Friday, January 25, 2019

Laurel & Hardy are given deserved homage in poignant, often hilarious ‘Stan & Ollie’

By Steve Crum
There is a brief but poignant scene in the wonderful Stan & Ollie wherein Stan Laurel (Steve Coogan) is walking along a London street in 1953. He passes a large movie poster pasted to a brick wall, and then backs up to give it closer attention. The film being advertised is Abbott and Costello Go to Mars, starring the then #1 comedy team in movies, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. Stan sighs in deadpan, and walks away without comment. From 1921-51—and 106 comedy films, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were undoubtedly THE funniest duo in motion pictures. It is a telling sequence, laced with sad irony of fleeting fame. The proverbial parade passes by. 
Stan & Ollie, which finally opens throughout the country today after premiering Dec. 28, is a warm and often hilarious biographical drama about Laurel and Hardy’s twilight years in show business. It involves “The Boys” and their exhaustive music hall tour of the United Kingdom and Ireland during 1953. This took place two years after making what amounted to be the worst film of their career, Utopia. It was the team’s final movie. 
Their movie career virtually ended, The Boys had great plans for a movie comeback with a burlesque of Robin Hood. Stan had been working on a script for months when he and Ollie undertook their British tour. As such, there are flashbacks to some of their funniest movie moments in the feature, Way Out West, and the short, County Hospital. Each sequence is recreated spot-on, from duplicated sets to brilliant characterizations by John C. Reilly (as Oliver Hardy) and Steve Coogan (Stan Laurel). 
It could not have been accomplished without stunning movie magic provided by a team of 20+ makeup gurus handling the prosthetics, as well as hair and teeth designs. Reilly’s transformation to Hardy is incredible. 
Directed by Jon S. Baird (his first theatrical feature of note) and written by Jeff Pope (Philhomena), Stan & Ollie begins in 1937, when Laurel and Hardy were at the peak of their careers at Hal Roach Studios. The duo dances to “At the Ball, That's All” from Way Out West. During a break, the two grouse about Producer Roach’s hedging on a raise in their pay. 
Cut to 16 years later in Newcastle, England. The duo are fresh off the ship, ready for a what turns out to be an overall successful, but physically taxing series of live stage appearances wherein they recreate some of their greatest movie comedy bits. Unfortunately, their manager/producer, Bernard Delfont (Rufus Jones), has been derelict in both their bookings and hotel accommodations. 
When Stan and Ollie’s wives join them on the tour, things get interesting. Both are wildly eccentric, and played with aplomb by Shirley Henderson as Lucille Hardy…whose voice sounds like a Munchkin; and Nina Arianda as Ida Kitaeva Laurel…possessing a heavy East European accent and sounding like Maria Ousepenskaya. Both are very protective of their husbands. All four together create an unique dynamic.
And then Ollie has a physical setback. So the movie proceeds in its mixture of hilarity and heartfelt love. It is a joy to experience. 
As a 40 year member of The Sons of the Desert (the international Laurel and Hardy fan club), I feel that any movie based upon Stan and Ollie has to pass a credibility and likability test. This flick succeeds with Flying Deuces*…er, colors. (The Flying Deuces*, 1939, stars Laurel and Hardy.) 
To play upon Mr. Hardy’s catchphrase, Stan & Ollie is quite the opposite of a mess The Boys have gotten us into. 

GRADE on an A-F Scale: A

1 comment:

  1. When I heard a recent interview on Fresh Air with John C Reilly about this film, I knew you would have some strong opinions on this one! I'm glad to read that this film gets high praise and a coveted "Crum A". I remember fondly going with you as a child to your "Son's of the Desert" meetings and as I got older wondering around the library while you attended. I will definitely be watching this film soon.