Stan & Ollie (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Dennis Seuling
  • Review Date: Apr 02, 2019
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Stan & Ollie (Blu-ray Review)

Director

Jon S. Baird

Release Date(s)

2018 (March 26, 2019)

Studio(s)

Sony Pictures Classics (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
  • Film/Program Grade: A
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: B+
  • Extras Grade: B

Stan & Ollie (Blu-ray Disc)

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Review

Stan & Ollie is a gentle film about the lifelong professional and personal relationship between Stan Laurel (Steve Coogan) and Oliver Hardy (John C. Reilly), two comics who were first teamed in silent movies and achieved worldwide fame in the 1930s. The film takes place mostly in 1953, during a tour of the United Kingdom, a prelude to what they hope will be a movie to revive their career.

An early scene set in 1937, at the height of their success, shows the men under contract to Hal Roach (Danny Huston), a tough businessman, tight with a dollar. He refuses to increase their salary despite Laurel’s repeated protests. Hardy, content to leave things the way they are, prefers not to tamper with regular employment that has assured a steady income as well as fame.

By the early 1950s, both men have passed their career peak. Laurel is convinced that the film he’s writing will put them back on top. The British tour doesn’t always go smoothly. They are not booked into the best hotels, they perform in secondary theaters, and they play to half-empty houses. They look forward to the end of the tour, when they’ll play London, a film producer will see them perform, and the film deal will be finalized.

Both Coogan and Reilly are incredible at how effortlessly they embody the real Laurel and Hardy, from their trademark mannerisms – Laurel’s head scratching, perplexed double takes, and blank stares and Hardy’s tie fiddling, nervous derby fidgeting, and exasperated expression – to their physical appearance, aided by convincing prosthetics. It’s always challenging to play famous individuals, especially when so much film and newsreel footage exists of the originals. Both actors have done their homework. Coogan’s light British accent and Reilly’s easygoing manner perfectly capture the essence of the men.

The relationship is not without its hiccups, however. Long-festering resentments are held in check for the benefit of the team, but come to a head as their hopes for a comeback are dimmed. We see two vulnerable men having to face changing times and realizing that this tour might be their last time together entertaining audiences. A brief moment in which Laurel looks at an enormous poster of Abbott & Costello in their latest comedy underscores the reality that new comedy stars bask in the fame once enjoyed by Laurel & Hardy.

The men’s wives, played by Nina Arianda (Ida Laurel) and Shirley Henderson (Lucille Hardy), join their husbands in London and are supportive of them, though not always civil with each other. When Hardy’s health weakens, he’s ordered to take it easy and avoid the stress of performing live, but there are more shows to do and he must weigh fulfilling his professional obligation with following doctor’s orders.

In the film’s opening sequence, director Jon S. Baird uses a six-minute tracking shot as Stan and Ollie walk from a dressing room through a studio backlot. They chat about this and that and greet various folks along the way through the hustle and bustle of a working movie studio. The camera glides behind them as they enter a soundstage where they are about to perform a famous scene from Way Out West against a projected background. The shot, amazing in its complexity, provides a glimpse of what movie making was like back in the 1930s and serves as a dramatic contrast to the team 16 years later as they valiantly continue to plug away.

Rated PG, Stan & Ollie is a loving look at two men who performed together through four decades. Becoming friends and working partners, they were the first successful comedy team of the talkie era. The Marx Brothers, The Three Stooges, Hope & Crosby, Martin & Lewis, Cheech & Chong, and The Blues Brothers would make their own distinctive mark in cinematic comedy, but it is Laurel & Hardy who showed that, with the right partner, slapstick comedy can be an art.

The Blu-ray release of Stan & Ollie features 1080p High Definition resolution. Aspect ratio is 2.39:1. Shot in color, the film occasionally switches to black-and-white, as in a scene in which Laurel and Hardy filming a song and dance in the studio blends into their black-and-white images on a theatre screen as audiences howl with laughter. Another black-and-white sequence shows Hardy in a promotional film he made while on tour. Early scenes, in which the comedy duo check into a less than first-class hotel, are dimly lit, with the lobby and hallways showing a yellowish hue. The hotel room itself is dark except for a small light that Stan uses to write. English street scenes have a misty look, as if seen through fog. An outdoor beauty pageant sequence is the only scene shot under sunny skies. Under the final credits, monochromatic photos are shown of the real Laurel and Hardy taken on the tour depicted in the movie.

The soundtrack is English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, as well as an audio description track in English 5.1 Dolby Digital. English subtitles are available for the deaf and hard of hearing. Sound balance is especially effective in the performance scenes, in which dialogue, music, sound effects, and loud audience laughter blend smoothly. Dialogue is distinct throughout.

Bonus materials on the PG-rated Blu-ray release include 3 featurettes, a cast and crew Q & A, deleted and extended scenes, the theatrical trailer, and previews.

Making Stan & Ollie – Actors Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly, director Jon S. Baird, producer Faye Ward, and writer Jeff Pope note that the film is not a conventional biopic, since it focuses only on one specific period. They note that there is “something timeless about certain kinds of comedy.”

The Dancing Duo – Director Baird refers to Laurel and Hardy as “one of comedy’s greatest double acts.” They would poke fun at the social norms of the time, but the underlying message in their films is “aren’t human beings ridiculous and aren’t they beautiful?” Stan Laurel was a workaholic, often contributing to the team’s scripts. Oliver Hardy didn’t hang around the studio when he wasn’t working and preferred going to the racetrack.

Playful Prosthetics – Extensive prosthetics were required for the film. Reilly required a fat suit, contact lenses, and facial appliances. The fat suit was made in three sections and was destroyed when removed at the end of each day. An entirely new set of prosthetics was required the next day.

Q & A With Cast and Crew – The panel is moderated by Jenelle Riley and includes John C. Reilly, Steve Coogan, director Jon S. Baird, and make-up effects artist Mark Coulier. The actors tell how they were approached to take on their roles. Baird asks Reilly if he would gain weight for the role. Reilly, who had just lost 30 pounds, gives a definitive “No!” Coogan notes that because the “bulk of the movie is unknowable,” dramatic license was taken. Though they had worked together for years, Laurel and Hardy became true friends during the tour.

Deleted and Extended Scenes:
1. Double Doors and Hats
2. Hard Boiled Egg
3. Way Out West Dance

Previews – Trailers are included for Maria Callas, The Seagull, Brigsby Bear, Maudie, All Is True, and Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House.

– Dennis Seuling

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