While we are blessed with the availability of Laurel and Hardy on so many mediums these days, some do lag behind other media and of course could work harder with what they do have. Original Beau Chumps tent member, Ian Self, with whom I share being both longer in the tooth and shorter of hair than in the ‘old days’, looks at Amazon Prime, and has unearthed several items that are definitely worth looking up.
If you want to know more about the individual films mentioned or ‘highlighted’ individuals, click on the title to be taken to their page elsewhere on the website.
Ian: Finding any Laurel & Hardy on the box these days is often a fruitless exercise. The halcyon days I remember with Stan & Ollie regulars on BBC (Saturday mornings and Weekday teatime being the most memorable) and ITV and Channel Four chipping in occasionally, are a distant but happy memory. Before the days of DVD, most of my VHS collection of Laurel & Hardy were direct recordings from those broadcasts. I’ve still got them somewhere; a huge collection of Maxell and TDK 180 tapes, never to be viewed again thanks to the digital age.
Sadly, the main terrestrial channels in the UK have largely abandoned The Boys and that is a crying shame. In recent years I have worked with younger people who (brace yourselves) have never heard of Laurel and Hardy. I mean, that’s got to be wrong, hasn’t it? New generations of potential fans completely oblivious to the greatest comedy team that ever lived? It doesn’t sit right with me at all. (well, no, and that doesn’t sit well with me either. When I was in a cab while on holiday in LA a few years ago, we drove through Culver City. “Gasp!” – or similar – I exclaimed to the taxi driver who was easily in his mid 40’s. “This is where Laurel and Hardy made their pictures”! “Who?” he replied!!! MJ)
Satellite TV in the UK grew slowly in the early 1990’s. I first got Sky in 1991 and it was a completely different beast to the pocket-emptying machine that it is today. The early Sky broadcast its various channels from the Astra satellite, including many European channels, some of which were extremely bizarre but you could catch some Laurel & Hardy if you were lucky or bought one of the Satellite TV magazines that had full programme listings. I particularly remember watching ‘Swiss Miss’ late one evening on a German channel, it had an English soundtrack and German subtitles which almost covered half the screen. I stuck with it but it was a bit of a chore.
Sky has now evolved into a slicker operation with scores of channels but there’s still a dearth of Laurel & Hardy. It isn’t all bad news though as channels like TCM (Turner Classic Movies) and Talking Pictures have featured the boys at fairly irregular intervals for a few years now. Only Talking Pictures is available on Freeview or Freesat though with TCM only available on Sky or Virgin Media and not in HD, which is disappointing in this High-Definition age.
In the last few years, viewing options in the UK have considerably widened with the phenomenon that is Netflix and its main competitor: Amazon Prime. They both offer a wealth of viewing and at a considerably cheaper rate than Sky or Virgin. I haven’t yet fully delved into the Netflix world but I have with Amazon Prime and I’m pleased to report that there’s a considerable amount of Laurel & Hardy to be enjoyed. However, there are pitfalls as I’ll explain more fully later. I’m not going to list everything available on Amazon Prime but hopefully this mini-guide can help you through the good, bad and, frankly, unwatchable. Various screenshots are included to give you a rough idea of the quality on offer.
Hats Off – a documentary (57 mins)
No. Sadly this is not the long lost silent precursor to The Music Box, remarkably rediscovered and kept quiet by Amazon. Instead, it’s a fair to middling documentary on The Boys which was made in 2009 but you will probably spend most of your time, as I did, pulling it to pieces. Specially filmed sequences (Ulverston etc.) are reasonable quality but the film clips (largely from The Flying Deuces) are just awful.
Stan & Ollie Classic Comedies – 3 Hilarious Shorts (69 mins)
I’m not at all sure where Amazon picked this up but it seems to be lifted from a poor quality DVD release from GoodTimes Productions (no, me neither!) and it includes Brats, Hog Wild and The Laurel & Hardy Murder Case which is a very attractive line-up. The good news is that all three shorts are intact, complete with original Roach opening and closing titles, however the picture quality throughout is poor.
The Best Of Laurel & Hardy In Colour (84 mins)
This is a really nice compilation although it isn’t clear which production company are behind it, although someone reading this is sure to know.
It’s a really good collection of various scenes from Roach sound shorts and feature films and the picture and sound quality is good to very good. I particularly enjoyed the captions between each “topic”.
Babes In Toyland (77 mins) : March Of The Wooden Soldiers (in colour) (77mins)
Identical films of course, choose your preferred title and / or colour preference! I’ve seen some terrible prints of this film over the years but I’m happy to say both the black and white Babes in Toyland and the colour March of the Wooden Soldiers are excellent quality in all respects.
All original titles and end credits appear to be intact. Well worth your time.
Bogus Bandits (Fra Diavolo) (89 mins)
Bogus Bandits is a terrible title. But this is how Astor Pictures retitled Fra Diavolo (Aka The Devils Brother) on its reissue. That nasty title card aside, I can’t find anything to criticise here as the print quality is very good throughout.
Double Whoopee (19 mins)
Possibly best known for an early appearance of a scantily clad Jean Harlow, as seen at the start of the article, Double Whoopee has company. There are many other silent shorts from the Cine America range to watch on Amazon Prime, including Big Business, Habeas Corpus, Do Detectives Think? and Leave ‘em Laughing. The picture quality varies quite a lot on these so approach with some caution.
Laurel & Hardy’s Laughing 20’s (90 mins)
The Robert Youngson compilations of The Boys are always well put together and enjoyable and Amazon has a very good print of Laughing 20’s here. Its often worth remembering that Youngson was instrumental in the Laurel and Hardy revival in the 60’s with his numerous films both featuring and ‘starring’ the boys.
The Flying Deuces (114 mins) : The Flying Deuces (colour) (64 mins)
The running times differ here because the black and white version also includes ‘The Stolen Jools’, ‘The Tree In A Test Tube’ and the ‘This Is Your Life’ TV appearance. The black and white print of ‘Deuces’ isn’t the best but the colour version is excellent.
That’s just a sample of Laurel & Hardy viewing on Amazon Prime and all of them are free to watch on your Amazon membership. Be aware that there are some lacklustre documentaries on there and some prints that are just unwatchable but the vast majority get a thumbs up from this viewer.
The other main thing to note about Amazon Prime Video is that not all Laurel & Hardy films are free to watch. A few (for example; a version of ‘The Devil’s Brother’) are for rental or to buy. Prices start from £2.49 but I haven’t been tempted with any of them as I have most on DVD or Blu-Ray.
Finally, it is always worth recomembering that: this information is correct for Amazon Prime UK but other countries may have some differences. And we mustn’t forget the other old chestnut: Other expensive viewing platforms are available!
We hope you enjoyed reading Ian’s thoughts and will take the opportunity to look up some of the stuff he’s uncovered on Amazon. Clearly, there is some useful additions there, and if you know of any others fellow viewing aficionados would appreciate, please leave a comment below, and your thoughts will receive a response on this page.