Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were one of the most brilliant comedy duos working in silent and early talking films. Those of us who have enjoyed their films will never forget Laurel and Hardy. Some of the most memorable moments are reproduced here with great care by American actor John C. Reilly and British actor Steve Coogan. While they are making their classic 1937 comedy Way out west, Stan refuses to renew his contract with producer Hal Roach and wants to sign with another studio. Oliver disagrees, and because of his refusal to follow his partner’s plan, Stan will feel betrayed and bitter for years. Jump forward to 1953 when they haven’t done a film in two years film. They have accepted a tour of British Music halls. The producer Bernard Delfont (Rufus Jones) has booked them in small second class theatres, and with no publicity, the comedians have to play to empty houses. To top it all they have to sleep in cheap hotels or bed and breakfast/ guesthouses. Delfont tells them that unless they do some publicity and public appearances, he can’t promise better venues or that they can even finish the tour. He was right, after small efforts from Stan and Ollie and word of mouth, they start filling the theatres and become a great success. Soon they are joined by their wives Lucille Laurel and Ida Hardy (Shirley Henderson and Nina Arianda). Everyone gets along fine, if you don’t count Stan’s resentments from the past rearing its ugly head once in a while, and Ollie’s health. Oliver has gained some weight and at his age, life on the road has become difficult. John C. Reilly (helped by tons of make up) and Steve Coogan look so much like the real Laurel and Hardy and they worked so hard at their timing and the routines. When the two are on stage it’s a tour-de-force. It is less successful when they are seen doing comedy in their daily lives. Stan and Ollie checking in at the hotel and trying to impress an unimpressed the hotel clerk doesn’t quite work. But that’s a small problem that won’t spoil the joy of Laurel/Coogan and Hardy/Reilly. I should also note that Henderson and Arianda have worked out a pleasurable little comic duo of their own. This has been made for people like me who know and have enjoyed Laurel and Hardy, but also for the younger generations to discover them. That’s what I hope.
Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from February 8 – 14
Stan & Ollie
Jon S. Baird
John C. Reilly