Saw STAN AND OLLIE last night.....

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Richard M Roberts
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Saw STAN AND OLLIE last night.....

Postby Richard M Roberts » Sat Jan 19, 2019 3:26 am

Well, we saw STAN AND OLLIE last night, so here’s my two cents on the film:

Frustrating. So much done right, so much done wrong, two marvelous performances by Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly, the period pretty well recreated, using real names and places for the most part, one just wished the screenwriters hadn’t been so tin-eared about facts and accuracy in setting up false conflicts and plot.

Why didn’t they just start the damn thing in 1947, with Laurel and Hardy coming over on the Queen Mary, nervous that no one will remember them, and then getting the mob of fans welcoming them then, this really should have been the story of two comedians who really were not close in their heyday, getting to know each other and really bonding when they began to tour together, Ollie getting to know more about Stan’s British roots, Stan appreciating Babe’s public ease with people. They played up Babe’s health so much, they could have had more drama if they had opened up the plot to cover all three tours (and even thrown in a bit of the ATOLL K debacle), and shown that Stan’s health had been as rocky as Babe’s at various times in the early 50’s. I’m sure there were times when both were looking after each other when either one was feeling poorly. Setting it all in 1953 like it’s the first and only time they played Britain just doesn’t work to anyone with any actual idea of the real story.

They could have laid it out as it happened and still have kept the last 20 minutes, where the film and it’s two stars really shine, showing the real love and caring these two men had for each other, and it would have come off even stronger with the solid foundation of fact behind it.

The wives are treated shabbily, Ida was no tough Russian stereotype and Lucille was no strange little brit with a weird childish voice. And Baron Bernard Delfront’s family might want to discuss things with a solicitor, libel laws in Britain are stricter and he’s portrayed as a rather shifty character, not the well-respected British Producer that he was.

I really do not like it when real people are fictionalized either in a biopic or in a straight piece of fiction, because it means that now most of the general public, who don’t know and don’t care about the real history, will now accept the fiction as part of the “legend” (especially as I now see that the advertising calls it "the untold story of Laurel and Hardy", well, yeah, untold because it's untrue). Today, when reality is a rare commodity in too much media, it just blurs too many lines. Now too many, who may have never heard of Laurel and Hardy otherwise, will believe that they were just has-beens in the 1950’s who went on one tour of the British Isles before one of them died from being too fat.

But then again, like I said, STAN AND OLLIE is certainly no BUD AND LOU, and it’s certainly better than the BBC TV version of Neal Brand’s STAN (though not the original Radio 4 half-hour version starring Tom Courtenay, that is sublime), but the quality things in this make the missteps so sad, this really had potential to be something great.

RICHARD M ROBERTS

Rob Farr
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Re: Saw STAN AND OLLIE last night.....

Postby Rob Farr » Sat Jan 19, 2019 9:05 pm

Missed opportunities indeed. The rift over “that elephant movie” which provides the central conflict could easily have been written as something grounded in reality. For example, Stan had no problem fighting Hal Roach tooth and nail for artistic control, but apparently went into a deep depression upon learning that Fox simply wanted his services as an actor. Their Fox co-stars remember Hardy being the dominant member of the duo when it came to contributing gags. Hardy could easily have been irked that Laurel threw in the towel at a time he was needed the most. And Stan bad-mouthed Fox even before The Bullfighters went into release and refused Fox’s offer to keep the B-unit open if they would sign a new contract. It’s not clear at all that Babe felt the same way and in fact named Jitterbugs as one of his favorite films. So if Pope wanted a real bone of contention between the two partners, there were plenty of possibilities based in fact.
Rob Farr
"If it's not comedy, I fall asleep" - Harpo Marx

Richard M Roberts
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Re: Saw STAN AND OLLIE last night.....

Postby Richard M Roberts » Sun Jan 20, 2019 3:27 am

It has always seemed to me that at the time both Stan Laurel and Hal Roach did not realize how good they both had it with Laurel and Hardy being under the Roach Studio roof, Laurel had never worked under a major studio system and as whatever animosity he and Roach harbored towards each other as the 30’s progressed, at least Roach left Laurel and Hardy generally alone to create their comedies, and Stan was never going to get that at another big studio (you’d think Buster Keaton could have set him straight on that).

What makes me annoyed about still too many historians and fans take on Oliver Hardy is this stupid concept that he was “lazy”, or did not contribute to the team’s creative success (this is where I drop-kicked the BBC TV version of STAN, at the scene where Stan Laurel is teaching his new team mate comedy like he was a new comer) . Babe Hardy came to Laurel and Hardy a seasoned comedy veteran , with more than a decade of working in films, a 150 short films and features under his belt, having worked with a number of top comedians, having worked as a Director, Assistant Director and gag-writer, having been part of two big-guy/little guy teams already and Stan Laurel was not sure he wanted to be teamed with him because of his reputation for being a scene-stealer. The truth is that Babe Hardy brings much and probably an equal share to that partnership, and if one does not want to believe that, look at Stan Laurel’s work before Hardy and after Hardy. It’s Hardy’s style that dictates the stately rhythm of the team, his language, manner and comic gestures are his own, and it’s his personal warmth that radiates from the team (again, think Laurel before Hardy/Laurel after Hardy).

And though Oliver Hardy may have been a nine-to-fiver, preferring to actually having a life outside his work, don’t kid yourself he wasn’t having a hand in creating the comedy when he was working. Every candid behind-the-scenes still I have seen where Laurel is having gag conferences with the gagmen on the set, Hardy is right there with them. Read the Laurel and Hardy Roach scripts, which are mostly broad outlines of the action, and then see what Hardy actually does. The reactions, timing, expressions, that’s Oliver Hardy, not Stan Laurel telling him what to do. Oliver Hardy was a wonderful film actor, he really could do it all, and if he and Stan hadn’t teamed, he would have continued successfully through talkies because he was a terrific character actor and comedian, as he proves in both ZENOBIA and THE FIGHTING KENTUCKIAN. It is very likely that Stan needed Babe more than Babe needed Stan.

And, to be fair, I think Stan Laurel realized that, he was not the one who called Babe Hardy “lazy” in interviews, even when he talked about Babe punching the time-clock and heading for the golf course at the end of the day. And ironically, I think it is very possible that they really did not necessarily think of themselves emotionally bonded as a “team” until they were suddenly outside the Hal Roach separate and singular contracts, Laurel and Hardy Feature Productions incorporated and now really responsible for their careers and each other.

And this would then indeed be where they would have gotten to know each other, remember, it was a long eighteen months between leaving Roach for the last time and signing on with Fox, and much of that time was spent touring, personal appearances and later, that most interesting tour of Army bases in Central and South America under who knows how great conditions, then the Hollywood Victory Caravan after the War starts. There’s an old saying that you really get to know someone when you travel with them, and Stan and Babe were now doing a lot of that.

And yes, it is interesting that in the public appearances, and indeed in dealing with the unpleasantness of the working conditions at Fox, it appears Oliver Hardy does begin to take on more of a dominant role, speaking for a partner never real comfortable either in confrontations or being himself before the public. And it is Hardy’s diplomacy, personal warmth and charm and ease before strangers that one sees in the newsreel clips of them on tour.

That’s why I think STAN AND OLLIE should have opened on them in 1946-47, Stan having nixed any further Fox films, no other studio interest in sight, how did Babe react to a partner he was now legally tied to making it difficult to find work? If they had portrayed them travelling with their wives on the Queen Mary to England, pursuing a possible ROBIN HOOD film deal and their only other job offer of a personal appearance variety tour, they could have set up conflicts, the personal relationships with the wives, the fear of being has-beens and suspense of wondering if anyone in England remembered them, all much more effectively than they do in the film as is, and then shown their arrival in Southampton with the mob there to meet them and the cathedral bells playing the cuckoo song and have made it an incredible emotional high point.

And then show them doing the tour, and the real love they got from the British Public (and Europe in general, they toured much farther than the British Isles the first time around), and getting to know each other, Babe learning about Stan’s music hall roots, meeting his family, Stan learning to appreciate Babe’s buffering abilities with the public, and just enjoying his company. As I said before, by bringing all three tours into it, we could have seen them both dealing with health problems, the rigors of touring, the other personal appearances they made, their interactions with the British Music Hall Comedians who also worshipped them, then we could have spent the last third of the film in 1953 and come to pretty much the same emotional climax the film has now, and we would have seen and understood better how these two great comedians, teamed pretty much by force and strangers to each other in the beginning, ended up being truly great friends.


RICHARD M ROBERTS

Richard M Roberts
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Re: Saw STAN AND OLLIE last night.....

Postby Richard M Roberts » Mon Jan 21, 2019 4:57 pm

Continuing to mull over thoughts about STAN AND OLLIE, and I finally figured out what also bothers me about the portrayal of Stan and Babe in the film. As good as Messr's Coogan and Reilly's performances are, what made me feel odd about their impersonations was the fact that they hardly ever smiled, or even laughed as the case may be. Considering both Stan and Babe had wonderful smiles and very infectious laughs, which we see a lot in the newsreel footage of them during the tours, we get little evidence of it in the film. Coogan never goes near the famous Laurel cry, but he also never gets near the famous Laurel grin, not even the sheepish smile the real Laurel would exhibit when not comfortable in public (the one seen a lot in their THIS IS YOUR LIFE episode). What I'm seeing in STAN AND OLLIE's filmmakers portrayal of the Boys is 21st Century self-absorption being impressed upon 20th Century real-life figures.


RICHARD M ROBERTS

Ed Watz
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Re: Saw STAN AND OLLIE last night.....

Postby Ed Watz » Tue Jan 22, 2019 6:33 am

Richard, I believe you've just given the best analysis of what is wrong with STAN AND OLLIE, to which I'll add a brief anecdote:

My teenage son was switching channels last night and came upon an extended trailer for STAN AND OLLIE, already in progress. He's a true fan, naturally, but when it was over he quipped, "Wow, for a minute I thought Laurel & Hardy were in DARKEST HOUR!"

My favorite moment in all of the Laurel & Hardy newsreels comes from their 1932 UK Tour, when Stan slips into character and inadvertently kisses Myrtle Hardy. Babe takes it big and says to us, "My wife!" before both he and Stan crack up laughing. That spirit of playfulness and genuine friendship between the two men seems to be sorely lacking in STAN AND OLLIE.
"Of course he smiled -- just like you and me." -- Harold Goodwin, on Buster Keaton (1976)

Rob Farr
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Re: Saw STAN AND OLLIE last night.....

Postby Rob Farr » Wed Jan 23, 2019 2:17 pm

"Grumpy Old Vaudevillians".
Rob Farr
"If it's not comedy, I fall asleep" - Harpo Marx

Chris Seguin
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Re: Saw STAN AND OLLIE last night.....

Postby Chris Seguin » Mon Jan 28, 2019 2:09 pm

I can't disagree with any of this fine insight, and definitely think there's emotional territory to be mined (or that should have been mined by the filmmakers) about the years 1940 right up to 1953 -- where Stan's grandiose plans of leaving Roach lead to a harsh reality, leading to what must have been severe depression for STan, which must have had a tremendous impact on Hardy who no doubt did his best to support his partner now that both were "at sea", leading to a triumphant tour of the UK in 1947 that could only have been a massive mindf*ck for them, coming back to crickets in 1948-49, the fiasco of ATOLL, and the eventual petering out of their careers to diminishing returns in the UK while being unable to grab the brass ring of TV. Truth is, the reality was far more complicated than a "biopic" (or whatever people want to call it) would allow -- and probably far more harsh too.

Chris

Richard M Roberts
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Re: Saw STAN AND OLLIE last night.....

Postby Richard M Roberts » Mon Jan 28, 2019 2:37 pm

So much of what happened to Stan and Babe in the late 40's-early 50's was the problem of them having unsynchronized heath problems, it was not so much crickets on their return to the states in 48, it was Stan's diabetes getting out of control and him being out of commission, Babe stayed busy, he did the all-star west-coast WHAT PRICE GLORY tour, THE FIGHTING KENTUCKIAN, and RIDING HIGH during that time while Stan recuperated. If Stan had been well, they might have taken on television at that time as Keaton and many other older comedians were doing.

Stan's health (among other things) dragged on ATOLL K's shooting for another year, which also lost them their appearance in RKO's TWO TICKETS TO BROADWAY (they were replaced by Smith and Dale). Stan's health stabilized to the point they could make two more British tours, but then Babe's health brought them back to the states so he could recuperate. Stan gets a deal going with Hal Roach Jr. for the Laurel and Hardy Fabulous Fables specials, then he suffers his first stroke, then Babe's crash diet causes his stroke, and it's all over from there. Basically any time they could get any headwind going on their careers, one or the other of them got sick and was unable to work.


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Chris Seguin
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Re: Saw STAN AND OLLIE last night.....

Postby Chris Seguin » Mon Jan 28, 2019 3:20 pm

Absolutely true to all that, but let's say they were in optimal health in 1948-49 -- I'm not sure the offers would have been pouring in, especially not from the big studios after the bridge-burning interviews they did about Fox and MGM once they left. (The only thing I recall coming up during that period was "My Darling Is A Kangaroo", along with an article with Stan bemoaning they'd been forgotten.) And if they were healthy enough to tour throughout 1952-53 and half of '54, couldn't they have figured out a way to get some TV happening at that point?

In all honesty, I just don't think Hollywood cared enough about them at that point. Just speculatin'....

Richard M Roberts
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Re: Saw STAN AND OLLIE last night.....

Postby Richard M Roberts » Mon Jan 28, 2019 4:47 pm

What old comedian did Hollywood care about in 1948-49? Laurel and Hardy's popularity was such that it had kept them working through World War II, but once the war ended, they were at a point where most of the major studios were cutting back production as they lost their theaters and television began to make inroads. Once you've pissed off Fox and MGM, what did you have left? Warners never had that sort of interest in star comedians, not since Joe E. Brown had left, Paramount had Hope and Crosby, Universal had Abbott and Costello, I don't think Stan and Babe would have worked in Columbia two-reelers. The best they might have gotten was a deal with an independent like Robert L. Lippert, but I'm sure Stan would have bristled at working on lower budgets and been no happier there.

The other thing that needs to be said is that Stan and Babe never did actually have a good agent, Ben Shipman was a decent fellow and attorney, but not one connected enough to be out beating the pavement to sell them to show business. If they had signed with one of the better agencies, they would have had a broader range of employment. A lot of the difference in Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi's careers had to do with their representation, Karloff had Leland Hayward and later MCA keeping him working in all sorts of media, Lugosi never had that high-powered an agent working for him.


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