Movie Review: Stan and Ollie

Stan and Ollie

“Stan and Ollie” – a film review

I saw Stan and Ollie 10 days ago. Let me preface by saying it is a must see on your movie list if you like Laurel and Hardy. After decades of legal battles of who owned the rights to Laurel and Hardy, finally a film was allowed to be made. The story takes place in 1953, after Laurel and Hardy retired from a film career together of over 100 shorts and features from 1926 to 1952.

This was a watershed moment in which Stan and Ollie went back to the British Isles in 1953 to do a tour of live theatre. Much like Stan’s roots when he played the English Music Halls before coming to America in 1910 as Charlie Chaplin’s understudy.

The two actors that play Stan and Ollie are excellent and totally believable in their roles.
John C. Reilly as Ollie and Steve Coogan as Stan. No newcomers to show business. For the most part, everything was factual with a few major exceptions. The film left the impression with the audience that Laurel and Hardy had a long-buried tension between them. This is false and without merit. Being involved with the entertainment industry, I appreciate a theatrical license if it enhances a film or play. However, this diminishes the story and more important the truth.

As a youngster, I met Stan Laurel twice in 1964. One of the first questions I asked him was “Did you get along with Oliver Hardy?”

His reply was that they had an excellent working relationship and always got along.

I might add the wives got along on the 1953 tour. The film portrays them as rivals.
There were also scenes in the film portraying producer Hal Roach as manipulative in their contract disputes. It is true Roach was certainly shrewd with the advent of television in which Laurel and Hardy did not receive royalties for the any of the showings of their films.
However, he did pay generous salaries to Laurel and Hardy during their time at the Roach Studios.

My colleague and film historian Richard Bann (co-author of the book Our Gang) and official biographer of producer Hal Roach recently wrote to me with the following about the film
Stan and Ollie.

“Hal Roach could be cold and tough, but there is no evidence that Laurel and Hardy argued over anything. Laurel and Roach never argued over money, and during this period Roach was paying Laurel and Hardy more than he paid himself. The flashback scene in the film at the onset is complete nonsense. So many naive fans have no conception of how this worked with MGM providing cheap money for production. Instead they see only the creative and performance genius of Laurel. He is portrayed as this lovable, humble underdog character. Consequently, all sympathy goes to him. Who is ever in sympathetic with a boss anyway? Well, everyone who worked at the Hal Roach Studios with the exception of Stan Laurel.”

When I saw Stan and Ollie, it gave me a greater appreciation for the real Laurel and Hardy. As the credits rolled at the end of the movie and a montage of the real Laurel and Hardy was seen performing a dance from the film Way Out West, I realized nobody can ever replicate their genius.

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Dean Kaner