in the Sun, Shane, Giant, and The Greatest Story Ever Told. That is a talented artistic roster!
The Definitive Restorations set contains the feature films Sons of the Desert and Way Out West and a veritable boatload of two-reel shorts: Battle of the Century, Berth Marks - Original, Berth Marks – Re-Issue, Brats – Original, Brats – Re-Issue, Hog Wild, Come Clean, One Good Turn, Me and My Pal, Helpmates, The Music Box, The Chimp, County Hospital, Scram!, Their First Mistake, The Midnight Patrol, Busy Bodies, Towed in a Hole, Twice Two, That's That (blooper reel), and The Tree in a Test Tube (industrial short).

It also boasts the following BIG PARADE of extras (Thanks to The Digital Bits for the exhaustive list.):

Sons of the Desert – Audio Commentary with Randy Skretvedt
Battle of the Century – Audio Commentary with Richard Bann
Berth Marks – Audio Commentary with Randy Skretvedt
Sons of the Desert Publicity Portraits Gallery (36 in all – 3:31)
Sons of the Desert Scene Stills Gallery (57 in all – 4:23)
Sons of the Desert Deleted and Candid Gallery (29 in all – 3:36)
Sons of the Desert Posters and Publicity Gallery (81 in all – 7:22)
Sons of the Desert Early Script Gallery (40 in all – 3:57)
Sons of the Desert Dialogue Continuity Gallery (41 in all – 3:54)
Sons of the Desert Contracts and Documents Gallery (27 in all – 2:57)
Battle of the Century Gallery (74 in all – 7:38)
Berth Marks Gallery (54 in all – 5:02)
Portraits in Costume Gallery (88 in all – 9:52)
Early Career: Stan Gallery (40 in all – 4:26)
Early Career: Babe Gallery (50 in all – 5:55)
Interview with Anita Garvin (9:18)
Interview with Joe Rock (9:35)
Interview with Roy Seawright (14:56)
Interview with Oliver Hardy (3:30)
Sons of the Desert Spanish Trailer (2:35)
Laurel & Hardy Books by Randy Skretvedt (1:53)

Brats – Audio Commentary with Randy Skretvedt
Hog Wild – Audio Commentary with Randy Skretvedt
Come Clean – Audio Commentary with Randy Skretvedt
One Good Turn – Audio Commentary with Randy Skretvedt
Me and My Pal – Audio Commentary with Randy Skretvedt
Intro and Billy Bletcher Audio Interview (4:27)
Joe Rock Audio Interview (4:32)
Hal Roach Audio Interview (9:12)
Anita Garvin Stanley Audio Interview (4:35)
George Marshall Audio Interview (2:54)
Roy Seawright Audio Interview (6:15)
Venice Lloyd Audio Interview (4:45)
Richard Currier Audio Interview (8:06)
Bert Jordan Audio Interview (7:53)
Walter Woolf King Audio Interview (3:34)
Lucille Hardy Price Audio Interview (8:50)
Marvin Hatley Audio Interview (3:24)
Honolulu Baby & Lovey-Dovey Audio Interview (6:00)
Brats Gallery (98 in all – 0:26)
Hog Wild Gallery (75 in all – 7:20)
Come Clean Gallery (90 in all – 8:34)
One Good Turn Gallery (99 in all – 9:38)
Me and My Pal Gallery (45 in all – 4:43)
Hardy Vim Scrapbook (50 in all – 5:54)
Hollywood Friends (11 in all – 2:37)
Catalina July 1934 (17 in all – 2:30)
Laurel & Hardy Books by Randy Skretvedt (1:53)

Helpmates – Audio Commentary with Randy Skretvedt
The Music Box – Audio Commentary with Richard Bann
The Chimp – Audio Commentary with Randy Skretvedt
County Hospital – Audio Commentary with Randy Skretvedt
Scram! – Audio Commentary with Randy Skretvedt
Their First Mistake – Audio Commentary with Randy Skretvedt
The Midnight Patrol – Audio Commentary with Randy Skretvedt
Busy Bodies – Audio Commentary with Randy Skretvedt
Helpmates Gallery (82 in all – 7:51)
The Music Box Gallery (118 in all – 11:11)
The Chimp Gallery (81 in all – 7:31)
County Hospital Gallery (118 in all – 10:46)
Scram! Gallery (92 in all – 8:46)
Their First Mistake Gallery (54 in all – 5:22)
The Midnight Patrol Gallery (64 in all – 6:12)
Busy Bodies Gallery (90 in all – 7:58)
A Short History of the Hal Roach Studios Gallery (58 in all – 6:32)
Supporting Players Gallery (18 in all – 3:09)
Crew Members Gallery (25 in all – 3:47)
Studio Hijinks Gallery (22 in all – 2:42)
Snapshots from the UK Vacation Gallery (41 in all – 5:20)
Laurel & Hardy Books by Randy Skretvedt (1:53)

Way Out West – Audio Commentary with Randy Skretvedt
Towed in a Hole – Audio Commentary with Randy Skretvedt
Twice Two – Audio Commentary with Randy Skretvedt
That's That – Audio Commentary with Randy Skretvedt
The Tree in a Test Tube – Audio Commentary with Randy Skretvedt
Way Out West Portrait Stills Gallery (61 in all – 5:58)
Way Out West Scene Stills Gallery (66 in all – 6:12)
Way Out West Candid Stills Gallery (45 in all – 5:31)
Way Out West Pressbook Articles and Artwork Gallery (86 in all – 7:43)
Way Out West Poster and Lobby Card Artwork Gallery (54 in all – 5:01)
Way Out West Original 1913 Sheet Music Gallery (11 in all – 2:47)
Way Out West Script and Synopsis Gallery (79 in all – 7:42)
Way Out West Dialogue Continuity, Cues, Letters Gallery (35 in all – 4:02)
Towed in a Hole Gallery (64 in all – 6:27)
Twice Two Gallery (45 in all – 4:48)
That’s That Gallery (16 in all – 2:02)
The Tree in a Test Tube Gallery (14 in all – 2:10)
Portraits Out of Costume Gallery (35 in all – 4:02)
Laurel & Hardy and Golf Gallery (25 in all – 3:50)
Special Occasions Gallery (28 in all – 3:59)
Odd Publicity Shots Gallery (15 in all – 2:35)
Stan in Retirement Gallery (37 in all – 4:22)
Way Out West Trailer (1:21)
Marvin Hatley Music Tracks (12 in all – 25:52)
Beau Hunks 1931 Trailer (0:54)
Pack Up Your Troubles 1932 Trailer (1:54)
Babes in Toyland 1934 Trailer (3:26)
The Flying Deuces 1939 Trailer (2:17)
A Chump at Oxford 1940 Trailer (1:23)
Saps at Sea 1940 Trailer (1:55)
Laurel & Hardy Books by Randy Skretvedt (1:53)

Definitive indeed! This set might hold the record for “Cost“ vs. “Potential Hours and Hours of Pleasure.” I’m not sure if I will ever get through all the extras. This may be the true reason I retired. It’s an embarrassment of riches at only 38 bucks, American. Maybe I should just keep my minor quibbles to myself.

Come to think of it, Quibbles to Myself sounds like a lost Laurel & Hardy short from 1933.

ADDENDUM: I am such a big L&H fan I once climbed the famed Music Box steps.
You can read about that adventure here.


  1. I see you quest to make me spend all of my money on blu-rays is still going strong

  2. Great article, JB! While I'm certainly familiar with Laurel and Hardy, it occurs to me that I haven't seen many of the films on your list. Maybe I'll give this box a shot. (I discovered Abbott & Costello and the Marx Brothers at a young age, and they were always my go-to picks for classic comedy.)

  3. Do you have a favorite among the shorts, JB?

    Back when AMC began as a classic film channel in the mid-1990s (it was on cable television before Turner Classic Movies), the Laurel and Hardy shorts were shown frequently. Stan Laurel's mock crying always cracked me up. When I see the their films shown on TCM, I always think about those misspent days of my youth.

    One of the great stories of fans and collectors stepping in to save a legacy is Dr. Who. In the 1960s, the BBC periodically wiped the tapes that programs were stored on. Reruns were limited at the time, so there was little incentive to keep the shows. Though the BBC held on to some film copies and others were found to be held by other broadcasters, many of the 1960s serials were only completed by film copies acquired by fans over the years. Other serials only exist in audio recordings made fans at the time the shows were aired. Sometimes those fan recordings are better than the audio on the source material and are actually used for the current releases of Dr. Who episodes.

  4. Yes, the same is true for the Beatles when they went to put together their BBC performances. If it were not for a BBC sound engineer who took things home and a teenage girl who dutifully recorded the shows on reel to reel, they would no longer exist.
    My favorite L&H shorts are Big Business, Two Tars, and Battle of the Century. All of these are available on the YouTube machine, but click around… quality varies and some shorts are posted multiple types in s crazy variety of condition!