The Very Best of Laurel & Hardy
Just out in England (Universal Entertainment UK Blu-ray £19.99) is a three-disc set surely put together to capitalize on the new Stan and Ollie biopic. A lot of misinformation (and unfair assessments) of the set has been promulgated online, ao we're here to put on our bowler cap and set the record straight.
What the Set is Not
These are not the new restorations being worked on by the UCLA Film Archives and others and shown (so far) to select audiences, which has upset a lot of L&H fans who assumed that they were.
These ARE, instead, five feature films and three short subjects from the prime of Laurel & Hardy, upgraded from Universal's prior DVD releases (Universal holding the rights in Europe and France).
Something else the set is not: Region Free, despite the pre-release word that it would be. It's definitely locked for Region B, which means you'll need an all-region player if you're in the U.S.
What the Set Is
We have found the set to be a big leap forward from the previous DVD releases, with much improved picture and (especially) sound on the five features. The short subjects are rough in comparison and will no doubt need the restorations UCLA is giving them, which is probably why they're listed as "bonus material." (Note that we saw no evidence of artifacting or other sloppy transfers that at least one critic has claimed.)
Pardon Us (1931, dir. James Parrott) was the first feature film to star the Boys; it's a prison picture, and probably my favorite of all their features. This is the extended version, with a (dubbed) fire sequence in which our heroes rescue a very shapely June Marlowe from a house aflame.
Sons of the Desert (1933, dir. William Seiter) is generally considered the masterpiece amongst their features, with L&H attending a convention (with Charley Chase!) instead of going on a cruise for Ollie's health. A gem.
Our Relations (1936, dir. Harry Lachman) gives us Stan & Ollie and their twin brothers, Burt & Alf, in probably the most Shakespearean farce they ever produced. One of their weaker features and yet still funny enough to be considered a genuine laugh riot, with Alan Hale, James Finlayson, and Sidney Toler considerably helping the picture.
Way Out West (1937, dir. James W. Horne) is a rival for the title of their best picture, thanks to the singing and dancing the Boys perform in the film and another great performance by Finlayson.
Block-Heads (1938, dir. John G. Blystone) is another favorite 'round here. Rumored at the time to be the final L&H picture (it wasn't, but maybe it should've been), Ollie picks up Stanley at the Old Soldiers Home and launches into a remake of their first sound short, Unaccustomed as We Are. Arguably the last of the great slapstick clown movies of the 1930s.
The short subjects included as bonuses include Another Fine Mess (1930) and two of their best shorts, Towed in a Hole (1932) and Busy Bodies (1933).
The Wrap Up
This is a low-cost gem of a set (with shipping from the UK, our final cost was under $25). The films are spread across three discs as follows: Block-Heads/Our Relations; Pardon Us/Sons of the Desert; and Way Out West/bonus shorts. Highly, highly recommended for fans who want to upgrade their DVD versions.
THE PREVIOUS INSTALLMENT OF THE LAUREL & HARDY FUN HOUSE CAN BE FOUND HERE.