Comedy

CMBA Blogathon: A Passion for Laurel & Hardy

Oliver Hardy (left) and Stan Laurel .... Image: alsdfjk as
Two of our favourite scamps, Oliver Hardy (left) and Stan Laurel. Image: fanpop.com

During our angst-ridden teen years, which were complete with thick brown glasses and imaginary social life, we discovered Laurel and Hardy.

We had seen classic films before, but didn’t realize how seemingly free-wheeling and fun these films could be. Laurel and Hardy showed us something new: filmmakers in the silent era were clever and witty, and didn’t need spoken dialogue to make great movies.

Our discovering Laurel and Hardy is a long story, so if you’d like to skip the next two paragraphs, we understand.

When we were growing up, Sunday mornings at our house were nothing but tumultuous. There were five children in our family, all of whom had to be washed, fed and packed into the car so we could go to Mass and learn how to Behave. In order to have some bathroom privacy before the mad pre-church rush, we (as in, yours truly) would get up at 6:00 a.m.

But one morning, in a cranky and rebellious mood, we turned on the television instead of brushing our teeth – and our world changed. We discovered that one of our local television stations showed Laurel and Hardy shorts. Not only that, these good television folk dedicated thirty minutes to Laurel and Hardy every Sunday morning. Watching these shorts became our new Sunday morning routine. We embraced it more enthusiastically than going to church, we’re afraid to say.

Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were a hugely popular slapstick comedy duo during the early years of Hollywood film. Laurel, the thin Englishman, was goofy, naive and endearing. Hardy, the stout American, was wily and often a little too smart for his own good.  They made over 100 films together, 32 of which were short silents.

One of their shorts, Liberty (1929), is the one we most remember from our childhood. It may not be the most celebrated Laurel and Hardy short, but we feel it should be. Liberty has all the elements we love about the duo, including a fairly twisted ending.

Liberty is only 19 minutes long, but what a wild 19 minutes! It’s a crazy little flick about two escaped prisoners, portrayed by our lads Laurel and Hardy. During the first half of the film, the two try to exchange pants. During the second half of the film, they try not to fall off an under-construction skyscraper.

Here’s how Liberty captures our first impressions of Laurel and Hardy shorts:

  1. It’s filmed outside, which gives us an interesting view of 1920s Los Angeles. As a teenager, we were fascinated by these outdoor scenes.
  2. The gags are fresh and clever, and make us laugh out loud.
  3. The skyscraper scene, which appears to be filmed at least 20 stories above the street, makes us feel like a kid watching a magic act for the first time.
  4. We identify with Laurel and Hardy. We know all too well what it’s like to be in a ridiculous situation of our own making.

Laurel and Hardy in general, and Liberty in particular, made us hungry for classic film. They knew how to give movie audiences a good time. They seem to have so much fun, which makes it fun for us.

And for opening a new world to a teenage girl with thick brown glasses, we are eternally grateful.

Liberty: starring Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. Directed by Leo McCarey. Titles by H.M. Walker. Hal Roach Studios, B&W, 1929, 19 mins.

This post is part of the FILM PASSION 101 blogathon, hosted by the Classic Movie Blog Association. Be sure to read all the other fab entries!

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36 thoughts on “CMBA Blogathon: A Passion for Laurel & Hardy

  1. Ruth – thank you for sharing such a beautiful memory! Stan and Ollie are the best and have certainly stood the test of time. Everyone bows before Chaplin, Keaton & Lloyd, but for just sheer laughs, the boys can’t be beat. And what you say about the 1920s landscape is so true – these films offer us a precious glimpse of a world that, in some cases, no longer survives (but how fun to see something that still exists today).

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  2. Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy probably mean more to me than any other clowns in the business. Of course, you understand I use “clowns” as a most revered term.

    “Liberty” leaves me breathless with laughter and it’s wonderful that the boys were there for you and opened the door to so much.

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  3. “Watching these shorts became our new Sunday morning routine. We embraced it more enthusiastically than going to church, we’re afraid to say.” LOL!!!
    I can completely understand this statement. My Sunday morning ritual was going to church with my father and then we’d visit my grandmother. During this whole time I kept hoping we would accomplish all this in time for us to get home and watch the 1 o’clock movie that was on every Sunday, generally a Warner Brother flick.
    Laurel and Hardy are classic!!! If I remember correctly the L&H shorts used to be on one of our local stations every weekday sometime after school let out. LIBERTY is fun film and I can easily understand your affection for it. Thanks for sharing!

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  4. Wonderful piece, Ruth. Your memories stir up my own of early days when Laurel & Hardy were regularly on TV in our area and my brother and I watched them every chance we got. As I recall, all the kids loved Laurel & Hardy in those days, and why not? They’re laugh out loud hilarious and each such a unique and classic comic character. So happy you met Stan and Ollie when you did!

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    1. Exactly – what’s not to love about Laurel & Hardy? I’ve really enjoyed watching their short films again in preparation for this blogathon. I was taken back to our family room, gleefully watching these movies while the rest of the house slept…Ah, memories!

      That’s a wonderful thing to hear, that these films were such a hit with the kids in your area. Even kids today would enjoy them, I’m sure.

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  5. What a fun post about your Sunday morning with L&H! I remember watching Stan and Ollie as a wee kid on weekday mornings. I had no idea how old their shorts were or that they were considered one of the greatest comedy acts of all time. I just knew that they made me laugh–a lot.

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  6. Ruth, I loved your memories of you watching Laurel & Hardy shorts and you getting up super-early so you wouldn’t be late for church! I must confess the first time I even saw Laurel & Hardy was on an animated version with Scooby-Doo solving mysteries, but once I saw real Laurel & Hardy films, I was way more impressed! 🙂 My “gateway drug” to L&H was THE MARCH OF THE WOODEN SOLDIERS. Your memories had me smiling, my friend; thanks for sharing your memories for the CMBA Film Passion 101 Blogathon!

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    1. LOL – DORIAN!! I love your phrase “gateway drug”! Now I have to go back and re-watch “The March of the Wooden Soldiers”.

      I didn’t realize L&H had an animated guest spot on Scooby Doo. I’m very pleased to hear it.

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  7. OH! I must see LIBERTY! I spend too much time between Laurel and Hardy viewings, but then I see them and remind myself that I love them! Fantastic artists and regardless of whether some of their usual gags were..usual. They were always funny!

    Another great post, Ruth! Loved your memories. Particularly when you came to the realization that you preferred the duo to church. At that point you were a goner!

    Aurora

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    1. They were always funny, weren’t they? Even if the gags had been done by others, they seemed to make the material seem fresh. I saw a doc one time that said the two had genuine affection for each other, and I think you can tell when you watch their movies.

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  8. Ruth, I need to read your blog with a pen and notebook in hand. You always give me movies to put on my “watch soon” list. I must admit I have never seen a Laurel and Hardy movie. I feel embarrassed to say it. I am completely familiar with them, but only through cultural references. When I hear you describe them, it reminds me of Gilligan’s Island. I used to watch it after school, and completely empathize with Gilligan who was always doing dumb things that would make the skipper mad. Now it is fun to watch our children watch reruns of that show and laugh out loud. I am not a movie critic, I am probably humiliating myself to compare Laurel and Hardy with Gilligan’s Island. But if that is true, all the more I need to read your blog posts to educate myself. Thank you, Ruth, for any help you can give me!:)

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    1. You’ve made an excellent point, and something I’ve suspected for years. I’m convinced Gilligan and the Skipper are based on Laurel and Hardy. The body types are similar and both excel at physical comedy. There’s no shame in saying you’ve never seen a Laurel and Hardy film – it just means you have some wonderful viewing ahead of you. If you do have the chance, please try to see “Liberty”. The scenes filmed on the skyscraper are truly amazing! I can barely watch, for fear they will fall off…and I’ve seen this film many times!

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  9. The wonderful thing about these movies is that they’re even funnier to me now than they were when I was a kid. Stan Laurel’s tiny expressions and Oliver Hardy’s delicate moves are models of comic economy. And I loved the personal side of your Laurel and Hardy discovery.

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  10. What a fun story, Ruth! I feel bad though admitting that I have never seen a Laurel and Hardy movie, at least not in full. My dad had their movies on a lot when I was a kid, but sadly I never sat down and watched with him. I can see now through your vivid descriptions why he loved them so much. I hope I get the chance to see Liberty someday. Thanks for sharing your memories!

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  11. Ruth just gave herself away by using the term “Mass.” (Said the lapsed Catholic.)

    Liberty is one of my favorite L&H shorts, only because it’s so atypical of their output (the “daredevil” comedy is usually associated with Harold Lloyd…and even he didn’t make as many as people think). I didn’t get exposed to The Boys until much later in life (our TV stations carried the Three Stooges, Andy Clyde and others) but my appetite was whetted by exposure to those Hanna-Barbera/Larry Harmon cartoons of Stan and Oliver (I know they’re horrible…but if they can get kids interested in L&H they can’t be all that bad). Always nice to hear from a fellow L&H fan!

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    1. Ha ha – you’re right, Ivan! My father is a dyed-in-the-wool Catholic and he fervently believed that taking us to mass each Sunday would turn us into exemplary human beings. Poor slob.

      Thanks for your comments. I never saw those NB/LH cartoons of Laurel & Hardy – I feel like I’m missing out on something!

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  12. Such a sweet story, Ruth!
    As Ivan mentions, Liberty is certainly one of their best and funniest shorts. A nice way to cut your teeth in.

    I’m really enjoying reading how all of my friends, CMBArs found their passion for classic cinema. : )
    Page

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  13. Late to the party here, Ruth, but wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed this post! There was a time in my childhood where I too was dragged along to church when I’d much rather have stayed home and watched an old movie on TV. Thanks for sharing your vivid Laurel & Hardy memories!

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    1. Ha! Thanks, Jeff. I see you can relate! My poor father was only trying to do what he thought was best. But it was sure a treat to have the TV and the family room to myself, even if only for a half hour, to watch these wonderful movies.

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  14. I’m late to the party too, Ruth. A thousand apologies. Love L&H and because of your mention of “Liberty” I have a story to share that I think you will enjoy.

    It was the 1970s, and my dad had a 16mm projector and he had a few films in his collection, including a copy of “Liberty.” We ran “Liberty” one Sunday afternoon when some family friends were over. Their daughter, who at the time was teaching at a school on a rather poor, undeveloped island in the South Pacific, was home for a visit, came with and everyone just hit the floor laughing.

    She asked my dad if she could borrow the film, as her school had a 16mm movie projector, power provided by a portable generator, and would sometimes show movies on the beach. She was sure her students, and their parents, would enjoy the film.

    The results were euphoric. She wrote us that they showed on the movie on the beach and many people were laughing so hard they could hardly breathe. She was asked to run it several more times, to even larger and heartier laughs. She wrote to my dad that it was one of the most unforgettable moments she ever had as a teacher. Comedy is universal, as “Liberty” proved all too well to a South Seas audience one evening.

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  15. I love Laurel and Hardy! They really are hilarious, but also show you what society was like in the early part of the 20th century. So, if you feel energetic and like you want to watch a comedy, you can watch Laurel and Hardy, but also if you’re feeling philosophical and academic, you can watch to study society, which I don’t think I’ve ever done. I love that Stan is always suggesting something, and then Oliver pushes him aside so he can do it. But then it turns out messing Oliver up, often pouring water on him. Thanks so much for posting this!

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  16. Thanks. Discovering L & H is one of those unrepeatable bliss experiences. And they made so many wonderful films and stage performances! Delighted to have discovered your entertaining blog and looking forward to lots more exploring.

    Regards from Thom at the immortal jukebox (drop a nickel).

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