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…
Click to buy your copy here:
23 thoughts on “Laurel & Hardy – The Definitive Restorations”
I had heard that Hog Wild still needed clean up of dirt and other wear. Is that true?.
Funnily enough, John, I almost included Hog Wild in my list of films that weren’t at the very highest quality image, but I let it go, as overall it still looks amazing. The two I mentioned, Sons and Brats are the most noticeably grainy, but again, still great.
I thought “Hog Wild” looked terrific. Notice how much more image area there is — we’ve been looking at a severely cropped version for our whole lives! The source used for the new video is a “full aperture” frame size, used in prints for theaters which employed the sound-on-disc method. Prints with sound on the film would have lopped off much of the image at the left of the frame.
Any comments about the, ah, almost nine hours of extras? The audio and film interviews with L&H co-workers, 2500 stills, trailers, music tracks, commentaries, etc.?? I’m very glad that you are so happy with the film transfers (as am I) but I’m itching to know what you think of the supplemental material. — Randy
Hi Randy, thanks for your message. I’ve only had the set about two days and was more focussed on the films to be fair, although I will say I loved the video interviews, especially with Anita Garvin, I could have listened to her stories for hours. The audio interviews are also great, but I think these are the same that we’re included on your book’s accompanying CD, so I haven’t really-listened to them as yet. I’ve dipped in to the stills gallery and they are very exciting – I’ll probably amend my review as I forgot to make proper mention of these. I was slobbering over many of these images that I’ve never seen before, particularly the ones of the gag meeting on set of Sons of the Desert, with Charley Chase. I’m looking forward to going through all the galleries and also listening to yours and Richard commentaries. Thanks again for sharing so much of
Your collections – it’s such a treat!
Excellent review Patrick; I agree with everything you say! I only have the six DVD set (purchased so I can show them at future Beau Chumps Tent meetings where our venue doesn’t have a Blu-Ray player), but the additional clarity, lack of flicker and scratching and in many cases, the slightly larger frame is remarkable and is indeed like seeing things for the first time.
The original soundtracks on several films – as Stan intended – rather than the less appropriate ‘music of the day’ inserted for the 1937 re-releases add so much too. Again, almost like seeing the film for the first time.
I do have one (very minor) gripe though. When listening to Randy’s excellent commentaries, the soundtrack on the film is silent on the DVDs. I wonder, is this also the case with the Blu-Rays?
Thanks Mike, I’m glad you like the sets too. Yes, it appears the film’s soundtrack is muted when the commentaries are playing. Thanks for sharing your comments 👍🏻
That was not my preference — when I recorded and submitted my first commentary, it had the film soundtrack playing at a low level underneath my voice. I was told to do it over without any soundtrack at all. I thought this was odd, as do many people now hearing those tracks, but it was not my choice to make.
Perhaps they felt the soundtrack was distracting attention from your information… I think on most films that I’ve seen, the soundtrack plays at a low level under the commentary. It’s a shame they made that call, but they must have had good reason. Ive heard great comments from some
of my followers about your and Richard’s commentaries, I’m really
looking forward to listening to them. So much to take in, so little time. Thanks for taking the time to respond to these comments Randy, it is appreciated.
Hello again Randy.
Yes, I thought that would be the case but it is only a minor gripe as I said. When I juxtapose the loss of what would be a low volume soundtrack anyway against what we are gaining with this wonderful set, it really is nothing in the overall scheme of things.
I know I’ve said this to you already, but we are all massively in your debt for your part in getting this back in the public eye.
I agree. These DVDs were a great treat. Again, you have given a great analysis in the blog.
Thanks Laura, I’m glad you think so 👍🏻
My wife and I are spending part of our evenings lately going through this excellent Blu-ray collection ….and what a great time we’re having!! It’s always wonderful re-discovering just how brilliant Stan and Ollie were – how (seemingly) effortless their physical ‘bits of business’ were, and how they transformed words on paper into a symphony of charm and laughter! The physical comedy technique was invisible, unlike the ballet-like work of Chaplain (not a knock on Charlie, but a reflection on the remarkable craftsmanship of Laurel and Hardy). I’m excited about going forward into the next several discs. Thankfully, Mr. Skredvedt’s commentaries are so full of detail and rich with information that you almost don’t notice that there’s no film soundtrack playing at all – almost…. I must say that I miss hearing low-volume audio under the commentary, and there are occasionally references to dialog and music that would be great to be able to spot-check.
I’ll deal with it!! I love this set of films!!!
As usual, great comments, Bert. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’m sure you and your wife are in for many more evenings of interest and entertainment- It really is a release to treasure and savour.
ik heb enorm genoten van deze collectie
ik vind het geweldig knap hoe deze films na bijna een eeuw.. er zo prachtig kunnen uitzien
respect vannuit belgie
Bedankt voor je bericht, Tommy. Ik ben blij dat je geniet van de nieuwe set, het is echt een schat. Bedankt voor het bezoeken van mijn website.
The link to buying the Blu Ray isn’t working. Is it available in the UK??
Hi Jonathan, thanks for your message. It appears the link will only work if you’re in the US! This is because it is only available to purchase from US websites. So, you’ll need to visit Amazon.com (as opposed to Amazon.co.uk) as purchase from there. They do ship to UK, so that’s not an issue, it’s just costs extra due to import taxes and shipping etc. It might be worth googling it and shopping around to find the best price. There are other retailers that sell and ship to UK. Good luck – it is worth it! 👍🏻
Patrick, thanks again for this enthusiastic review — I’m very glad that you are pleased with the new release. A lot of people worked very hard for a *long* time to make this a real tribute to Stan and Babe, and I’m glad you think that we succeeded.
Here’s a source which will ship the Blu-rays or DVDs to the UK:
Best wishes always–
Will these work on any uk blu ray player or will i need a region free player.
Hi James, this is region free and works on UK players just fine. Thanks for visiting the blog 👍🏻
Yes, both the DVD and Blu-ray editions will play worldwide.