UK | Canada | USA 2018
Opening May 9, 2019
Directed by: Jon S. Baird
Writing credits: Jeff Pope
Principal actors: Steve Coogan, John C. Reilly, Shirley Henderson, Nina Arianda
British Stan Laurel and American Oliver Hardy began working together as comedians in 1927. Their slapstick talent gained in popularity and everyone knew “Laurel and Hardy,” who were called “Dick und Doof” in Germany. They performed live on stage; they were also one of the few teams to move smoothly from silent movies to talking movies and eventually into television. Their oeuvre totaled 107 films (including silent, talking, short, cameos, and feature films).
Here, Steve Coogan plays Laurel and John C. Reilly (dressed to look fat) plays Hardy. Director Jon S. Baird begins with their tour through England in 1953, their last main engagement, after which they slowly retired, as Hardy was failing in health. They begin in small theaters, but word travels quickly so that, as they move northwards to Ireland, they are received in larger theaters full of appreciative audiences. Their appearance on stage is accompanied by their trademark music, “The Cuckoo Song.” While they are on the road, we watch them discuss their performances (created by Laurel), argue over past and present grudges and disappointments, and change into a variety of costumes (selected from 2000 pieces from three generations, as well as 20 different hats). They do agree that “All we had was each other, just the way we wanted it.” Director Baird draws on flashbacks to inform about their careers up to this point. We see original film material from their famous performance in Way out West (Dick und Doof im Wilden Westen). On stage Coogan and Reilly repeat the famous dance to the song “At the Ball, That’s All,” also from Way out West, all quite familiar to their loyal fans, as are their trademark bowler hats.
The film is excellent in educating viewers, both old and young in a theme they might have forgotten or may never have experienced. It also shows a type of comedy typical of the 1930s and ‘40s. It would be interesting to test whether its popularity would carry over to today as it did then. In those days viewers smoked in cinemas during the showing. It’s also interesting to see the influence welded by their wives: Lucille (Shirley Henderson), third wife of Hardy, and Ida, (Nina Arianda) wife of Laurel. Based on the book Laurel & Hardy – the British Tours by A.J. Marriot, we can thank Jon S. Baird, as well as the talented actors for fixating Laurel and Hardy back into today’s culture. (Becky T.)