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Mike’s Strange Cinema Cavalcade - LAUREL & HARDY: THE DEFINITIVE RESTORATIONS

Laurel & Hardy: The Definitive Restorations
Collection of newly restored films from the iconic comic duo.


Review by Mike Vaughn

Laurel & Hardy: The Definitive Restorations bluray

First, let me fess up to something. I am a total novice when it comes to Laurel and Hardy. Before you throw a pie in my face, allow me to explain. I love this brand of slap-stick comedy and indeed, I have always been a big fan of physical comedy and comedians. Though, it’s only been recently that I have started dipping my toes into the legends of early comedy, such as Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, just to name a few. With Kit-Parker’s Definitive Restorations collection, it seemed like the perfect time to get into some high-spirted hijinks. The collection includes two feature films and 17 shorts. I will be breaking down each disc, what’s included and any special information and features contained within.

Disc Breakdown: Disc 1

Feature: Sons of the Desert (1933) Runtime 65 minutes, optional commentary: Randy Skretvedt

Shorts: Battle of the Century (1927) Runtime 27 minutes. Optional commentary by Richard Bann

Title card: For sixty years Battle of the Century was missing most of Reel Two. In 2014, Jon Mirsalis located Robert Youngson’s 16mm workprint in the estate of collector Gordon Berkow. One brief sequence in Reel One remains lost and has been illustrated with production stills and explanatory titles cards. At the end of the short a series of rare photographs are played and, if you are listening to the track it continues throughout the gallery montage.

Berth Marks (1929) (Original 1929 VitaPhone track)

Title card: This restoration marks the first time in over 85 years that the original sound design of Berth Marks has been heard. Also includes optional commentary by Randy Skretvedt. Runtime 20 minutes

Berth Marks (1929) (Re-issue 1936 soundtrack) Runtime 20 minutes. Optional commentary by Randy Skretvedt

Extras: Anita Garvin Interview, Joe Rock Interview, Roy Seawright Interview, Oliver Hardy Interview, Sons of the Desert Trailer (from the only surviving Spanish language Trailer) and an overview of books expert Randy Skretvedt has written on Laurel and Hardy.

Photo galleries: Broken up into two columns. One for stills from the feature Sons of the Desert and the second entitled Other Galleries, which is a short collection of rare stills in general.

Disc 2: Shorts: Brats (1930) (Original VitaPhone Track) Runtime 21 minutes. Optional commentary by Randy Skretvedt

Brats (1930) (Re-issued 1937 Soundtrack) Runtime 21 minutes Optional commentary by Randy Skretvedt

Hog Wild (1930) Runtime 20 minutes, Optional commentary by Randy Skretvedt

Title card: Hog Wild has been restored in its original shooting ratio, retaining all picture information captured in-camera in 1930, replicating how it would have appeared in sound on-disc presentation.

Come Clean (1931) Runtime 21 minutes. Optional commentary by Randy Skretvedt

One Good Turn (1931) Runtime 20 minutes. Optional commentary by Randy Skretvedt

Me and My Pal (1933) Runtime 20 minutes. Optional commentary by Randy Skretvedt

Disc 3: Helpmates (1932) Runtime 21 minutes. Optional commentary by Randy Skretvedt

The Music Box (1932) Runtime 39 minutes. Optional commentary by Randy Skretvedt

The Chimp (1932) Runtime 25 minutes. Optional commentary by Randy Skretvedt

County Hospital (1932) Runtime 19 minutes. Optional commentary by Randy Skretvedt

Scram! (1932) Runtime 20 minutes. Optional commentary by Randy Skretvedt

Their First Mistake (1932) Runtime 21 minutes. Optional commentary by Randy Skretvedt

The Midnight Patrol (1933) Runtime 19 minutes. Optional commentary by Randy Skretvedt

Busy Bodies (1933) Runtime 19 minutes. Optional commentary by Randy Skretvedt

Special Features: Photo Gallery

Disc 4:

Feature: Way Out West (1937) Runtime 64 minutes. Optional commentary by Randy Skretvedt

Shorts:

Towed in a Hole (1932) Runtime 21 minutes. Optional commentary by Randy Skretvedt

Twice Two (1933) Runtime 20 minutes. Optional commentary by Randy Skretvedt

That’s That (1937) Runtime 8 minutes. Optional commentary by Randy Skretvedt

Title Card: That's That is a reel of out-takes that Hal Roach film editor Bert Jordan compiled as a gag for Stan Laurel’s birthday in 1937. Complete with a formal Main Title card, it includes alternate takes and bloopers from The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case (1930) and its Spanish version, Noche de Duendes; Our Wife (1931) and Way Out West (1937).

The Tree in a Test Tube (1941) Runtime 10 minutes. Optional commentary by Randy Skretvedt

Special Features: Gallery of rare photos broken up into two columns: One for Way Out West and the second for other photos. Other extras include rare trailers.


Laurel & Hardy: The Definitive Restorations

Picture/Sound: Without a doubt Kit-Parker, aided by UCLA and the Lucas Foundation, have knocked it out of the park in terms of picture and sound. Restored in brand-new 2k and 4k transfers using original 35mm nitrate prints, I was gob smacked by how much hard work, man hours and resources clearly went into this project. Grain and scratches have been cleaned up and fine details are probably clearer than they have ever been. Kit Parker truly has bragging rights when it comes to a crisp clear product and I was bowled over watching this on a 4k television. Sound is equally impressive with shorts featuring new scores in the case of Berth Marks; for Brats it makes available the original VitaPhone track. The shorts and both features have very little to no hiss and distortion, which can distract from the film. I think it’s safe to say that it is very unlikely these films will ever look and sound as good as in this set.

Features: As noted in the disc breakdown, each short and both feature films include expert commentary. The tracks are lively to listen to and offer a wealth of great information and fun for long-time fans or novices like myself. Rounding out the extras over the four discs, rare photos, trailers, audio interviews and other nice little tid-bits are included. This is a very nicely assembled collection of features, the highlights of which are of course the commentaries by the experts.


Laurel & Hardy: The Definitive Restorations

Final Thoughts and Overall View:

Having watched literally hours of Laurel and Hardy, I can firmly say I had a blast! The comedy is very much rooted in old vaudeville and while yes, some of it is corny - for example, the old banana peel gag - I couldn’t help but marvel over the physical comedy and the pin-point perfect timing. Each performer shines in their very own way but neither upstages the other. Of course, the pairing is nothing short of genius and the two riff and play off of each other effortlessly.

Poring over this set was really a crash course in all things Laurel and Hardy that I treasured. Kit Parker has made both features and 17 shorts look and sound great. In some cases, the original VitaPhone tracks, which haven’t been heard in 85 years,  have been lovingly rescued, which is mind blowing. In one case, newly discovered footage found in 2014 has now been lovingly restored and placed back into the short as originally intended.

Each disc has a wealth of information on each short in the form of very informative commentaries by Richard Bann and Randy Skretvedt. Randy has authored several books on Laurel and Hardy and he takes his wealth of information on the subject and makes each commentary a fun exploration. As a new fan I found this incredibly engrossing and invaluable. If the stunning restorations are the sundae, then the commentaries are the cherries on top. I also enjoyed how they included stuff like trailers, rare photos and audio interviews. They really jam-packed this release and I think that new-comers and experts alike will be attracted to the contents.


Laurel & Hardy: The Definitive Restorations

Clearly this is a case where the label really put a lot of love and care into this product. I can tell you for certain that restorations of this undertaking are a very long, painstaking process, which is also very costly. Which brings me to the price point and value. The sticker price might scare you off at first but I think that you get a quality that you cannot get with a bargain basement release. You really do get the biggest bang for your buck, and Laurel and Hardy fans or those of you like me that are new to their films will really have a great time with this collection. As someone who came into this knowing virtually nothing about the duo this set is like a L&H course with all the information and insights spread throughout. The shorts are well curated and even the menu lay-out is well thought out. I was surprised that this doesn’t come with a booklet but I suspect that printing this would have brought the price point up. If I would make one suggestion, I would have loved a Play-All option for the shorts. Maybe if we get a volume two, they could do this. Fingers crossed.

The title claims this as Definitive Restorations and that is well and truly the case. Every Laurel and Hardy fan and just fans of comedy in general, should own this set. Easily makes my list for Best Restoration and Best Overall Release of 2020.

Laurel & Hardy: The Definitive Restorations is on blu-ray now from Kit Parker/MVD.

Randy Skretvedt is the author of several books including 'Laurel & Hardy: The Magic Behind the Movies' and 'The Laurel & Hardy Movie Scripts: 20 Original Short Subject Screenplays'. Speaking about the new restorations he said "I was privileged to work on this release for a solid year (October 2018 to October 2019). Richard W. Bann provided dozens of wonderful stills from the films along with the studio documents (call sheets, music cue sheets, cutting continuities, etc.); I provided the photos for the other galleries, such as “Studio Hijinks,” the portraits in and out of costume, and so on. I have several items from Oliver Hardy’s personal collection, which in most cases are the only known copies – for example, his scrapbook from the films he made in 1916-17, the photos from the 1932 trip to England, and the Catalina vacation in 1934. I’m relieved to get those preserved in the digital domain; the same is true for the three interviews I filmed in Super 8 in 1981 with actress Anita Garvin, producer Joe Rock and special effects wizard Roy Seawright. I burrowed into my archive of audio tapes and provided excerpts from my interviews with producer Hal Roach, film editors Richard Currier and Bert Jordan, Oliver Hardy’s widow Lucille, and others. The late Marvin Hatley, who was the Roach studio’s musical director from 1930 to 1940, provided some rare original music tracks as well as an interview and a couple of hot “one man band” performances from 1975. I recorded commentaries for 19 of the 21 movies in the collection, so you’ll hear about the process of making the films. It was a lot of work, but mostly a lot of fun, and I’m grateful to have contributed to this release. The L&H shorts and features haven’t looked or sounded this good since the ‘30s. The new DVDs and Blu-rays should delight those who are already Laurel and Hardy fans, and I hope they will help young people discover the team’s artistry."







Michael Vaughn is a rabid horror and cult fan who turned that love into a career. He is a writer, blogger and film historian and now author of 'The Ultimate Guide to Strange Cinema' which Shock Wave Podcast named their pick of the month, and Chris Alexander of Fangoria called “recommended reading.”



His other credits include Scream Magazine, Fangoria and websites like Films in Review and Bloody Flicks(UK). Please follow his Twitter @StrangeCinema65 and Instagram @gorehound_mike.