I have been really looking forward to seeing this movie. I, along with countless millions around the world, have fond memories of watching regular re-runs of Laurel & Hardy movies on TV, and they hold a very special place in so many people’s hearts. Timeless legends that deserve to be remembered for generations to come. That being said, the preview screening I attended last night was probably only a quarter full, so I fear that this story detailing the latter part of their career isn’t really going to appeal to mainstream audiences. I kind of hope it reignites interest in their work though as this truly is a wonderful film.
The movie begins in 1937, where Stan and Ollie are currently riding high as the most successful comedy performers in Hollywood. They’re at Hal Roach studios, making their way to the set of Way Out West in order to shoot another scene. They’re just chatting away together as we follow them – about their wives, about money. Stan’s contract with Hal Roach is due to end shortly, while Ollie’s isn’t, and Stan is conscious of the fact that they don’t actually own the rights to their own movies, so don’t make as much money as performers such as Charlie Chaplin. He argues a bit with Hal Roach about it, before he and Ollie perform a song and dance number for the movie (the original clip of this scene is shown at the end of this movie, highlighting just how perfectly they nailed the recreation of it here). That short conversation, and the differing viewpoints regarding money and their film rights, lays the foundations for the rest of the movie, and we then jump forward 16 years.
The boys arrive in Newcastle, England in 1953. They’re here to perform a tour of the UK, recreating classic scenes from their movies in an attempt to generate enough interest in them to get a movie made. A retelling of Robin Hood, which is being written by Stan. Age is clearly catching up with them though, particularly with Ollie, while Stan remains the driving force of the pair, constantly performing classic gags and coming up with new ideas. Unfortunately for them, they barely manage to fill half the seats of the theatres they perform in, with concern growing as to whether or not their eventual London dates will even go ahead. Their wives are due to join them on tour in a couple of weeks time, and they’re also concerned as to what they’ll make of it all when they arrive, especially as the boys are currently only staying in small, simple guest houses. Promoter Bernard Delfont (one of the movies funniest supporting roles) is keen to get them out and about promoting themselves, attending events and meeting dignitaries. His interests initially seem focused elsewhere in the theatre business, particularly with upcoming British comedy performer Norman Wisdom, so it’s hard work generating interest in Laurel & Hardy once more. Luckily though, the effort pays off, and they eventually upgrade their London show to a bigger theatre, selling it out.
John C Reilly and Steve Coogan are just perfect as Stan and Ollie. I struggled a little at times with Steve Coogan, as I’ve been a big fan of his varied comedy work for nearly 30 years now, so found it a bit distracting. But he definitely pulls this off, and it’s incredible to see so many mannerisms and iconic scenes from their movies so perfectly reproduced by both leads. The other outstanding and hilarious double act in this movie are the wives, who arrive in London to support their husbands and mix things up a little. They are clearly very caring and protective of their husbands though, supporting them through ill health, and an unfortunate falling out between Stan and Ollie related to events that occurred 16 years ago. A pivotal moment in their careers which was alluded to in the opening scenes of the movie, and further elaborated on in a number of flashbacks later on. It’s a bit of an emotional roller-coaster, but overall this is a wonderfully heartwarming and moving love story about two of Hollywoods greatest. And it succeeded in making me want to watch every single one of their movies again.