“ Baird’s film charms from start to finish.” – Wayward Wolf.
The very fact that Stan continued to write comedy material for Laurel & Hardy for many years following the death of his comedy partner, Oliver, speaks volumes about what Laurel & Hardy truly meant to him.
A labour of love.
The fact that this material was actually never used and that Stan refused to even entertain the notion of allowing Ollie’s shoes to be filled by anyone else also speaks volumes for the regard in which he held his now departed friend and comedy partner, even if this perhaps might not have always been apparent at times during their working life together.
Stan’s prolific work ethic and inability – or was it unwillingness? – to ever switch off and ‘drop the act’, also shows just how much he lived and breathed his particular vocation and indeed who the true driving force was in this much loved comedy duo.
From the evidence of Jon S. Baird’s poignant biopic, Stan & Ollie, it would seem that Ollie was in fact just happy enough to be along for the ride, though his integral part in helping to bring Stan’s wonderful comic visions to life should never be underestimated.
Baird’s film focuses upon late era Laurel & Hardy at a time in which they were seeking to revive their professional fortunes with a view to securing a lucrative film deal. As with so many of yesterday’s acts, the pair are forced to face the reality that life has moved on without them and that the public’s appetite for all things Laurel & Hardy has waned somewhat over the years, as evidenced by poor ticket sales and half empty second rate theatres booked for their come-back tour of the United Kingdom.
Of course, having a disinterested second-rate theatrical promoter more interested in exulting the wonders of his new comedy A-lister, Norman Wisdom, than putting any effort into promoting Laurel & Hardy, does little to help the matter.
Regardless, Stan and Ollie pursue a rigorous self-promotion campaign the length and breadth of the UK which, while not exactly swelling the coffers, does at least serve to remind the British Public just how much they did and still do adore the pair and their comedic brilliance. Once again they find a way into the public’s hearts. But an undercurrent of simmering resentment together with Ollie’s health problems will prove to be just as problematic for Hollywood’s favourite sons.
Stan & Ollie strikes the perfect balance between sentimentality and humour due in no small part to two nicely understated and respectful performances from John C. Reilly (Hardy) and Steve Coogan (Laurel).
Indeed, showcasing both his considerable talent as an impressionist and a natural penchant for executing highly visual humour – plus I’d wager a deep-rooted admiration for Stan Laurel to boot – it’s as though Coogan was born to play this role.
Far from making up the numbers, the supporting cast are equally important to the integrity and flow of Baird’s film. Rufus Jones is wonderfully smarmy and disingenuous as Stan & Ollie’s promoter, Bernard, a man almost politician-like in his ability to deflect away from any line in awkward questioning. Shirley Henderson and Nina Arianda are equally excellent in their portrayal of the self-assured Lucille and Ida, respectively.
As is mentioned in the film, they are not only the boys’ wives but owing to their frequent passive-aggressive bickering, they are something of an intriguing double-act in themselves. Anyone that’s familiar with Laurel and Hardy’s back catalogue of work will be all too familiar with the kind of dominating matriarchal nature of their many on-screen wives. And if Baird’s characterisation is to be believed, there’s definitely something of a case for real life imitating art here.
With Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and Commencement to Dancing providing a warm and nostalgic soundtrack, and with delightful dance routines and timeless comedy skits providing ample laughs, Baird’s film charms from start to finish.
“It’s all stuff and nonsense really, isn’t it?” quips an old-timer following one of Laurel and Hardy’s sold-out London performances. Indeed it is, Sir, and in the most marvellous way.
To this day, it remains indisputable. No-one has ever done it better.
Stan & Ollie – a wonderfully heart-felt ode to the greatest comedy double act the world has ever seen.