Stan and Ollie is an essential and touching tribute to the incontestable comedy duo of the early Classical Hollywood era, more affectionately known as ‘Laurel and Hardy’, inspired by documents from author A. J. Marriot.
With only few films in his repertoire, Scottish director Jon S. Baird, admits audiences into his BAFTA award-winning film, to take a look behind the theatre curtains and reveal the untold realities that lurked behind the stage.
The pair are past their prime, so they embark on a variety hall tour across the UK to salvage so much of what is slipping right before them with plenty of pitfalls and pickups along the way.
The film opens as we peek into a production on set for ‘Way Out West’ in 1937, where Laurel (Steve Coogan) and Hardy (John C. Reilly) are performing their instantly recognisable dance sequence in front of the saloon under the harsh reigns of producer Hal Roach (Danny Huston).
Unbeknownst to some, Roach already had a reliable star in his command, American actor and silent comedian, Harold Lloyd. However, after a few movies, Lloyd soon learned that Roach was pocketing all the earnings from his work with no remuneration. Lloyd left and Roach expediently paired together two strangers who would go on to be cinema’s greatest double-act in Hollywood history.
What follows 16 years later, are Stan and Ollie’s odyssey years of the early 1950s after being separated when Laurel repudiated Roach’s terms of work because he’s a ‘parvenu’ (look it up in the dictionary, there’s a picture of Hal). While Hardy, was forced to continue having still been under contract with Roach. Now the pair has reunited for a tour across Britain’s smaller theatres, while they despondently await financial backing for their comeback movie.
The portrayal of the pair is precision perfect. From the accent and tone to the gestures and expressions, Coogan and Reily have honoured their characters illustriously. However, it’s a complex course to play someone who is or was real. The disadvantage is to give reverence to something people think they know and the advantage is having source material from films, archives and personal accounts to recreate a persona. Ultimately though, the two managed to reincarnate a vision of what audiences would have seen on screen almost 80 years ago.
Plaudits of course to prosthetics masters, led by makeup supervisor Jeremy Woodhead and Mark Coulier, Academy Award winners for their work on ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ and ‘The Iron Lady’.
If fans of the comedians didn’t realise it in their heyday, what Baird and Writer Jeff Pope manage to convey through Laurel and Hardy’s off-screen persona, in this case, Stan and Ollie, is that maybe they didn’t receive their due because they didn’t have ideas above their station, in that little thought went into the future of securing a legacy. Instead, one worked to live and one lived to work. So while they never bore a cachet of the likes of Chaplin or Keaton, their unassuming, humble appeal is what made them lovable beings from beginning to end.
Having grown up on my mum’s VHS collection of Laurel and Hardy, what’s most endearing and familiar in the film, is the adoration for the duo across England. Despite their career being superseded, learning that they came here at a very vulnerable time in their life, audiences here reminded them how valued they were and will forever more.
A far cry from being parvenus!