It finally arrived! Ordered in April, released in the middle of June, shipping delayed due to a global pandemic and a tornado ripping the roof off of the Blu-Ray factory – it starts to sound like a Hal Roach Comedy in itself. But, four days into July and there it was on the doormat. The eagerly anticipated 4 disc Blu-Ray release of Laurel & Hardy – The Definitive Restorations.
This release had been tempting and teasing fans for months. Four (or six, if you prefer DVD), discs of the best-restored prints of some of the best-loved comedy classics from our favourite duo. Sons of the Desert, Way Out West, Helpmates, Towed in a Hole, County Hospital, Busy Bodies…the list went on and even included, for the first time ever on home video release, the almost fully restored Battle of the Century.
But wait, that’s not all! The discs also include ‘That’s That!’, the outtake reel produced exclusively for one of Stan Laurel’s birthdays, The Tree in a Test Tube and almost nine hours of extras, including original scripts, trailers, filmed interviews and audio interviews with some of the film’s original cast and crew, image galleries galore, not to mention expert commentaries from the likes of Randy Skretvedt and Richard W. Bann. This is the sort of treatment of the films we fans have been waiting for…forever! BUT, does it live up to its own hype?
Well, the answer is, yes it does! The image quality actually IS outstanding. I’ve viewed many different copies of the boys’ films over the years, but these discs are so clear, so pin-sharp, that in many cases, you could believe they’d been filmed yesterday. It is such a strange feeling to be seeing these incredibly familiar films, but feel like you’re seeing them for the first time (again!). It’s strange to think the films are 90-100 years old, they just look SO good. I read someone on social media recently describing the experience as similar to the first time they put on their new pair of spectacles and realising that they could finally see everything clearly. I like this analogy and it does convey this new viewing experience well.
All the films presented here have incredibly sharp, crisp, clear images. The only ones that differ slightly, to my eye at least, are Sons of the Desert and Brats, which have slightly more grain than the rest – but this is nit-picking at its most extreme as, even so, they are still excellent.
So far, I’ve only dipped into the extras, focussing on the quality of the films as a priority, but I can say there are some mouth-watering stills galleries, containing many images that I’ve not seen before. Among the few that I looked at were some great candid shots of a gag meeting on the set of Sons of the Desert between the boys and Charley Chase. I’ve seen so many stills over the years and so it’s rare to come across new ones and yet, there appear to be lots here to enjoy – this could take some time!
Also, the video interviews are a delight, I especially loved listening to Anita Garvin telling her stories about her experiences with the boys and James Finlayson on the Roach lot – it’s just a shame it doesn’t go on for a couple of hours. There are even more audio interviews as well. These appear to be the same interviews that were included on the accompanying CD to Randy’s Deluxe edition of his book. As such, I have heard these before, but they are truly fascinating and include an interview with The Boss, Mr Roach himself.
There have been some fabulous sets of restored Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd over the past few years and still they come. Then, after a huge absence on the market, in 2018 we saw the first Laurel & Hardy collection released on Blu-Ray ‘The Very Best of Laurel & Hardy’, and what a let down that was. No obvious improvement on the DVD quality that we’d all owned for years. The fans and arguably, more importantly, the boys themselves had been let down with a sub-standard, repackaging of previously available material.
Thank goodness, therefore, that Messrs. Skretvedt, Bann and everybody else involved in this latest triumph, have put things right. This collection of fantastic Laurel & Hardy shorts and features now look and sound better than we’ve ever seen and heard them before. We are not only treated to excellent picture quality but also some re-instated soundtracks from a number of films, including Berth Marks’ original 1929 release, not heard since the early 1930s. And what a difference that makes to the film, especially the opening sequence at the Santa Fe railway station, where the 1936 reissue soundtrack that we’ve become used to (also included in the set), has the jaunty Cuckoo theme playing over the top, the original 1929 track is much more reliant on the realistic sounds of the station environment, and I think is better for it.
Do I have any negative comments to make? No, not really. What there is here is perfect and we should all be so grateful for it. I suppose if I wanted to nit-pick, I perhaps would have liked a nicely designed cardboard slipcase, perhaps with an accompanying booklet, similar to the outstanding ‘Masters of Comedy’ Buster Keaton releases from Eureka – but hey, I’m not complaining. In the end, it’s all about the films and that’s what this release is all about.
All fans and collectors must invest in this set. Yes, because they’re wonderful and you’ll really enjoy seeing the films in this state, but also and arguably more importantly because we need to support the restorations and preservation of these films by purchasing physical copies. The unthinkable amount of work and dedication that goes into a release like this cannot come cheaply and if we don’t support these projects, by putting our hands in our pockets, then we’ll see less and less preservation work in the future. We’ll certainly see fewer releases on the market, available for us to own and watch at our leisure and our pleasure. So, if you’re on the fence as to whether to buy one – please, get off the fence and order today – you won’t regret it!
I’m off now to re-watch all the films again, this time with the expert commentaries from Randy and Richard, this is the gift that keeps on giving…
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